Friday, January 16, 2009

Drive My Car

Of all the egregious, horrible tricks played on Beatles fans in the U.S., one of the worst had to be the Capitol version of Rubber Soul. For the love of God, is there a more cynical Capitol album than this one? In its attempt to capitalize on the brief flare-up of folk-rock circa 1965, it opens NOT with "Drive My Car," today's song, but "I've Just Seen a Face"--which, though a fantastic song, rejiggers the whole album and puts it in the context of folk-rock, which was an American trend that was probably affecting the Beatles only moderately, if at all. "Drive My Car" was relegated to Capitol's craptacular, never-should-have-been Yesterday and Today album.

To hear Rubber Soul as intended, with "Drive My Car" as the opener, reminds you that despite the Beatles' dabbling in more acoustic and other more experimental sounds on this album, they are still the rock band that we know and love. Even the title is just loaded with innuendo. Love it.

Paul notoriously loved writing songs that were also stories, and we get an affecting little story here-- our protagonist meets a girl who flirtatiously offers him a gig as her driver when she gets famous. The punchline is that she doesn't even have a car yet. In this song, Paul fills out the story just enough-- the girl is charismatic and universal at the same time. It's worth remembering that Paul didn't get here on his own: the song was originally titled "Baby You Can Wear My Diamond Ring," but was rewritten by John, who rightly cited the pansy-ass-ness of that title. From there, I presume the song wrote itself.

On each listen, I hear George's flirtatious guitar lick, Paul's piano line, and especially Paul's all-over-the-place bass, sort of all at once, each contributing to the tight arrangement. I also find it interesting that "Drive My Car" is driven less by the characteristic McCartney melody than by the kind of one-note yelling melody that John employed more frequently. All in all, just a wonderful accomplishment-- it would have been a single from any other band, a recording this polished and flippant all at once, but for the Beatles it opened their most mature album to date.

Rubber Soul is just amazing compared to what predated it, isn't it? "Drive My Car" is the perfect opener-- it's absolutely in the rock idiom of the Beatles, but it sounds so much more professional and polished than anything that's come before, and you can just tell that they're thinking more minutely about every aspect of the recording. We're getting to that point in the their career where they sound less like a totally awesome band and more like magic. At least for me. (And I should say, I adore BOTH phases.)

Just because video is fun, here's Paul at Amoeba in Hollywood, on my birthday in 2007 (sadly, I was NOT there), opening the song. He's still singing it in the same key as when he recorded it when he was 23. That's because Paul is a god.

"Drive My Car," released in the U.K. side A track 1 of Rubber Soul, released December 3, 1965; in the U.S., side A track 1 of Yesterday and Today, June 20, 1966.
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