Monday, August 23, 2010

Baby Driver

This song reads like a playground hand-jive, but sounds like a Beach Boys track. There is a great deal of childhood imagery... and then a whole lot of car-racing imagery. The title itself is, in fact, the two words "baby" and "driver."

The jump-rope sing-song element is the "my daddy"/"my mama" part. The information about the parents is adult, however, and at least somewhat autobiographical. Simon's father was a very successful session bass-player, for instance. In one interview, Simon recalls a song coming on the radio and his father off-handedly remarking, "I think I played on that." (I admit I have no idea if any of the military information has any basis in fact.)

Another childhood element is the phrase "once upon," as "once upon a time." Yet another is the invitation "come to my room and play."

(The speaker does mention the circumstances of his birth, but that can hardly be counted as childhood imagery. Many songs have lyrics like "born in the USA" or "born to be wild.")

As for racing imagery, there is the chorus, which mentions "wheels," the "road," an "engine," and the line "what's my number," as all racecars have numbers.

Whether childhood imagery or car imagery, by the end of the song, they both seem to be metaphors for sex. "I wonder how your engine feels" refers to the same thing as the line in Springsteen's "Born to Run": "strap your hands 'cross my engines."

And then there is the blatant line: "Yes we can play/ I'm not talkin' 'bout your pigtails/ I was talkin' 'bout your sex appeal."

My theory? It's about a guy trying to lose his virginity. Put together, the song seems to be one giant come-on. He is young, still a "baby," with no accomplishments to his name, so he brags about his parents as a way of strutting.

Further, he "wonders how [the girl's] engine feels", and wants to "play," but has as much intention of staying around as Dion's Wanderer: "I hit the road and I'm gone... scoot down the road..." (The Wanderer explains, "When I find myself falling for some girl/ I hop right into my car and I drive around the world.")

The line "What's my number?" could then mean "You don't even know my phone number or address, do you? I'm gone before you can find out."

The virginity theory also explains the line about carrying a "gun," but not yet getting a chance to "serve"-- i.e. use his "gun" to serve anyone else.

He is a "baby driver," with temporary tags and a learner's permit, but still no license. This would explain his ridiculous attempts at seduction... and his likelihood of crashing instead of making it all the way around the track.


Next Song: The Only Living Boy in New York

10 comments:

  1. The line "my mama was an engineer" is almost certainly a nod to Peggy Seeger's feminist anthem "I want to be an engineer." As I recall, Pete Seeger (Peggy's half-brother) knew Simon and shared folk repertoire with him.

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  2. I admit I had forgot about "Gonna Be a an Engineer." How appropriate that your comment comes in the same week as International Women's Day!

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  3. Paul didn't write many songs that were pure throwaway, but this is definitely one of them. Not one of his shining moments.

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    1. Only those with a limp libido and limited sense of fun would fail to thrill to this racy little dittie. I've had a crush on this fictional hot rodding bad boy since I first heard Baby Driver and, as a 15-year old SoCal beach kid, responded to its suggestively rebellious raucousness.

      Yes, it runs counter to their usual folksy, emo, flute-laden fare, but it's the diversity of Simon's repertoire and stylings that has kept him current for over five decades. Zoom zoom zoom!

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    2. Greyling-- I definitely put this in the "just having fun" column, along with "We Got a Groovey Thing Going," "Keep the Customer Satisfied" "Desultory Philippic," "Cecelia" "Pleasure Machine," and even "59th St Bridge Song."
      They knew how to make music fun when they had a mind to!

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    3. This is a GREAT song. If has a strong rhythm, a great chord sequence and riff as well as strong lyrics. A great throwbacks to 50s and 60s error pop.

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    4. Unknown-- Yes, Simon loves that musical time period, so it's not surprising that he chose that modality when writing a just-for-fun song.

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  4. Well, it was sort of a throwback to some of his early material, maybe. Like "Lone Teen Ranger." But with an R rating.

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  5. "Strap your hands 'cross my engines" is from Born to Run, not Thunder Road

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  6. Kiki-- Whoops! Thanks for catching that. I fixed it in the body of the post. I suppose I have to report to the Boss's office for that one!

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