alan w. pollack's
notes on ...

Notes on "Drive My Car"


Notes on ... Series #77.1 (DMC.1)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: D Major
     Meter: 4/4
                   ----- 2X --------
      Form: Intro | Verse | Refrain | Verse (solo) | Refrain |
                  | Verse | Refrain | Outro (fade-out)
        CD: "Rubber Soul", Track 1 (Parlophone CDP7 46440-2)
  Recorded: 13th October 1965, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 3rd December 1965 (LP "Rubber Soul")
US-release: 20th June 1966 (LP "Yesterday ... And Today")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note Recorded in mid-October 1965, "Drive My Car" bears some uncanny associations with both sides of a certain "double-A" single of our acquaintance that was coincidentally worked on in the studio during the same week. To my ears, the rap-like declamation of the lyrics and anti-melody of "Day Tripper" (not to mention the lubricious "driving" metaphor), and the slow triplets of "We Can Work It Out" strongly resonate here.
  Next note By the same token, "Drive My Car" also has a few unique aspects to it. The form is the flat one of the folk ballad in which four pairs of verse and refrain are presented in a row with the only relief coming in the way of a guitar solo for one of the verse sections. The vocal parts are exceedingly dissonant. And most unusual of all, the particular use of harmony here makes your clear sense of the home key an extremely elusive proposition much of the time.
  Next note In true ballad the refrain lyrics are unvarying while the words of the four verses are all different. The lyrics, while not quite unique or ground breaking per se, are notably Lennonesque in the way they weave such a suggestively droll tale from scraps of small talk that are pieced together so that it's not immediately obvious who said what to whom. I especially like the tag line, "and maybe I'll love you." Whadaymean, maybe!?
  Next note Rhythmically, the verses always start after the downbeat, the refrain starts right on the downbeat, and the beep-beep coda starts with a long wind up ahead of the downbeat.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The high level of tonal ambiguity in the song is made ironic by the otherwise frugal harmonic budget. Chords rooted on only five different root notes chords are used in the whole song: D, G, A (with also the occasional suggestion of a minor), b, and e. Granted, many of their respective appearances are spiced up by 7/11 and Major / minor embellishments, but strictly speaking, these kinds of bluesy/jazzy touches only serve to enliven what remains, at root, a limited chordal repertoire.
  Next note This is one of those cases where a paper-based analysis of the situation can actually mislead you away from what you "hear" and respond to when listening in real-time. The opening on a D chord and the large amount of space given in the song to the chord progression of D -» G -» A would, on one level, seem to make it appear like an open-and-shut case of the home key being D Major.
  Next note However, the top vocal line with its dissonantly rough-shod, insistent hammering away on the note "G" goes a long way toward making the repeated D -» G progression of the verse sound ambiguously as much like V -» I of G than a I -» IV of D. This makes for an interesting comparison with "What You're Doing", where the identical chord progression contains no such ambiguity; you never stop for an instant to question the "obvious" identity of "D" as the home key; the result of the tune in that case clearly supporting the key of D starting right off in the first measure.
  Next note If you want another example of just how easily a melody can change your perception of home key in the very same chord progression, you actually need look no further than our current song. As much as I'm arguing that the song creates a plausible optical/aural illusion that the home key at times might actually be G, I'd be the first one to acknowledge how the melodic emphasis on D in the guitar solo suddenly for the first time in the song allows you to possibly entertain that D -» G chord progression as I -» IV!
  Next note In the terminology of high school physics — I warn you, my erstwhile music theory students used to tease me mercilessly as the Master of Analogy — you might describe the home key of "Drive My Car" as having a perilously high, and thereby inherently unstable, center of gravity.


  Next note Vocally, Paul and John opt for one of their favorite deluxe positions here: McCartney, shouting on top, and Lennon, muffled below. In addition to the G pedal already mentioned, Paul's part is shot through with flat-seven F-naturals, while John gets to sing lots of 4-3 appoggiaturas over the G chord. George joins along with the Two Of Them for the beep-beeps.
  Next note The bass guitar work contains an exceptional amount of motivic working out. Paul consistently embellishes the root notes of the chords with a 3-5-3-1 triadic figure which free-associates with the top melody of the refrain.
  Next note The lead guitar appears in the intro, solo, and outro with an intensity that practically upstages the lead vocal for both lyricism and dissonance. You can also pick up a whiff of the lead guitar during the last verse but I believe what you're hearing there is the vestigial bleed through of an earlier run-through or overdub.
  Next note The percussion section weighs in with parts for tambourine and cowbell whose interplay with the regular drum kit is more intricate than you'd ever perceive on more than a subliminal level; unless you care to zone-in on it per se. The use of sizzling cymbal crashes to punctuate several nodal points of the song is also nicely euphoric.
  Next note The (electric) piano's triplets are simultaneously both more and less disruptive than the same gesture in "We Can Work It Out"; "less" because in this song we have part of the ensemble still marking the ongoing 4/4 meter; and "more", ironically for the same reason — the continuation of the 4/4 backbeat kind of rubs your nose in the rhythmic dissonance created by those slow triplets.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note This intro has to rank as two measures-worth of the Beatles most rhythmically disorienting music ever. It starts with an eighth note pickup before the downbeat but the melodic contour of the syncopated guitar part combined with the offbeat entrance of the bass guitar make it virtually impossible for you to find the meter. For the record, it looks like this, but don't ever forget that it was designed on purpose to keep you from ever groking it without extreme effort:
         & |1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & |1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & ||Verse ...
                          »    »
 Guitar: A |C D C A F - C D |- D C - C - D - ||
   Bass:   |        A C D D |                ||D ...
  Drums:   |                |        Fill ---- Cymbals!

