Abbey Road, Beatles, Bret Easton Ellis, George Harrison, John Lennon, Music Criticism, Music Praise, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr

On The Beatles’ "You Never Give Me Your Money"

Inspired by Bret Easton Ellis recent obsession with the song, I wanted to peel back the layers of that perplexing and transporting Beatles deep cut (well, as close as they have to a deep cut), “You Never Give Me Your Money”, the halfway point of their last album Abbey Road. Also: I can get really intense about The Beatles so…

It’s the official starting point for the Side 2 song suite. Actually, I think “Because” might be but “…Money” is the first movement in the segue. “Because” seems related because it does all the things that the suite does that Side 1 does not. That is to say, every song on Side 1 has impugnable integrity. This does not imply quality but rather that these songs are unto themselves, complete, and wanting for nothing. Every song in the suite seeks the next one. I realize this is an artifact of never having perceived these songs any either way but I’d also argue that their inherent qualities are such that any alternative presentation would be impossible.

If “Because” is the primal soul burst that presages the searching song suite, “You Never Give Me Your Money” is the elaborated taffy pull overture. Paul McCartney never met an idea that he didn’t like, or was unable to cram on top of, in front of, or during an otherwise complete piece of music. That the five separate movements of this song not only work but sound organic against each other is a testament not simply to McCartney’s songwriting acumen but to tapping into the weird conflicting winds of his band’s dissolution.

“You Never Give Me Your Money” is about endings and beginnings, just like the suite is about endings and beginnings. And like the suite, the song connects ideas that don’t seem to have any relation to one another. Which brings me to…hard stop here…what the hell is this song about? There’s that plaintive intro (which is weirdly the only iteration of the chorus) about “negotiations” and “situations”. It sounds like a bad business deal, or perhaps a divorce. Then we’re transported via parlor piano to the situation of virtually every middle class twenty-something (and shit, some thirty-somethings) in the Western world: out of school, broke, and in debt. What did this person have to offer in the negotiations of the preceding section? This might be a story told out of time, with the narrator seeking refuge in the nostalgia of simpler times, hence the jauntiness.

“But oh, that magic feeling/nowhere to go”

This is the precipice of an emotion that we are about to dive into headfirst, wading through a forest of “oohs” and “aahs” and heavenly arpeggiated guitars. This is the first climax of the album and its a foreshadowing for the “real” one in “Golden Slumbers” but this is the one that hits home for me. Once Paul takes us off that cliff with his last “nowhere to go”, we are in that uncanny spot that he was in, realizing that his band was done without it actually being done yet. And he was finding peace and joy in that moment while still realizing that the end was nigh. We mirror our incidents onto that if only because at that point, people who heard this record when it came out had to have realized that they were halfway through the last Beatles album.

This shot in the arm of joyous sentiment sends us into the “one sweet dream” motif which is introduced by Lennon’s strange prog-y guitar solo, climbing and reaching as far as it can go before dropping us down into the dream, which feels like an escape, which doesn’t feel exactly like what the narrator originally wanted to do but “step on the gas and wipe that tear away,” he does. What is the “one sweet dream”? Is it the strange menagerie of characters, ad-libbed weirdness, and psychedelic images that comprise the rest of the suite up until “Golden Slumbers” (which gets us back to the grounding bummer theme of dissolution)? That’s a convenient summation but who knows.

“1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7/All good children go to heaven”

I have no clue what this means but it’s sung with such sincerity and conviction that it relieves the emotional consternation of the preceding. I have no doubt that Paul McCartney sincerely believes that hearing some variation on “it’s gonna be okay” is a very real way to alleviate stressful circumstances. Perhaps it’s a testament to The Beatles’ talent (and a by-product of the legendarily grueling recording regimen they were subjected to) that they could churn a handful of seemingly disparate ideas slap them together and defy them not to make narrative and musical sense, while speaking to the depths of their mental states at the time. And perhaps stitched-together ideas, as William Burroughs once opined, will make a greater sense than we allow ourselves to make in real time. This is all to say that this song is a joy and a lesson and far ahead of its time.