The first song on 1965’s Rubber Soul album, ‘Drive My Car’ reversed the traditional boy-girl roles in The Beatles’ songs, presenting a tale of a gold digger and wannabe star who wants a man as a chauffeur and for sexual services.
Paul McCartney‘s first draft of the song featured a chorus based around the line, “You can buy me golden rings”. He and John Lennon reworked the song with some difficulty, eventually discarding the clichés and settling upon the idea of a headstrong woman.
The lyrics were disastrous and I knew it… This is one of the songs where John and I came nearest to having a dry session. The lyrics I brought in were something to do with golden rings, which is always fatal. ‘Rings’ is fatal anyway, ‘rings’ always rhymes with ‘things’ and I knew it was a bad idea. I came in and I said, ‘These aren’t good lyrics but it’s a good tune.’ The tune was nice, the tune was there, I’d done the melody. Well, we tried, and John couldn’t think of anything, and we tried and eventually it was, ‘Oh let’s leave it, let’s get off this one.’ ‘No, no. We can do it, we can do it.’ So we had a break, maybe had a cigarette or a cup of tea, then we came back to it, and somehow it became ‘drive my car’ instead of ‘gold-en rings’, and then it was wonderful because this nice tongue-in-cheek idea came and suddenly there was a girl there, the heroine of the story, and the story developed and had a little sting in the tail like ‘Norwegian Wood’ had, which was ‘I actually haven’t got a car, but when I get one you’ll be a terrific chauffeur.’
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
The song contained clear sexual overtones, from the first verse’s “You can do something in between” to the suggestive promises of “a better time”.
’Drive my car’ was an old blues euphemism for sex, so in the end all is revealed. Black humour crept in and saved the day. It wrote itself then. I find that very often, once you get the good idea, things write themselves.
Many Years From Now
The arrangement was suggested by George Harrison, who had been listening to Otis Redding’s ‘Respect’, then a minor hit. Harrison suggested that the bass and guitar parts should play similar lines in an approximation of Redding’s bass-heavy sound, resulting in one of The Beatles’ most effective performances of 1965.
I helped out such a lot in all the arrangements. There were a lot of tracks though where I played bass. Paul played lead guitar on ‘Taxman’, and he played guitar – a good part – on ‘Drive My Car’.
We laid the track because what Paul would do, if he’s written a song, he’d learn all the parts for Paul and then come in the studio and say, ‘Do this.’ He’d never give you the opportunity to come out with something. But on ‘Drive My Car’ I just played the line, which is really like a lick off ‘Respect’, you know, the Otis Redding version – and I played that line on guitar and Paul laid that with me on bass. We laid the track down like that. We played the lead part later on top of it.
The 2006 album Love mixed ‘Drive My Car’ with extracts from ‘The Word’ and ‘What You’re Doing’, together with guitar solo from ‘Taxman’ and horns from ‘Savoy Truffle’.
In the studio
‘Drive My Car’ was recorded on 13 October 1965. The session began at 7pm and ended at 12.15am – The Beatles’ first to end after midnight.
The group took some time to perfect the arrangement for ‘Drive My Car’. Although they recorded four takes of the rhythm track, only the last of these was complete.
The basic arrangement had Paul McCartney on bass guitar, George Harrison playing guitar – contradicting his Anthology recollections – John Lennon on tambourine, and Ringo Starr on drums. The group then overdubbed piano, lead guitar, piano and cowbell parts, along with lead vocals by Lennon and McCartney, and backing vocals by Harrison.
There was always some confusion about who played bass, because Harrison said he played the bassline. But you have to know, he never actually spoke of playing bass! His quote from the Anthology has been taken out of context, the whole quote is as followed:
“I just played the line, which is really like a lick off [Donald “Duck” Dunn’s part for Otis Redding’s ‘Respect’, September 1965] and I played that line on the guitar and Paul laid that with me on bass” (Growing up at 33 1/3: The George Harrison interview, 1977).
The basic track of the recording appears on the left channel of the final mix:
drums (Ringo), tambourine (John), bass (Paul), guitar (George)
Onto this, overdubs were recorded, first the main vocal track with Lennon-McCartney leads and backing from Harrison (center on cd, right channel on vinyl).
The third track has only Lennon’s double-tracked vocal for “and maybe I’ll love you” and “beep”s (second ending and coda). This track appears on the left channel.
The fourth track (right channel) features continuous cowbell, McCartney’s guitar (which doubles Harrisons guitar in the intro and takes the solo and coda) plus Lennon on piano. (The record sleeve says “Paul on piano” but that’s wrong. In the coda, you can hear Paul’s guitar and the piano (plus cowbell) playing at the same time and they all were recorded on one track.