Thanks to the Beatles, you're about to witness a rare thing in the world of popular music: The celebration of an album's 50th anniversary. Specifically, the Beatles' landmark record Rubber Soul turns 50 on December 3.
If you're wondering why this has seldom happened, it's because the concept of rock or pop albums as self-contained art forms is relatively young. Rubber Soul was one of the first records to present itself as a holistic entity, rather than a partly or completely arbitrary compilation of songs. That, in and of itself, is a big reason its anniversary should be revered. Rubber Soul is a big reason music lovers now enjoy endlessly discussing their favorite albums and debating which are the best.
Over the next several years, you can bet you'll read about the 50th anniversary of many other albums--thematic volumes composed by bands or songwriters in the tradition Rubber Soul established. All of which is to say: Rubber Soul, the Beatles' sixth studio album, was the record that launched a thousand ships. Here are three creativity lessons you can cull from its success and longevity:
1. Practice and focus can make tight deadlines seem generous. The Beatles recorded the entire album in four weeks. That may not sound like much time. But for the band, it was a generous period of dedicated composition and recording. They were accustomed to making records during short breaks between tours or movies. This time, the only thing on their creative plates for four weeks was making Rubber Soul.
The lesson, in other words, is that there's more to a deadline than a due date. So much depends on the constraints you're accustomed to working with, and whether you can truly prioritize the deadline-driven tasks over everything else you have to do.
2. Even groundbreaking creators need pillars of inspiration. Rubber Soul was inspired in large part by Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited, which came out earlier in 1965. The Dylan single "Like a Rolling Stone," with its "socially conscious folk-rock theme, was resonating with draft-age listeners in the States," notes Marc Myers in the The Wall Street Journal. "To remain relevant, the Beatles needed a more mature, acoustic album."
You can find many examples of this "pillar of inspiration" form of creative transference in the world of entrepreneurship, too. One of my favorites is the way designer Paul Rand influenced the persona of Beatles fan Steve Jobs--and by extension, the persona of Apple--based on the interactions between the two while Jobs was running NeXT Computers in the early 1980s.
In a 1993 video interview, Jobs explained what he admired about Rand's work. It could just as easily be a riff about Jobs himself or Apple products:
Paul's a very interesting intertwining of a pure artist and somebody who is very astute about solving business problems. ...I actually think of Paul as much as a business problem-solver as I do an artist. And it's the marriage of those two things--the very, very practical and the artist--that is unique. ...His work for me is very emotional and yet when you study it, it's very intellectual. If you scratch the surface you find out the depth of the problem-solving that's taking place. But when you first see it, it's wonderfully emotional.
You can see how one designer influenced another. And just as no one thinks of Jobs as any less innovative because of Rand's influence, no one has ever dismissed the innovations of Rubber Soul just because it was inspired by another legendary act.
3. Even the most successful people must compromise when it comes to the things they can't control. Any fan or follower of rock music knows that in the industry's early years, albums often had different titles--and different songs--depending on whether they were released in the U.K. or the U.S. The Beatles, famous as they were, were no exception to this rule.
As Myers points out, the 12-song Rubber Soul released in the U.S. was significantly different from the 14-song version which came out in the U.K. It was more than a matter of merely the cutting of two songs. In fact four songs were cut, with two being replaced with Beatles' songs previously released in the U.K.
The Beatles didn't want this to happen. Their manager, Brian Epstein, lobbied for identical U.S. and U.K. versions, but didn't get his way.
To this day, Beatles fans engage in heated debates about the different versions. Many maintain that the U.K. version is the masterpiece, since it is clearly the work that the band intended to put out. But Myers argues otherwise: "The U.S. version of Rubber Soul, with its more consistently poetic sound and narrative, is arguably the more powerful statement," he writes. "It's also the version that changed the direction of American rock."
Diving more deeply into this lesson, there are two key takeaways. The first is that your hardcore fans will not be denied. If they learn there are alternative versions of a product they love, they will find them and judge them accordingly. The second is that if you've built something to last for the long haul, you shouldn't fret about any compromises you have to make around the product's initial release. The initial release is, after all, just one day. A great album--or any great product--lasts forever. Even if there are two markedly different versions of it.