Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"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.


Uncle E said...

That was a brilliant analysis, Holly. Next to Yellow Submarine Abbey Road was my least favorite Beatles album for a long, long time. God, I even preferred Let It Be! Don't know why. It's now right up there, and it was side II that converted me.
Personally I could care less about the iTunes thing, 'cause I, like everyone else in the world, already own the albums in various formats. I guess it's for the "kids", which is great, although I always thought it sacrilegious to bust up the Beatles albums into tiny song fragments.
And AC/DC is now the last major holdout on iTunes, and I believe it's for philosophical reasons vs the Beatles business reasons.

Gary said...

Very nice! But isn't this song the THIRD track on side two?

Anonymous said...

Good, Holly...real good. And I suspect that you, as me, have always been a side two person (remember how the Firesign Theatre would designate their vinyl "This Side," and "The Other Side"----great call for confusion in the smokey state we may have been in).

You captured it all, and the laden sadness inherent on side two was only increased as we knew that this was the last time around.

Once there was a way to get back homeward...


Holly A Hughes said...

Oops, Gary -- you're right. What I meant to emphasize is that this is the lead-off song for the Side 2 musical collage. "Here Comes the Sun" always felt like a mere prelude, though, and "Because" was such a whacked-out dirge -- to my mind, this is where Side 2 really gets down to business. Meanwhile you've adjusted the lights, arranged your pillows, poured a drink, lit an herbal refreshment -- now you're ready to go.

dante said...

I think--and hope-- that the 'Beatles on iTunes' is the harbinger of the vinyl revolution. We saw the re-mastered Beatles cd's bump sales last year, this year they'll do it for downloads...setting the stage for a full vinyl re-release orgy in the coming year! I hope they tease out the vinyl re-issues, releasing thick vinyl with nice artwork at a pace that makes us anticipate the next release whilst giving time to appreciate the album we have on hand. Bring back the spinning black disc, the 20 minute side, the "What shall we play next?" that has been lost for too long. Lead the charge!!

NickS said...

I have to admit, the Beatles just don't do much for me. I don't dislike them, but I wouldn't go out of my way to listen to them and when I do I'm sometimes surprised and often just blandly unimpressed.

Reading this post and listening to this song I had couple thoughts.

1) It's an interesting example of the way in which one's musical history affects listening. There are musicians that I've listened to enough that part of the interest in hearing their songs is, "why did this specific creative person make those decisions?" I have no doubt that one of the pleasures of listening to the Beatles catalog is that the four of them have interesting and distinct (and evolving) creative personalities. Lacking that history the way in which Paul and John trade off vocals in that song just feels weird rather than evocative.

2) I don't like my pop songs to be, "like mosaics, the various band members' contributions like sparkling tiles molded into the whole." I'd rather listen to a pop song that has one great idea than ten interesting ideas which are moderately connected. Actually, that isn't quite true, I love the little creative flourishes in a good pop song -- my favorite part of that song was just how darn good the guitars sounded, but I also want some primal emotional hook, and that just doesn't hook me.

3) One thought I had while listening was, "really I like the early Beatles. Why can't they keep some of that energy?" But then I realized that's somewhat unfair. Everybody loves youthful pop music energy (I think here of your #1 single, "The Letter" with a young Alex Chilton radiating charisma). I wouldn't want the Beatles to have kept doing the same thing forever. But, at the same time, maturation is difficult, for a variety of reasons, and I do think the Beatles are clearly less catchy at that point than they were earlier.

4) There is something very dated about it. It feels distinctly non-contemporary for reasons that I can't articulate but which go beyond the 60s pop sound. Thinking about the previous point, the Beatles were in a unique moment. To have been the unquestioned greatest band in the world, tried to figure out how to deal with that success, and then be breaking up poses creative as well as personal challenges. It's no wonder, assuming that they don't just give up, that they wouldn't be producing generic pop music at that point. But, again, a reason why the music would be more interesting coming to it with a familiarity with the back-story.

I'm over-analyzing, but all of this is just to say that I don't feel critical towards the song, I just don't feel moved by it either.