Song Dissection: “You Never Give Me Your Money” from Abbey Road
“You Never Give Me Your Money” is in my mind, one of the best songs on Abbey Road. The melody is one of the most ambitious Paul McCartney ever wrote, a music-pastiche that incorporates three different home keys, various arrangements and production, and yet sounds cohesive as a whole. “You Never Give Me Your Money” also outwardly incorporates both homage to the rock and roll of the 50’s, but also pushes into 70’s rock/ballad territory, while inwardly it features temporal and character shifts in the lyrical narrative, clearly illustrating the loneliness of the narrator. So here is “You Never Give Me Your Money” dissected.
The opening phrase is a piano figure, with the home key of A minor and a progression dancing around the circle of fifths, giving it a resonance of a classical piece. A double-tracked (with a Leslie organ speaker effect) guitar comes in, playing a call and response with the main melody as the arrangement begins to swell with backing vocals (in triple harmony) and soft drums. Lyrically, McCartney makes a strong distinction between “You” and “I” with the stanza’s echoing the piano pattern and cementing the theme of the song overall, a sad reflection on how things have fallen apart. Contrast that with the lyrics of The Beatles early work which incorporated personal pronouns with a sense of familiarity, the cyclical chord progression coupled with the lyrics creates a world where the two sides are doomed to never meet.
With resounding piano chords, the song segues into it’s second section, a honky-tonk, double-swing time blues progression, echoing the repeating figure of being stuck in a rut that the first part of the song began, but this time, the narrative has a temporal shift to the past, and the focus is on what the future brings. McCartney’s evocation of “Oh that magic feeling/ nowhere to go” while presented in a hopeful manner in that part of the song only seems more tragic when aligned with the song’s beginning.
Then comes the instrumental push, with wordless backing vocals and a chiming ostinato guitar figure that serves to make the song more self confident, the hopeful message trying to take hold.
“One sweet dream” begins the third section, the lyrical narrative firmly establishing the need to move on and the resolving hope that things can still get better. The choice of “dream” is also telling, because it infers that a) it’s not reality and b) the repetition of “came true today” can be seen as both affirming and also unsure, as though the narrator needs to say it twice to believe it himself.
The child’s nursery rhyme at the end works both to console the narrator and make his wish for more innocent and easier times resonate as the overall message in the song.
Instrumentation and Arrangement:
The overall instrumentation of “You Never Give Me Your Money” has almost a dream-like quality, no doubt an intentional move on the part of McCartney to reflect the lyrical content. The quiet cadence of the intro is almost like the restful period before one sleeps, while the subtle increase of colorful instrumentation acts as a beck and call to imagination over reality. This would also explain the abrupt change in style for the second part of the song, the reflection on things passed, and it’s ability to shift forward into the (hopeful) future.
More even than the piano, the Leslie backed guitar melody almost serves as a guide for the narrator in between pieces, from its floating effect in the beginning to its mark as a transition in between the second and third acts. The honky-tonk second act has an almost faded effect on it, the instrumentation and vocals not as clear, while the drumming picks up more of a presence, putting an emphasis on the fact that the narrator is not in control of the setting, a sort of going through the motions as it were.
As mentioned before, that choral backed guitar break propels the message of hope, that breakthrough moment, both literally and metaphorically while the third act’s arrangement and instrumentation is much more lively, the guitars chomping at the bit, moving in syncopation with McCartney’s vocal presence, before bringing back another ostinato figure (albiet much slower) that not only calms down the affair, but works as an effective segway into both the nursery rhyme outro, and the intro of “Sun King”.
The overall arrangement foreshadows the kinds of 70s arena rock ballads and dark psychedelia that would make Queen and Pink Floyd respectively so successful. The Queen similarity is especially apparent in the piano led intro, while the similarities with Floyd can be found in the opening lyrical verse, and the richly dark guitar ostinatos and organ figures (this connection would be much more apparent on the following song “Sun King”)
The technical ability of McCartney’s singing is also on full display here, as each piece of the medley has its own singing style to boot, going full range from low baritone to high falsetto.
There’s also a slight thematic connection in the beginning of “You Never Give Me Your Money” to John Lennon’s song “Love” from his solo career. The progressions are very similar, just “Love” is a lot slower, this isn’t of course that big of a jump to make, as the two obviously had profound, if not explicit impacts on each other.
You can tell how important McCartney thought this song was, not only with it’s reappearance as a coda in “Carry That Weight” but with the overall progression of the Abbey Road medley itself, which borrows heavily from the C Major-A Major jump featured in the second to third act of “You Never Give Me Your Money”. It also doesn’t hurt that the A minor motif of “You Never Give Me Your Money” works well to juxtapose the A Major key of “The End”.
This is also the first time we’ve seen McCartney’s medley-within-a-song in full swing, it’s a hallmark of his later work (“Band on The Run” “Uncle Albert/ Admiral Halsey” “Back Seat of My Car” even “Silly Little Love Songs”) and its remarkable results make one wonder just what he could have accomplished with the rest of The Beatles to reign him in.