Back in June, when McCartney recorded “I’m Down,” he wrapped a take by uttering, “Plastic soul, man, plastic soul,” which is what they heard black guys call Mick Jagger. The phrase became the album title, twisted into a pun on tennis shoes. They recorded a blues track called “12 Bar Original” that recalled Tommy-Tucker’s “Hi Heeled Sneakers” (ultimately held off the album). But the LP’s soulful opening track almost never survived.
McCartney arrived at a writing session at Lennon’s with an idea about “Golden Rings,” but it was a non-starter. One of them wanted to throw in the towel, but the other kept pushing, “No, we can do it.” It fell into place when they changed the title to “Drive My Car,” a blues term for having sex. It turned into a little story about an actress who tells a guy he can be her limo driver. Proudly, he counters that he can do better than being her chauffeur, but she’s so sexy she talks him into it. Then in the last verse, she admits that she doesn’t have a car.
The key was getting a deep bass sound. Harrison listened to Otis Redding’s “Respect” and suggested that he and McCartney play something similar on bass and guitar at the same time.[i] But Abbey Road Studios couldn’t get the bass sound as loud or full as the black labels. Next time, the Beatles fumed, they’d record at Stax.
“It needs cowbell,” Lennon said, like “In the Midnight Hour.” It was the first Beatles session to go past midnight, wrapping at 12:15 pm.
Critic Dave Marsh said the album’s single, “Day Tripper,” was the closest the Beatles had ever come to making a soul record. “Satisfaction” had challenged the Beatles’ supremacy — Stones’ manager Oldham called it “The National Anthem”[ii] — by sweeping the masses to the dance floor with its lyrics of sexual frustration, so Lennon fought back with his own dance riff about a “prick teaser,” then gave the line to McCartney to sing as “big teaser.” Lennon joined in for the chorus and they remade “Twist and Shout” for the instrumental break. The main riff itself was inspired by Bobby Parker’s “Watch Your Step,”[iii] just as it had been for “I Feel Fine,” recorded almost exactly a year earlier. Otis Redding put it in his set.
[i] Mitchell Glazer, “Growing Up at 33 1/3: The George Harrison Interview,” Crawdaddy, 1977, http://www.beatlesinterviews.org/db1977.0200.beatles.html
[ii] Craig Rosen, The Billboard Book of Number One Albums, 77.
[iii] Stephen J. Spignesi, Michael Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs: A Passionate Fan’s Guide, 108.