A Single Story Theory of the Abbey Road medley
Like Frank Lynn Meshberger
, M.D., I just thought everyone knew this. I obsessed on Abbey Road
in college, and in my many listenings sort of pieced it together in my own head. But the more I talked with friends, and the more I read reviews on what may be the greatest medley in rock history, I realize that I might…just might…have seen the giant brain in the fresco
Let me try now to convert you.
While the rest of the album is great, there is something special about the last 22 minutes, the medley which begins with You Never Give Me Your Money and continues until the end of the album, Her Majesty. Others have opined about the musical qualities of the music, so I will stick to the implied narrative.
I first realized that the songs interrelate from the repetition of form and melody between You Never Give Me Your Money
and Carry That Weight
...“and in the middle of X, I break down.” I then sought connections between the two and found them. Then I heard the connections between Mean Mr. Mustard
—who “always shouts out something obscene” at the Queen—and Her Majesty
, which also deals with a guy and the Queen. Finally, there are the references to wealth with the “limousine” in You Never Give Me Your Money
(not to mention the title) and the “silver spoon” in She Came in Through the Bathroom Window
. So, once you find these connections, it’s not a matter of if
they are connected, but how
Rather than take you through the labyrinthine step-by-step process I went through in my investigation, let me cut to the chase and describe the end product.
You Never Give Me Your Money
Some young, handsome, hippy
guy is begging for money from an attractive girl reading a newspaper in the park. She turns him down, but the guy is a charmer and gets her into a conversation. Eventually he asks her why she is there and in her answer the girl starts crying. She explains that she has run away from her wealthy family because they don’t understand her. She has been dancing to support herself but is now looking for other work. He comforts her. After the emotional moment is passed and the conversation winds down, the girl wants to keep in touch, so she asks him for his phone number. He changes the subject. She pressures him, and he breaks down and spills his
He is a recent college dropout with no job and no prospects. He lives in the park with friends. He doesn’t mind it too much. He enjoys the freedom. (That magic “nowhere to go” feeling.)
She is charmed by him. She believes he is on to something, a secret, perhaps. Surprisingly, she decides to join him and “be a hippy” in the park. (Gender swapped shades of Hair here.) He’s extremely happy about this.
The 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 segue
In celebration they join some of his friends and they light up a joint. She has never done it before. She's not sure, and doesn't mention it, but joins in.
As evening sets on the park, she starts to feel her high, and we begin to feel things from her perspective. The music is slow and the lyrics are stream-of-consciousness, quite like being stoned. She feels removed and sits as an observer, looking at everybody laughing and happy. She feels that this must have been the right decision because it feels to good, so welcome.
Quando paramucho segue
The party continues and the drugs get a little harder. Things get a little confusing, but not out of control. The two of them decide to go for a walk. As they encounter people in the park, they make up stories about them to entertain themselves.
Mean Mr. Mustard
They see a drunk homeless fellow. At first their story of him is positive and sympathetic until he shouts some epithet at the hippies to leave him alone and then goes off mumbling something rude about the Queen.
As the drugs hit her harder, they leave Mean Mr. Mustard and connect his story to a passing drag queen.
She Came in Through the Bathroom Window
Here is a cut in the story, suggested by the lack of lyrics (the same way Shakespeare indicates action by breaking his iambic pentameter) and the change in the music. When the scene “fades up,” we’re months later and seeing things from the guy’s perspective.
Since the drug evening, many things have happened. The girl passed out and fell into a coma that night. She woke up brain damaged. (“Sucking her thumb by her own lagoon.”) He has taken responsibility for the girl as best he can.
A brief note on the enigmatic “Sunday’s on the phone to Monday, Tuesday’s on the phone to me.” I interpret this to mean: At one point in the past, Sunday, they were living for the future, Monday, but only the protagonist is having to deal with the current consequences, Tuesday, because she is not quite living in the real world.
He tries a number of coping mechanisms including blaming her and lamenting how her protected life never prepared her. He has tried getting a job but couldn’t hold it because of the heavy responsibilities he has for her. He is feeling hopeless.
The entire event forced the guy to grow up. It was sort of a horrible, worst case scenario object lesson for him: Though we feel immortal when we are young, that nothing can hurt us, events have consequences. The slumbers are hers, the world where she now lives. He bemoans their mutual loss of innocence.
Carry That Weight & The End
He accepts his responsibility for her and its implications for the future, though he occasionally loses control. He hopes that the smiling girl he met in the park returns to him in his memory and dreams. He did what he did because he was in love, and he accepts his responsibilities because he still loves her.
This song references Mean Mr. Mustard’s “shouting out something obscene” at the Queen, but from a first person perspective. Tucked away at the end of the medley, I like to think of it as a kind of narrative Picardy third that returns to a minor detail of the story to let us empathize with Mr. Mustard’s perspective. It almost starts to take us out on another journey through his story, and always leaves me thinking that everyone has their own complex, emotionally engaging life stories, and we can uncover them, or surf them, if we choose to.
This story doesn’t account for all of the details of the songs. I think it would require too much of a stretch. Plus I think there is a healthy dose of Se non è vero, è bene trovato
in the lyrics.
So is this right? Is this what the songwriters meant? I’ve read the interviews with John and Paul. I know what they said the songs meant and didn’t mean. But I think should be Twainian about this: it should have happened this way, and that's what's important.
Give it a listen, and tell me I’m not insane.