Deciphering DMC - "Drive My Car"
By Dr Lou Abbott - LouAbbott.net
Recorded: October 13, 1965, Take 4 (of 4).
Tracks used: 4 Mixed to Mono October 25, Stereo October 26
Released: December 3, 1965 Rubber Soul A1
Feature 1: The "Hitch Hike" groove with cowbell "click"
Feature 2: Count the intro and enter on time
Feature 3: Learn the hand/foot fills at the verse ends.
Let’s start by pointing out the importance of the "Hitch Hike" cowbell-added groove to early/middle Lennon/McCartney compositions. Marvin Gaye’s recording (released in 1962 on the Tamla label with Gaye on drums ) made a huge impact on both John and Paul’s compositions, including "You Can’t Do That," the middle-8 of "A Hard Day’s Night," "I Call Your Name," and most of "Drive My Car."
Sound Clip 1: "Hitch Hike" groove
With regard to overdubbing, this phase of The Beatles recording history involves first the merging of separate takes into a unified basic track through the use of a 4-track recorder. The four tracks were mixed down to two tracks (using another machine) and overdubbing (called "sound injection" or "SI" at the time) was subsequently added.
Although George Martin (in his book All You Need is Ears) lauds Ringo for maintaining the original tempo throughout multiple takes, it is possible that the merged tracks may be the reason for the tempo change. The Beatles also used VariSpeed to move the tempo of the master recording up or down in this era.
Why is all this relevant to our discussion? This cowbell part is an early click track that adds Motown "Soul" (and R&B authenticity) to the groove of the song.
Try to listen to the cowbell as Ringo did when he was recording; the performer of the cowbell part is actually in control of the time in "Drive My Car." You can hear the cowbell clearly on the right side of the stereo version of Rubber Soul. You can do this by playing the track with the balance turned all the way to the right. You’ll hear the cowbell isolated along with the lead guitar, lead vocal, piano, and vocal harmonies.
Sound Clip 2: DMC right side isolated
This method of recording was repeated when John Lennon played the cowbell on the basic track of McCartney’s "With a Little Help From My Friends."
Notice how the cowbell drops out on the lyric "But you can do something in-between" and the same place in each subsequent verse. This is probably because there is enough going on in this spot: three-part vocal harmonies and Ringo’s hand-foot fill, which will be discussed below. Percussion instruments are often recorded in this way: record the part continuously and add/subtract in the mixdown phase.
More Bass End!
The sound of Rubber Soul was new for The Beatles and their producers. Paul McCartney had begun to add the bass part as an overdub (not part of the basic track,) making the sound fuller and independently interesting. You can also hear this on the isolated right side of DMC. This is another Motown influence, in particular the bass contributions of the legendary James Jamerson.
Ringo Starr’s bass drum also gained a larger presence. Listen again to "Hitch Hike" for the bass and bass drum dialogue and the Motown/Stax influence is obvious. The Beatles had finally convinced EMI and George Martin to increase the low-end frequencies of their recordings and DMC, as the opening track on Rubber Soul, announces their new direction loud and clear.
I am using the isolated left side of DMC for the Sound Clip examples. This side of the stereo mix contains bass, rhythm guitar (doubling most of the bass line,) drums, lead vocal, tambourine, and doubled lead and harmony vocals. Try listening with a set of headphones to hear the combined stereo mix—DMC (and Rubber Soul) will not sound the same after you read this article!
Deciphering the Intro
The easiest way to hear this opening is to focus on the entrance of the bass. If you start from the bass, the drums enter six beats later. This seems to be the anchor that holds all the parts together.
Sound Clip 03: Bass and Drum entrance counted from bass entrance.
Counting the song from the beginning is very confusing and has led to multiple interpretations. The guitar and bass lick that starts the track is probably an edited version, and The Beatles never performed this song live. Trying to figure out this intro metrically is not for everyone, so for those who are interested, here goes:
I believe there is an 8th-note upbeat followed by eight even quarter-note beats. If you use this approach, the bass part starts on the 3rd beat of the first full measure (as mentioned above) and the drum fill starts on the 3rd beat of the second measure. Here is DMC slowed down 20 points with my count added.
Sound Clip 04: DMC intro with count from beginning, slowed down.
Check out the Jonas Brothers version of "Drive My Car" at a McCartney tribute on YouTube. The band is solid behind the teen stars and the drummer lays out the time with stick clicks (and then the hihat) before the initial guitar lick enters. Much easier to hear when the pulse is laid out for you.
Ringo’s Intro Fill
Ringo plays a drum fill that is an example of how he came up with simple ideas that fit the situation perfectly. Since he was left-handed, his left hand starts the idea and doesn’t have to move. There is power and command in this fill-- the band will enter solidly and the song’s energy is catapulted forward. No wonder DMC starts Rubber Soul!
