“Drive By” is the only song written by Duran Duran that is included on Thank You, released in 1995.
Essentially, “Drive By” is an alternate version of “The Chauffeur”. The music is virtually the same, although in this song, there is spoken word by Simon Le Bon. Other sources describe the song as an introduction or even an extension to “The Chauffeur”. Oddly, “The Chauffeur is on a much earlier album, none other than Rio, released in 1982.
Some might think it is strange to be writing an intro to a song that was released 13 years prior, but you know – hey – it was the 90s. Things were different then!
Let’s just listen and get into the review, shall we?
It was the hottest day in July
And all along Santa Monica Blvd
Cars were stood still
And a gleaming metal tube
Would stretch all the way from Highland
Back to La Brea
And she met under Los Angeles sunshine
Young man was sitting at the wheel
On his way to make a pickup
Turned off the air-con
Rolled down the window
And began to sweat
Out over the Hollywood hills
He saw the clouds building
Like great dark towers of rain
Ready to come tumbling down
Any day now
Not a day too soon
(any day now)
And as the music drifted in
From other cars
His eyes started to sleep
This is the story of his dream [Bridge]
(Sing Blue Silver, Sing Sing Blue Silver)
I love the effects at the beginning of the song. The first reminds me of a cicada humming in the bushes, the second sounds like soda fizzing away in a glass, chilled with ice. Then I hear the distant sounds of the surf pounding away at the beach. All the while being trapped in a reflective metal tube, sitting on steaming black asphalt, the smell of hot tar assaulting the nose as the window is opened, hoping for even just the slightest breeze. That’s summer in Los Angeles, without a doubt! The strings, along with these effects are the perfect background to the spoken word. They create exactly the right mood. I can see the heat waves emanating off the street, I almost feel that endless, mid-summer afternoon exhaustion, while wishing for an autumn, along with open streets that never quite make their way to Los Angeles.
There is one word to describe every facet of this song: drama. From start to finish, it is over-the-top dramatic. The spoken word by Simon LeBon has got to be among my most favorite things found on any Duran song. Someone unleashed Simon, likely while giving the singular direction, “Be Dramatic”. I doubt anyone needed to tell him twice.
Lamya performs the “Sing Blue Silver” lyric, along with some fantastic and, yes—dramatic—violin, and then, just as though it were a dream, we’re spun straight into the ocarina solo from The Chauffeur. The song is obviously quite familiar, yet in some ways very different due to the arrangement. Clearly the music is good, but we’ve already heard a similar version that was fine just as it was. What more could really be added?
While I appreciate the imagery, the words, and even the extended ocarina solo, I still don’t quite understand why the choice was made to write an intro to a song that already exists, particularly when it is the only song written by Duran Duran on all of Thank You. That said, this was during a period where I felt like the band was trying to rewrite their own history, or wipe their slate clean. In that sense, “Drive By” fits, and is also a reasonable example of what this band can do to appropriately create a mood, and tell a story.
I wonder what is the best way to really review this song? Do I think of it as a weird cover song of one of Duran’s originals? Do I think of it as a brand new song? Can that be done when it obviously features the Chauffeur, especially at the end? I’m not sure how best to do it.
The first place I would like to start, I guess, is the concept of the song. Who would have thought about adding a significant intro to an already existing song? I cannot think of very many other songs that do that. Then, Duran did not just choose any song but one that is a fan favorite, one that is a song often considered by many to be a hidden gem. I admire that Duran did this, really. Sometimes, they choose to do something super artistic and I always think the same thing: This could go one of two ways. It could be amazing or it could be the stupidest move ever. This song is one of those that could go either way, for me. So, I guess that is how I will evaluate it. Is it awesome or did it fall flat?
When I first heard this song, I definitely put it in the “what the heck are they thinking” category. I didn’t get it and really did not give it a chance. I’m not the biggest fan of the Chauffeur but even I wondered if this was a bad move. Back then, I didn’t give myself time to really LISTEN to the song. I heard that spoken word of Simon’s and dismissed it as ridiculous and overindulgent. As I got older (notice I didn’t say old!), I gave it a new chance. The spoken word part obviously gathers the majority of my attention. I have to say that the spoken word sounds divine. I am a fan of Simon’s spoken word. It definitely creates a mood. That said, I am not certain that the lyrics themselves live up to the mood. Rhonda used the word “drama” up above and I think that is a good one. Do the words make the drama necessary? I’m not sure that they do. Yes, it paints the picture of a LA summer but as I listen I keep thinking that I’ll hear something bigger, more significant being talked about. And maybe that is the point. Maybe we are supposed to stop every once in awhile and take in the scene rather than just quickly drive by (yes, I intended that.) It could be genius. It could be a situation in which the band gets close but not quite to that level of genius.
So, what about the rest? Like Rhonda, I adore the use of all the sound effects, especially at the beginning. This combined with how the spoken word is delivered definitely creates that feeling of warm, slow, deliberate moves that seem to define lazy, summer living without relying on the standard cliches of beaches and swimming pools. It shows how Duran embraces the latest technology if it suits their artistic purpose. They are not just about adding sound bytes and effects for no reason. They do it for meaning and enhancement only. These particular sound effects are enhanced by the lovely strings. On top of all that, I found the transition back to more of the original sounding Chauffeur to be quite smooth.
All in all, I think the band took a huge risk to do this song. The fan base could have been up in arms about “covering” (sort of) a fan favorite. The general public could have just thought the song was weird or overly artistic. They risked alienating pretty much everyone. Yet, they did it anyway. They let the art dictate, which I find admirable. That said, I’m still not sure they should have focused on the Chauffeur. I also think they could have changed those lyrics to make the words better match the feeling.