Kicking off Rubber Soul into high gear, “Drive My Car” steered the Beatles onto a road they’d never gone down before, and I’m already sick of these car puns so let’s forget this intro ever happened.
In the first half of the sixties, the Beach Boys seemed to corner the market on automobile tracks, from “409” to “Little Deuce Coupe” to “Driving Aimlessly Because I’m Pretty Sure I Hit a Pedestrian About Two Miles Ago But I Don’t Want to Turn Around and Confirm Because I Would Rather Live With the Uncertainty Than the Guilt of Knowing I Killed a Dude.” But by 1965, the Beatles were no longer content to keep their love songs within the “me to you” formula that they had mastered in their early days, and this clever story song about a wannabe starlet seeking a chauffeur is probably one of the most fun songs in their catalog.
Actually, the fact that their previous work is built on such steady lyrical ground makes the twist ending even better. There’s some sly innuendo going on here that probably went over the heads of a lot of 13-year-old girls in 1965, but anyone can appreciate the departure the Beatles took with this one. Turns out the girl doesn’t own a car, but she “found a driver and that’s a start.” Love it. The old switcheroo is a classic comedy trick, and I know I didn’t see it coming the first time I heard this song. But an amusing surprise isn’t enough to hold up for repeat listens, and while I would give “Drive My Car” credit no matter what for that final verse, fortunately it’s also musically a solid piece of work. I especially love Paul’s simple but effective piano riff during the chorus.
And to think, if the first draft of the lyrics had remained intact, “Baby, you can drive my car” would have been “You can buy me diamond rings.” Thankfully John Lennon shot that down, because otherwise this song would be about 40 slots lower.