“Abbey Road” is not my favorite Beatles album.
But “You Never Give Me Your Money” is my favorite track on it.
By 1969 the Beatles had ascended to the superstar status they deserved, far beyond competitors like the Rolling Stones, never mind the American groups. I know that sounds funny, after breaking on to the scene in 1964 the Fab Four never left it, but we expected them to. Bands were evanescent, one hit wonders ruled. Not only did the Beatles usher in credibility and longevity, they constantly pushed the envelope, we never knew where they were going, they were ahead of us, so different from today, when the same guy makes all the same tunes and we’re supposed to think that Taylor Swift is a breakthrough and the country acts employ Les Pauls to play a facsimile of seventies rock and roll.
But then came the White Album.
The breakthrough was “Sgt. Pepper.” But it had no hit singles. It was different, but almost a last step, where do you go from there?
To a double LP with no cover art.
Of course there was an episode in between, the ill-fated “Magical Mystery Tour,” with its glorious first side and second side of hits which was an EP in the UK, but no one ever saw that as a regular album, it just filled the gap, at Christmas, a marketing exercise in the U.S.
But no one was prepared for the White Album. Which inaugurated the concept of double albums to our detriment, especially in the CD era, where one CD is the length of an old school double vinyl album. But the White Album was imperfect, an endless sprawl, a journey to the center of the mind of four heroes who were suddenly somewhat more because of the illustration of their rough edges. Everybody had a favorite cut off of the White Album, whether the bombastic, laughable “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?” or “Rocky Raccoon” or the slowed-down, non-hit version of “Revolution” (who leaves the hit off the album, never mind include “Revolution 9,” which we neither understood nor liked but listened to.) The White Album permeated the consciousness of America’s youth, was the coda to the tumultuous year of 1968, and then came “Abbey Road.”
We heard rumors the band was breaking up. But they were only that. There was no information pipeline. You could be the biggest star in the world and live in near-privacy. All we had were the records and the radio, our aural soundtrack on the go, before the Walkman, never mind the MP3.
We knew the release date, we had cars, we bought it when it came out and you heard “Abbey Road” everywhere. We sang “Come Together” in the school library, Gary Fialk tapping out the rhythm with his fingers on the table and then we were off. George Harrison’s “Something” was the big hit, we were stunned the way “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” ended so abruptly, as if someone lifted the needle at the end of the first side.
But really it was all about the second side, the suite.
After “Here Comes The Sun,” one of George Harrison’s sweetest numbers, presaging his gigantic success with “All Things Must Pass” the following year.
The most famous song on the second side was “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window,” because of its obtuse lyrics and the fact that we already knew it, having been included on dearly-departed Joe Cocker’s second LP in a similar arrangement.
After buying the LP the one I couldn’t get over was “Polythene Pam,” because of the aggressiveness and the intensity and the stereo effects going from ear to ear in my headphones.
At this late date one can argue that the most memorable song is “The End,” with its endlessly repeated quote, “The love you take is equal to the love you make.”
But forty-odd years later, the one I love best, the one that goes through my brain, is “You Never Give Me Your Money.”
Maybe it’s the piano intro, so honest and reflective. With the distorted guitar leavening the sound as it goes on. Remember when guitars were the essence of rock and roll, remember when we all lived for rock and roll?
“You never give me your money
You only give me your funny paper
And in the middle of negotiations you break down”
Now the problem with the Beatles is they’ve been overanalyzed, speak your personal truth and some scholar will come out of the woodwork and tell you your interpretation is wrong. But the truth is when we became indoctrinated by these tunes, we knew no backstory, all we had was our own reaction, and as Bob Dylan told us, this was the most important. And money was important in 1969, but it was not the religion it is today, it was a means to survival. Once you had enough you could get in your VW bus or stick out your thumb and set out across this great county of ours, go on an adventure, back when where you went and what you experienced was more important than what you accumulated.
“I never give you my number
I only give you my situation
And in the middle of investigation I break down”
Reluctance, obfuscation, the exact opposite of twenty first century living wherein everybody reveals everything all the time, where being overexposed is the essence of life. We say we’re individuals, but really we’re just parroting each other, looking to fit in.
“Out of college money spent
See no future pay no rent
All the money’s gone, nowhere to go”
Ain’t that a laugh.
Of course there are those who cannot get jobs living with mom and dad, but the truth is everybody today is a winner, at least in their own mind, on a path to victory. They’re world-beaters. Reflection is taboo. But the “Graduate” had it right, graduation is depressing, what then, what to do, who to become? I was a ski bum. No one does that anymore, certainly not from an elite college. Everybody’s on a fast track to nowhere, which is where we truly went, in search of self-discovery.
“But oh, that magic feeling, nowhere to go
Oh, that magic feeling, nowhere to go”
I just lost two gigs, nearly all my guaranteed income disappeared in a day. Frightening, not easy to recover from. But there’s a creeping sense of freedom, I can be whoever I want to be. I’m not sure what that is, where I’m going, but a weight’s been lifted from my shoulders, a role music played back before it was just aural grease riding alongside you as you danced together in a group.
But as poignant as the lyrics of “You Never Give Me Your Money” may be, it’s the twists and turns of the ride that are infatuating.
It starts off so slow and dreamy, and then it starts to run, with a treated vocal, as if you exited the building and were running down the street with a smile on your face. There’s that deep dive bass, holding down the enterprise, anchoring you to where you are, and then it’s all thrown over in pursuit of exploration and fun, illustrating how we should live our lives.
And then there’s that magic feeling, when it all stops and we all revel in the power of being fully present and alive, and that’s what it’s truly about, eyes wide open, hair blown back, taking it all in.
And if you do it right, you let go, go with the flow, it’s truly like a dream. Pick up your bags, get in your car, get away from here, forge new friendships, have new experiences, live your life to the fullest, make the most of it.
And who knows if all good children go to heaven, all we know is that guitar alone makes us feel like we’re surfing the stratosphere. The endlessly repeated hypnotic groove has us nodding our heads in agreement, we were along for the trip, we were all in it together, blazing trails at the tail end of the sixties.
And there you have it, the difference between yesterday and today. The evolution from possibility to disillusionment. The change from the military being the enemy to being embraced. The dissipation of hope.
No one gives you their money anymore.
If you’re broke you’re told to get off the couch and get it together, losers are not tolerated in America.
People beg on GoFundMe.
Bankers have all the money and we wonder how things have gone topsy-turvy.
And then we put on the Beatles and realize it doesn’t have to be that way.
That’s the power of art. That’s why we gave them all of our money. That’s why we still do. We want more of that magic feeling.