Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Carry That Weight

Paul seems to have been the only Beatle playing on Abbey Road to have given a damn about the fact that this was probably the album on which they were saying goodbye to being Beatles. At least if you listen to the songs. John's songs on the album are either about Yoko ("I Want You"), himself ("Come Together"), or nothing in particular ("Sun King"); he was too busy gazing forward (not to mention at his navel) to take a glance back at what lay behind him. Meanwhile, George's contributions to the album were so damned masterful that he was surely realizing that he didn't necessarily have to keep hanging out with these clowns to have a respectable career-- wow them, then get the hell out of here, was perhaps his thought. Even Ringo's song betrays his wish to just escape all of this crap and go somewhere safe. So if any of us want to get sentimental and say a proper goodbye to a band that meant a lot to us, we need to turn to Paul's songs on the B-side of Abbey Road. I'm on the record as favoring John, generally, if I need to pick a favorite Beatle. But Paul is the one who says goodbye the most affectingly, and those last tracks of Abbey Road can choke me up if I'm in the right mood.

"Carry That Weight" is no exception, even if it feels like more of a bridge-the-gap kind of song than any other in the B-side medley, taking us as naturally as it does from the teary pathos of "Golden Slumbers" to the brave face/psychological release of "The End." The within-the-song reference to "You Never Give Me Your Money" increases the effect that this is less an independent song and more, like, the crux of the medley's whole musical argument or something. And what's the lyrics' message as we approach the denouement to an entire career? "Boy, you're gonna carry that weight a long time." It's such a weird message, isn't it? There are a few interpretations of what Paul means by this, and Paul himself hasn't been much help (I've read him try to explain it, and it's just some vague reference to how Allen Klein was stressing him out at the time). I think the most popular interpretation is probably that Paul's talking to all the other Beatles and reminding them that being a Beatle is a weight not easily shed, and that the work they go on to do in the future on their own will never be as great as the work they have done together. To which I say, maybe. We might be attributing too much clairvoyance to Paul to make this assumption, though, considering that it's exactly how history has played out.

I prefer to hear it more universally. Yes, perhaps Paul wrote it for his Beatle pals, about no matter how much they were gunning to run off and do other things, they couldn't run away from their work, their past, their lives together. And when worded that way, it is a universal message. Paul is saying goodbye to all this, sure, but he also is sadly acknowledging that he really can't, just as none of us ever really say goodbye to anything that's happened to us-- we just load it up onto our backs with everything else, where we'll feel the weight for a long time even though we can't actually see it.

Anyway, the loud yet somber (and almost march-like) singalong chorus features all four Beatles singing in unison, which has got to be unprecedented in the catalog, and does indeed make the proceedings feel pretty weighty. So does Ringo, who's banging on the backbeats with a particularly weighty abandon. (Paul's bass is making a stab at jauntiness, but it's not fooling me.) It leads into a bombastic brass entrance on the "You Never Give Me Your Money" melody, which they've just ingeniously threaded into the much simpler "Carry That Weight" melody (it sounds like the most natural middle eight in the world until you realize what it really is).

When the voices come back in, the "I never give you my pillow/I only send you my invitations/And in the middle of the celebrations I break down" bit recasts the melody with lyrics that are more overtly personal and a little more hysterical than what we heard in the original song. Which just goes to show that the weight of all this might be getting to Paul just a little bit. Those percussive chords in the strings that lead back into the "Carry That Weight" chorus sound so much like wagging fingers, or even jabs with a knife, that we could forgive Paul for going kind of nuts at this point. And this seems to be the function of "Carry That Weight"--the seriousness of the choral moments (and this is serious, kids, rightly so-- the Beatles are breaking up, for God's sake) lies one layer above the underlying deep, deep sadness of this song. It all comes to a head here in the last few seconds of passionately played music, which never truly cadences, but instead leads right into "The End." It's going to take some seriously cathartic guitar work to break us out of this melancholy-- but luckily, it's on the way.

"Carry That Weight," released in the U.K. and the U.S. side B track 9 of Abbey Road, September 26, 1969; in the U.S. October 1, 1969.


  1. "Boy, you're going to carry that weight" is the lullaby, right? "Sleep, pretty darling, do not cry, and I will sing a lullaby," and then the lullaby is "Boy, you're going to carry that weight a long time." Yeah, I still don't know what it means. The lullaby line would have worked better if the song that followed were something like Let It Be; Yeah, this is the end, but if you promise not to cry, I'll leave you one last beautiful song. I like Carry that Weight and The End fine, but they ain't it.

  2. Golden Slumbers, Carry that Weight, and The End are it, for me. I think they're among Paul's finest work. And I loved this whole post.

    To me, the message of Golden Slumbers is just Paul's instinct to make the best of things, to be soothing when things are falling apart. But Carry that Weight is Angry Paul. It's like a big slap in the face with Paul saying, you know what, Screw making you all feel better. It's over, I'm heartbroken, and there is no feeling better. Of course we get to The End and somehow we do feel better. See, it all makes perfect sense :)

    I must be a big wuss be because the medley pretty much moves me every time I hear it.

  3. The whole of side 2 Abbey Road is phenominal. I find it impossible to listen to just one song in the chain played on the radio and not hear in my head the next tune, so deftly are they all linked together.

    Didn't John think it was all crap, though? I seem to recall him saying that. Probably because it was Paul's idea and also because Paul was the only one of the four with the musical ability and the desire to link them.

    Echoing what Anon said: some great writing in this particular post Meg.

  4. I don't think "Carry That Weight" is the lullaby. If it is, it's a shitty one. "Golden Slumbers" is the lullaby, though to have "Carry That Weight" come after it does wake you up quite dramatically.

    And Anon, I hear what you're saying about Angry Paul, but it never sounds angry to me-- just deeply sad. This is definitely a matter of opinion, all in how one hears it.

    And Frank, John SAID he thought it was all crap, but in the '70s he thought everything Paul had anything to do with was crap. I really don't think he can be trusted. John would have let the Beatles fizzle out, but Paul at least recognized that a grand gesture was called for before they split up-- and on this one, whatever one thinks of the medley itself, I think Paul was right.

  5. I think the medley is genius, and side two Abbey Road one of the best "sides" in Rock and Roll history.

  6. I think Paul was sad to see it all end and obviously the rest of the band concurred. They all bad to carry the weight of the best band ever Parting ways and knowing a reunion would never happen. So, nice and pretty in the beginning, then shouting at the end. Sounds like a bad divorce.

  7. The chorus that sings "Boy, you're gonna carry that weight..." only included 3 Beatles. Lennon wasn't available when it was recorded, because he had just had a driving accident. He resumed the recording days later.