Sound Clip 05: Ringos entrance regular speed
The Verses of DMC
Ringo plays a forward-leaning pattern similar to the "Hitchhike" groove (but not as syncopated.) He finishes the verse with a combination of hands on the snare drum and bass drum. This dominance of the drums in the verse-ends is a characteristic of the middle-era compositions of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison. Still to come: Lennon's "Rain" and "Good Morning, Good Morning"
Verse One Pattern and Fill
Sound clip 06: Drum break 1
Notice how the first measure translates to this:
This first-measure pattern is consistent through all four of Ringo’s verse fills in DMC. The second measures will change.
DMC: Chorus 1
Notice that there are no fills in any of the chorus sections and the drum pattern (accompanied by the cowbell and tambourine) resembles the verse. There really is no need for the drums to speak here since the piano plays the bluesy-thirds figure in every available space.
The Links: Chorus to Verse 2
Now we discuss a major characteristic of the drumming in Beatles’ songs: the non-fill! Listen to the drumming that takes place between the verse and the chorus:
Sound Clip 07: Transition to Verse 2
Can you hear that Ringo does not fill here? The guitar/bass lick has no competition and the tempo does not move.
Drummers have a tendency to move the tempo when adding fills at these "link" sections, so playing through with no fill assures that the tempo will remain consistent. In this way, Ringo serves the song by what he doesn’t play.
This is a good illustration of Ringo Starr’s legendary drumming simplicity, which has influenced generations of great drummers, musicians and songwriters. He is a master of connecting sections seamlessly—requirement #1 for keeping your gig! His approach and sound still stands as the template for Classic Rock and Pop drumming to this day. Drummers around the world still regularly hear this command from bandmates: "Play this like Ringo."
Verse 2 Drum Break
Sound Clip 8: Drum Break 2
The "Beep Beep" section
The band stops and enters again together at the "Beep, beep, beep, beep, yeah!" section. This is referred to as stop time--the rhythm section stops while the vocal part continues acapella. Notice how cleanly Ringo stops and re-enters each time and remember that there is no digital software available in 1965 that can clean up his part. This is another admirable quality of Ringo’s drumming style that is under-appreciated.
Sound Clip 09: "Beep, Beep" section stop time
The Guitar Solo, Drum Break 3, and Chorus
The slide guitar solo follows the chord structure of the verse and Ringo places his drum break in the same place as verse 1 and 2. Notice that Ringo’s hands arrive late in one spot but the tempo does not change. This may be an edit point or just a mistake that George Martin decided was not worth re-recording or fixing later. You will find that the error is much less obvious in the stereo mix.
Sound Clip 10: Drum break 3
Transition to Verse 4, Chorus, and "Beep, Beep 2"
Once again, Ringo plays no fill or break to go back to the final verse of DMC. The cowbell and tambourine are still propelling the groove, in fact you will notice that the tambourine plays through the stop time at the "beep, beep…" sections.
Sound Clip 11: Transition to Verse 3
Sound Clip 12: Drum Break 4
As DMC is fading out on a series of "beep, beep" tags, Ringo contributes a crisp snare drum fill. You can hear it as the track fades quickly away.
Sound Clip 13: "Beep, Beep" to fade with fill
Rubber Soul is a pivotal record for The Beatles on many levels and Ringo Starr, often derided as just a passenger on the fame train, seems capable of stepping up and changing his drum style in step with the band. He has already, at this point, changed from recording live (Please Please Me and With The Beatles) to the basic track/overdub process that often did not initially include the bass. His laid-back "Soul" drumming is authentic and consistent, as is the energetic Country and Western grooves in "Run for Your Life" and "What Goes On." George Harrison is also evolving as a serious composer with a new set of demands (listen to Ringo’s "Wall of Sound" approach to the verse of "Think for Yourself"). The drum chair in this band was a hot seat!
As mentioned throughout this article, Ringo’s biggest contribution is the ability to serve the song by simplicity and consistent execution of the increasing number of drum breaks. He is not always perfect, but there is more editing going on behind the scenes than the Monkees, and the charm of 1960’s records is the human element and the sound of vinyl.
Listen to the initial attempt at "Norwegian Wood" on The Beatles Anthology 2 and "12-Bar Original" to get a glimpse of the experimentation going on and keep in mind that "Tomorrow Never Knows" is just around the corner. "Drive My Car" is one of the real ‘rockers’ in the Beatles’ catalog and clearly one of McCartney’s favorites to this day.
Notable quotes on DMC:
1. Everett p. 315: "Perhaps the track’s most original feature is its ametrical introduction…" Starr’s oddly accented fill here
could be linked to his syncopated, though much more deliberate transition to the chorus
2. Pollack: "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… The use of sizzling cymbal crashes to punctuate several nodal points of the song [the Chorus sections] is also nicely euphoric."