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Music

How Otis Redding inspired a classic song by The Beatles

‘Drive My Car’ by The Beatles is one of their best-beloved tracks and one of the highlights of 1965’s Rubber Soul. The upbeat classic contains that unmistakable swagger that many of John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s earlier compositions had, and in terms of album openers, you don’t get much better. 

In an interview with Uncut, McCartney explained how the song came to fruition. The song was written by the pair at Lennon’s Weybridge residence, but the writing of it was less than straightforward. The original chorus McCartney had written started with “you can buy me diamond rings” an overdone trope they used twice in ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ and ‘I Feel Fine’.

Lennon being Lennon, criticised the lyrics, labelling them “crap” and “too soft”, so the pair went back to the drawing board. According to McCartney, it was “one of the stickiest” writing sessions the pair ever had, but eventually, they settled on the theme of “drive my car”. 

Per a 1997 quote from McCartney in Barry Miles’ book Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now, “drive my car” is a traditional blues euphemism for sex. Not too soft for Lennon now, eh? 

It’s also been claimed that the song references Cilla Black and her then-partner, Bobby Willis, who were both friends of the band. The story goes that Willis was also offered a recording contract by Beatles manager Brian Epstein, who mentored Black, but that she protested the offer, claiming she was the star and that Willis was her road manager, who drove her car.  

Beatles guitarist George Harrison also provided some information on the song’s birth. In the 2020 compendium George Harrison on George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters, Harrison discussed the track.  “We laid the track because what Paul would do, if he’d written a song, he’d learn all the parts for Paul and then come to the studio and say (sometimes he was very difficult): ‘Do this,'” Harrison said.

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The guitarist added: “He’d never give you the opportunity to come out with something. But on ‘Drive My Car’ I just played the line, which is really like a lick off ‘Respect,’ you know, the Otis Redding version — duum-da-da-da-dada-da-dum.

“And I played that line on the guitar, and Paul laid that with me on bass,” Harrison explained. “We laid the track down like that. We played the lead part later on top of it.” 

When you listen to ‘Drive My Car’ after hearing Otis Redding’s original version of ‘Respect’, the rhythmic similarities are uncanny. The Beatles’ song has the driving beat of the original and is very bass-heavy. Harrison and McCartney actively wanted to emulate Redding’s classic Memphis sound, and they succeeded. Influenced by the R&B that was huge at the time, there’s no surprise the ‘Fab Four’ tried their hands at it, as it is well known they were huge fans of labels such as Motown and Stax.

In a way, it’s strange that the band decided to include ‘Drive My Car’ on what is ostensibly their weed album, the folk-oriented Rubber Soul, but this was The Beatles, they made it work. An absolute classic, augmented by the fact soul legend Otis Redding inspired it, ‘Drive My Car’ is always worth a revisit.

Listen to ‘Drive My Car’ below.