I've been avoiding writing about this song for four days...
It's not something I should be writing about pro bono like this. Proper care needs to be taken.
It's just too many things at once.
It is, I believe, the finest Beatles song recorded. That's just all on its own. I could go into extreme depth just about the extraordinary creativity replete throughout the song, down to the cricket chirping faintly in the song's fade-out.
It's also the opening track of a connected medley of songs that takes up the entire second side of the Abbey Road album, forming the Beatles' grandest composition. It may not seem connected to the rest of the songs of the medley at first, until you hear that cricket chirp persisting into "Sun King," the next song in the sequence.
This epic medley is also the final sequence of music produced by the Beatles on their final album. That album, Abbey Road, is a landmark of songwriting quality, far and away the band's most mature creation.
In the lyrics, it's a song documenting the impending breakup of the Beatles, obsessing over financial struggles and fantasies of escape.
It's a Paul song, and that also means many things in this context. That means that this song is tuneful as hell because that was Paul's genius, and it's a culmination of his tunefulness meeting his increasing need to get back to his roots as a rocker. That also means the lyrics are from the perspective of the one Beatle who saw himself as the stabilizing force in the band's later years while the other members dabbled and dallied and distanced.
And yet I've also thought about how "You Never Give Me Your Money," the Side B medley, and Abbey Road as a whole is not really Beatles music. It's post-Beatles music. It's a Beatles reboot. The Beatles had essentially broken up after the collapse of the previous album, which would end up being released after Abbey Road as Let It Be. And even Let It Be had been a drastic departure from every Beatles album before it, utilizing a different producer (Phil Spector), a different recording studio, and experimenting with a new songwriting method, where the members attempted to write their music on a cold sound stage in front of an array of rolling cameras. The failure of those experiments had essentially ended the band as a functioning entity. The Beatles really only came back together to record the Abbey Road album out of the basest of motivations: Contractual obligation. To just get it done with the least possible discomfort, the band opted to go back to their old producer (George Martin) and recording studio (Abbey Road studio). But you can't really go home again.
Rather than really break much new ground, Abbey Road became a pastiche of Beatles-ness. It took all the songwriting and production tricks they had learned on previous albums and re-applied them with the efficiency of veterans. There is palpable comfort from being back in the old routines after gaining some hard-earned perspective on them.
That's not to say Abbey Road isn't incredibly rich. No matter what the tabloid drama going on with the Beatles, when it came down to picking up the instruments, they couldn't help but produce excellent music.
It came in more distracted fits and starts now, though. The Beatles went into the Abbey Road sessions overflowing with song fragments. Previous Beatles albums had taken unfinished fragments and stitched them together into some amazing songs like "A Day In the Life." But for Abbey Road, there were more fragments than completed songs.
"You Never Give Me Your Money" is a song assembled from fragments that is joined onto additional fragments to create a "medley" of songs that fill half an album. A medley usually takes full-length songs and reduces them to fragments so as to only play a series of highlights. The songs in the Beatles' medley, however, only ever existed in fragmentary form.
This approach is actually pretty lazy, and if we're honest, only the Beatles could've gotten away with it. A less acclaimed band probably would've been ridiculed for producing such multiple-personality music. Rather than develop songs with traditional musical methods of sonic unity and harmonic tension, "You Never Give Me Your Money" jump-cuts from one style to another without warning or even introductory transitions. But the Beatles had already established this as part of their style, so no one complained.
The Beatles could also get away with it because even a 30-second fragment written by the Beatles was blessed with profound catchiness.
Every fragmentary portion of "You Never Give Me Your Money" is satisfaction. Ditto the medley that follows.
I don't have the inclination to give you the guided tour. It's all there for you. Listen to the song, then listen to the medley, then listen to the entirety of Abbey Road. Then go back and listen to all of the Beatles. Then come back here. Think of Jon struggling with "You Never Give Me Your Money" and nod.