   [Figure 77.1]
  Next note Several details drive you crazy when you try to aurally parse the above:
  • The first note of the guitar sounds like it's on the downbeat.
  • The bass line and guitar syncopation ties over the downbeat to the second measure.
  Next note Ironically, the bent high note of the lead guitar in the first measure, as well as the last three notes of the second measure along with the drum fill all fall on the beat but you've been sufficiently thrown off the trail by that point.
  Next note It becomes clearer if you prepare with the exercise of, without listening to the recording, drilling the correct rhythm of the guitar part into your head, with particular attention to the second measure's "and-two-three-four."
  Next note The harmonic envelope for this intro is a D-Major chord. Whether it is to be understood as the I of D or the V of G is ambiguous at this stage of the song. In any event, the use of C-naturals and F-naturals in the lead guitar line are meant to sound bluesy.


  Next note The verse is eight measures long and features four highly syncopated short phrases equal in length:
       ------ 3X -------
      |D       |G       |a       |-   D   |
   D:  I        IV       ii           I
                                  G:  V 
   [Figure 77.2]
  Next note Even though the D chord has been the only harmonic event of the intro, it winds up sounding in retrospect during this verse as much like the V of G than the I of D, largely the result of Paul's melodic emphasis on the pitch G. Ask yourself as you listen, which of the two chords you hear as the one of the home key. The harmonic shape of this section is closed, at least "on paper," if you say the home key is D. The final chord, though, sounds like a possible pivot modulation to the key of G for the start of the refrain.
  Next note The chord I've labeled as a-minor in the seventh measure has such a prominently dissonant F-natural in the vocal part that it's hard to tell if there is actually an E-natural buried somewhere in the mix. The F-natural is hammeringly sustained in the tune all the way through the following chord where is makes for a Major / minor dissonance with the D chord.
  Next note The ongoing steady motor-rhythm of the drum part is nicely interrupted for a bit of rhythmic byplay with the melody line in the final two measures each verse section, including the one with the guitar solo.
  Next note The guitar solo follows the phrasing model provided by the sung verses. The final two measures, with their voice-like slides, are reminiscent of the intro, and they provide a kind of compact summary of the song's overall profile of dissonance.


  Next note The refrain is also eight measures and it follows the same AAAB phrasing pattern seen in the verse; note too how both sections are left harmonically wide open:
       ------ 2X -------
      |b       |G       |
   G:  iii      I

      |b       |e   A   |D   G   |A       |
       iii      vi 
            D:  ii  V    I   IV   V

   [Figure 77.3]
  Next note The target of the modulation to G setup at the end of the verse is deceptively deferred until the second measure of the refrain. Before the key of G is ever allowed to formally establish itself, the music pivots right back to the original home key, ending a fat V chord that nicely motivates the next verse. You tend to associate this type of tonal mobility more with bridge sections than refrains.
  Next note The level of melodic dissonance heard earlier is continued here, up to and including: the gratuitous sevenths on the b and G chords, an F-natural over the e chord, and (just as in the verse) the Major / minor conflict of F-natural in the melody with the F# in the D chord.
  Next note The refrains that are followed by the guitar solo and outro are trailed by the little beep-beep codetta which contains yet another Major / minor clash, this time on the A chord. The use here of falsetto singing and onomatopoeia words, both Beatles trademark/cliches is notable.


  Next note The outro consists of the beep-beep motif iterated five full times into the fade-out like a post-hypnotic suggestion, embellished this time by drum fills, cymbal crashes, and lead guitar licks.
  Next note The harmony of this section is entirely D -» G -» A and sounds very much as though the home key were now, indeed, D Major.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note "Drive My Car" is one of the Beatles harder-rocking bluesy numbers, ranking way up there with the perhaps more celebrated "A Hard Day's Night" and "Ticket To Ride" for its hyper-thrust and equally sharp edge.
  Next note Given the extent to which the early-to-mid-career legendary fame of the group was founded on their success as a rock group (yeah, yeah, yeah), it's somewhat ironically surprising in retrospect to contemplate just how relatively small a portion of their total output consists of songs quite as red hot as this one.
  Alan (022401#77.1)
Revision History
022493 77.0 Original release
022401 77.1 Revise primarily to recant on designation of home key.
Copyright © 2001 by Alan W. Pollack. All Rights Reserved. This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains intact and in place.