“Rubber Soul blew my mind” — Brian Wilson
By the mid-’60s there was an arms race between two pop groups that threatened to envelop the entire music industry. The Beatles had rocketed on to the wider musical stage with their candy pop stylings and charming patter and cemented themselves as America’s new favourite band. A tough gig considering The Beach Boys, the country’s own harmonising pop heroes, were arguably hitting their stride at the exact same time. The scene was set for the Fab Four and the California boys to clash.
Thankfully, that never came to fruition. Instead, The Beatles and The Beach Boys ended up inspiring one another, most notably both Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson took heavy inspiration from the other. Sometimes this was shown subtly, and other times it landed like a thump to the jaw. But that didn’t stop Wilson naming The Beatles’ Rubber Soul as one of his favourite albums of all time. While we’re sure that accolade may change over time, even from day to day, the fire it inspired in Wilson can never be underestimated.
“It had such a cool vibe, and I wanted to do something similar to it,” explained Wilson when readying himself to perform in Liverpool in 2014. The biggest compliment the Fab Four album could be played comes next when Wilson confirms, “That’s how I came up with Pet Sounds”.
The congratulatory tone continues when, during the conversation, Wilson also admitted that the album inspired him to immediately pick up a pen and start writing a new song, ‘God Only Knows’. Wilson continued: “When I heard Rubber Soul, I was so inspired, and somehow I came up with ‘God Only Knows’, I can’t really explain how it happened. It just came to me”.
It’s hard to imagine the groundbreaking sound of The Beatles in 1965. Prior to them, rock and roll had been a decidedly American venture, and now, these four working-class lads from Liverpool, England, were completely ripping up the rulebook. Their previous efforts had been poptastic re-tellings of the rock sound of old. But on Rubber Soul, things had changed, not only were they expressing themselves more clearly, but they had put more effort into what an album could be. As Wilson told The Guardian, it was the first LP he’d heard when all the songs “went together like no album ever made before”.
The record would encourage Wilson to pursue a similar tact when creating his songs. Prior to the release of Rubber Soul, The Beach Boys had been happy to churn out singles and reassimilate them as LPs like the rest of the music scene, but now, things had been permanently changed—the album had arrived and arrived with aplomb. With a new intent in hand, Wilson would take himself to his studio and begin creating his and the band’s Magnus Opus. Pet Sounds would arrive and catapult Wilson’s standing as a songwriter into the stratosphere, with Paul McCartney calling the record his favourite of all time.
Pet Sounds would then inspire The Beatles to write and finesse both Revolver from 1966 and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band a year later. But according to Wilson, none of those albums were comparable to the game-changing impact of Rubber Soul. Telling NME, in regards to Pet Sounds being considered the best album ever: “It’s a good album, but not the best. I think The Beatles‘ Rubber Soul is still the best album of all time.”
Such resignation may deter some artists. To understand that you consider another’s work to be the greatest could be debilitating for an artist such as Wilson. However, rather than be dissuaded by such a notion, Wilson was emboldened and inspired to keep on pushing himself and The Beach Boys creatively.
The Beatles and the Californian group may have been at creative loggerheads in print, but the reality was that they weren’t fighting one another but lifting each other up to even higher echelons of pop music gold.