January 19th, 2012


Drive My Car


            A McCartney-written song off the Rubber Soul album, “Drive My Car” is an interesting experiment in perspective and lyrical quotation.  It is a natural tendency to assume that the person singing a song is a stand in for the person saying the lyrics.  This tendency leads one to assume all the attributes between the singer and song’s narrator are identical: they think the same, talk the same, and are the same.  Because Paul McCartney sings “Drive My Car”, I always assumed the song was sung from the perspective of a man – it only seemed natural.  But once I listened a bit closer to the lyrics, it was clear that the bulk of the song comes from the female perspective: namely, an aspiring movie star who is seducing a young man to be her chauffeur.  I thought this was a relatively novel concept, a man singing a song from a female perspective.  But once I got even deeper into the lyrics, I realized it had been a male perspective all along – the female voice is only attributed in quotation.

Most lyric sheets leave out these quotations, but it is clear when McCartney sings, “She said baby, can’t you see…” that there should be an open quotation before the “baby” – because the song is actually McCartney relaying conversations he had with the movie-star wannabe.  The song begins, “Asked a girl what she wanted to be.”  Then starts a long quoted portion which McCartney claims is the girl’s answer to the question.  The quoted portion lasts all the way through the first chorus.  But interestingly, once the chorus begins, McCartney assumes the female perspective in full form, excising the male attributions.  In this way, the female voice dominates the chorus, with her answering the man before he can even raise a question, like she’s reading his mind.  “Baby you can drive my car” – which is a sugary way of saying, “You can be my chauffeur” – is quickly followed with “Yes, I’m gonna be a star”, as if the girl anticipates the male asking why she would even need a driver because she is not yet any kind of star.  Next, she anticipates the male’s question of “What’s in it for me?”, to which she saucily responds, “Maybe I’ll love you.” – a perfect example of the kind of non-committal teasing that drives men crazy.

While the song is ostensibly about an aspiring actress duping a guy into becoming her driver, it ends on a much more comical, self-effacing note that fits better with the overall tone of the song, which is light and upbeat.  Once the male is sold and claims he can, “start right away”, the girl admits that she is not a movie star and in fact doesn’t even own a car that he could drive her in.  But in a display of flawlessly convoluted logic, she retains the upper hand by noting that she has secured a driver, and “that’s a start.”  The ending is more comical than cruel, better suited for the “Beep Beeps” and the funky rhythm of the song.  Most of the desperation of the characters, with their unfulfilled dreams, subverts into a less urgent handle on life.  Their aspirations are out of reach – she probably won’t become a movie star and he probably won’t get her love - but they take solace in the act of dreaming.

Rubber Soul was a pivotal album for the Beatles.  Their sound was becoming more unique, tighter, and somehow more accessible.  “Drive My Car”, as comical anecdote, pointed to just how imaginative they were willing to get with song concepts.  Once there were no limits, anything was possible.