Notes on "Drive My Car" (DMC)
KEY G Major (or is it D ?)
FORM Intro -> Verse -> Refrain -> Verse (solo) -> Refrain -> Verse -> Refrain -> Outro (fadeout)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- Recorded in mid-October '65, "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" (WCWIO) strongly resonate here.
- By the same token, DMC also has a few unique aspects to it. The form is a flat one 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 any clear sense of home key an extremely elusive matter.
- 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* !?
Melody and Harmony
- The level of tonal ambiguity in the song is made ironic by the otherwise frugal harmonic budget. Only five chords are in the whole song (D, G, A, 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 reportoire.
- 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 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 and open-and-shut case of the home key being D Major.
- In this case, however, I believe all those D Major chords function as Dominant 'V' with respect to a home key of G! I'd go as far as to argue that the entire song is "heard" in G, but the extent to which *none* of the song's discrete sections begins with the chord of the home key is what makes it difficult for the ear to quite grasp. 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 this song as having a high, and thereby inherently unstable, center of gravity.
- The top vocal line with its dissonantly rough-shod insistent hammering away on the note 'G' is in no small measure part of what throws off the sense of home key, making the opening chord progression of D->G sound more 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 (this is) '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.
- 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 the real home key here is 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!
- 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-7 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.
- 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.
- 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 bleedthrough of an earlier runthrough or overdub.
- 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.
- The (electric) piano's triplets are simultaneously both more *and* less distruptive than the same gesture in WCWIO; "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.
- This intro has to rank as two measures-worth of the Beatles most rhythmically disorienting music ever. It actually starts right on the downbeat but the melodic contour of the syncopated guitar part combined with the successive offbeat entrances of the bass guitar and drums make it virtually impossible to find the meter:
|1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & |1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & ||Verse ...
guitar: |A C D C A F - C |D - D C - C - D ||
bass: | A ? ? |D ||D ...
drums: | | Fill ------Cymbals!
- 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 the use of C and F naturals in the lead guitar line are meant to sound bluesy.
- The verse is eight measures long and features four highly syncopated short phrases equal in length:
--------------- 3X --------------
|D |G |a |- D |
G: V I ii V
- Even though the D chord has been the only harmonic event of the intro, it winds up sounding in retrospect during this verse more like V the V of G than 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 chord I've labelled as 'a minor' in the 7th measure has such a prominently dissonant F natural in the vocal part that it's hard to tell if their is actually a 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 V-of-V V IV-of-V V-of-V
- The refrain starts off with a deceptive resolution of the V chord left hanging from the end of the verse. The sense of home key, of course, is still somewhat as ambiguous as ever; in this instance one wonders if the home key is possibly b minor! And the manner in which the section winds itself up to a big finish that sounds very much like a modulation to D, the tonally most clear moment of the entire song, further complicates matters.
- The level of melodic dissonance heard earlier is continued here, up to and including: the gratuitous 7ths 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.
- The refrains which 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 outro consists of the beep-beep motif iterated five full times into the fadeout like a post-hypnotic suggestion, embellished this time by drum fills, cymbal crashes, and lead guitar licks.
- 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
- "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.
- 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org *OR* uunet!huxley!awp)
"He blew his mind out in a car." 022493#77
Copyright (c) 1993 by Alan W. Pollack
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