Rubber Soul marked a stark turning point for The Beatles, a time in which they rejuvenated themselves from the collective face of youthful innocence and metamorphosed into a nuanced, three-dimensional identity. Not only was the album a dramatic shift sonically from their prior output, furthermore, the band’s aesthetic also witnessed a studious facelift. The artwork of their sixth studio album made it abundantly clear that The Beatles were no longer the saintly figures of pop music, and they wanted everybody to know about their complex new image.
The cover didn’t even have the band name written on it, which sums up just how famous The Beatles had become, and their faces were the only marketing tool necessary. Robert Freeman was the photographer who captured the hallowed picture of the group at John Lennon’s home in Surrey, and every subtle element of the art was striking. All dressed in elegant clothing and looked debonair in their suave polo necks; it was a look that propelled a new rebellious era for The Beatles, one that allowed them to break free from the shackles of their former selves.
“The album cover is another example of our branching out: the stretched photo,” McCartney acknowledged in Anthology. “That was actually one of those little exciting random things that happen. The photographer Robert Freeman had taken some pictures round at John’s house in Weybridge. We had our new gear on – the polo necks – and we were doing straight mug shots; the four of us all posing.”
McCartney added: “Back in London, Robert was showing us the slides; he had a piece of cardboard that was the album-cover size and he was projecting the photographs exactly onto it so we could see how it would look as an album cover. We had just chosen the photograph when the card that the picture was projected onto fell backwards a little, elongating the photograph. It was stretched and we went, ‘That’s it, Rubber So-o-oul, hey hey! Can you do it like that?’ And he said, ‘well, yeah. I can print it that way.’ And that was it.”
Furthermore, George Harrison noted in the same documentary: “I liked the way we got our faces to be longer on the album cover. We lost the ‘little innocents’ tag, the naivety, and Rubber Soul was the first one where we were fully-fledged potheads.”
Each member of the Fab Four refused to smile on the cover of Rubber Soul, carrying a nebulous look painted on their faces as they leaned into their newfangled pothead personas. The new direction couldn’t have contrasted more with their preceding reputation as the loveable boyish rogues next door. The time had come for a significant statement of intent.
Moreover, the widened font used on the artwork alone had connotations with psychedelic drugs, and this part of their life was one that they no longer felt compelled to hide. However, Charles Front, who designed the unmistakable lettering, later claimed that any drug-related undertone was a sheer coincidence. “Whether the Beatles were into LSD or not I don’t know but I certainly wasn’t. It was all about the name of the album,” Front maintained. “If you tap into a rubber tree then you get a sort of globule, so I started thinking of creating a shape that represented that, starting narrow and filling out. I was paid 26 guineas and five shillings.”
The font that was created for Rubber Soul has taken on a life of its own, becoming synonymous with the hippie scene. The London designer didn’t think too much at the time about the iconic piece of art when he constructed it and later commented: “It was just another piece I’d done and I had put it away and forgotten about it.”
Rubber Soul firmly got The Beatles’ “pothead” era in operation. Consequently, they needed everything about this part of their career to reflect an evolution not just as musicians but also as humans. They needed a cover that encapsulated their growth, and that’s precisely what Freeman and Front managed to do.
From their aesthetic down to the introspective, philosophical songwriting of tracks like ‘Nowhere Man’, every facet of Rubber Soul helped sparked this new chapter into life and conveyed The Beatles’ maturation from boys to men.
See the cover, below.