"You Never Give Me Your Money" / The Beatles
Well, today the other shoe finally dropped. The war of Apple V. Apple has ended in a truce, and iTunes at last can offer the Beatles catalog for digital download.
Not that it matters to me -- I own all these tracks, in numerous formats: vinyl, cassette, CD, even bootlegs of the US tracklists and stereo and mono mixes. Of course, I got the giant remastered Beatles boxset for Christmas the year it came out. (Yippee!!) I've even got Beatles Rock Band, fer chrissakes. It's not a question of me needing those tracks, and frankly, it's not a question of the Beatles needing me to buy them. I'm sure they'll do quite well in this new format, without me boosting those sales figures.
Still, they were the last big holdout -- I guess now we can say that the digital revolution is complete. Just in time to start a new vinyl revolution, I say!!
Appropriate, then, to celebrate this event with a track from the Beatles' final album, Abbey Road. (Let It Be may have been released last, but it was recorded earlier.) By now, the Beatles were barely functioning as a unit, recording their parts separately and letting George Martin mix it all in the editing room. Sounds like a rotten way to make a record album -- but the Beatles defied even that logic and turned in another masterpiece. Their solution? Create songs that were like mosaics, the various band members' contributions like sparkling tiles molded into the whole.
Oh, you youngsters who only know this from the CD. You can only guess at the visceral excitement we feel as this commences, the first track on Side Two -- the opening movement of what turned out to be one great musical collage, all the way through to the doggerel coda of "Her Majesty." It begins simply, broodingly, a piano plinking out a repeated chord as Paul wistfully sings, "You never give me your money / You only give me your funny paper." As a kid, I thought he was referring to the Sunday comics, and in college I was told it meant rolling papers for joints. But I eventually realized that the "funny paper" was the flurry of contracts and agreements that ex-manager Allen Klein used to distract the Beatles from overseeing their complex business affairs.
Paul is singing, but this sounds like a John tune to me -- the repeated notes, the woeful rhythm, the satiric jabs -- and indeed, John joins in for the second verse, adding vocal harmonies as guitar and bass ramp up: "I never give you my number / I only give you my situation." It sounds almost classical, doesn't it, like some German lieder? When you think that only six years earlier this guys were singing "I Want To Hold Your Hand" -- well, it's amazing. Note that the third verse to this song -- "I never give you my pillow / I only send you my invitation" -- won't show up until the penultimate track on the album, "Carry That Weight." I love how those repeated motifs lace this entire album side together.
The song downshifts swiftly into rock-and-roll boogaloo for Paul's jaunty bridge, "Out of college, money spent / See no future, pay no rent." (How many times did I sing those lines to myself in the drifting years after college?) Crooning his best Elvis imitation, Paul turns his back on the business hassles, longing to recapture the freedom and promise of their early days. Soon it transitions into a second bridge, the dreamy "But oh that magic feeling," with its spangly chiming guitar riffs, melting into a progression of soft-focus choral ahs. "Oh that magic feeling / Nowhere to go" -- how delicious this must have sounded to the weary grown-up Beatles.
A stairstep guitar solo from George dives in, the same solo we'll hear later in "Carry That Weight." It's followed by Paul's urgently syncopated "One sweet dream" section (dig the bass here!). "One sweet dream / Pick up the bags and get in the limousine / Soon we'll be away from here, / Step on the gas and wipe that tear away" -- maybe Paul was thinking about escaping with Linda, but what I hear is the Beatles saying goodbye to their fans. These lines sprang to my mind the one time I saw Paul McCartney on the street, a fleeting glimpse of him jumping into a black SUV. Note that the second time George plays the solo, Paul doubles it on bass. Naturally he drowns out the guitar -- the bass always does (did George never figure this out?).
And then the song morphs yet again, into the ominous chant of "One two three four five six seven, / All good children go to heaven." ("Heaven" -- surely a clue to Paul being dead. I haven't even started on the Paul-Is-Dead scenario in this song.) It's John singing, and I think of Yellow Submarine's "All Together Now," or else the eerie "voices out of nowhere put on specially by the children for a lark" on the White Album's "Cry Baby Cry." The sonic tapestry grows dense, different guitar riffs weaving through it -- makes me anticipate that bit in "The End" where the three guitarists peel off dueling solos and Ringo finally gets his own solo bash on the kit. (Nice of them to let Richie have his own moment at least once before they packed it all in!) There's only a whisper of the same thing here, though, before the track fades out gently, to whispers of wind chimes and crickets.
A hell of a lot to pack into four minutes, wouldn't you say? But then, that's why the Beatles were the Beatles. Every once in a while, it helps to hunker down with one of these tracks and remind myself all over again just how good they were.