To anyone who has read my blog in the year since I last posted, hello! I am back this summer with a lot of ideas for blog posts, so get ready for some more posts from me in the upcoming weeks and months. In the meantime, today I thought I’d kick off my summer blogging season by discussing a Beatles book that I recently finished reading. “You Never Give Me Your Money,” by Peter Doggett, was published in 2009 and chronicles many of the non-musical events that dominated the Beatles’ lives in the late ’60s and into their solo careers. I was aware of some of the higher profile figures and events that this book discusses, such as the Allen Klein debacle, before reading this book. However, “You Never Give Me Your Money” goes into incredible detail about this and other contentious business situations. After reading this book, it remains even more of a miracle that the Beatles managed to release any music after 1968, let alone continue to reinvent themselves with every album.
One of the most prominent characters in this book, besides the Beatles themselves, is the incredible amount of legal drama that followed the Beatles from the late 1960s through the early part of the 21st century. Many of these court cases stemmed from the formation of Apple Records in 1968, which was initially designed as a way for the Beatles to provide monetary and artistic support for aspiring musicians. I had learned about Apple through some Beatles interviews I’ve watched, but this book makes it clear that Apple was absolutely a nightmare for the Beatles to keep up with.
From continuous battles between Apple and EMI Records, to battles between Apple Records and Apple computers later on, to the endless amount of “spinoff” companies that Apple generated, it is just mind-boggling how out-of-control this project became. I found it amusing how much of a backseat the Beatles’ musical output took in this book, to the point where it almost seemed like a footnote: “In the midst of court cases, group tensions, and a poorly run business empire that would haunt them for the rest of their lives, the Beatles also released the White Album, Let it Be, and oh yeah, Abbey Road.” Though it is upsetting to learn about all of the in-group fracturing and tension from this time, it also makes their remarkable musical achievements even more impressive given the circumstances.
I also learned a lot more than I ever intended to about how many businessmen the Beatles wrongly trusted during this time, namely Allen Klein. He became their manager after Brian Epstein died in 1967, and Paul apparently mistrusted Klein from the beginning while the other three all believed in him. This led to a barrage of court cases and lawsuits that continued for years, and I previously had no idea how involved Linda McCartney’s family was in these cases (her dad and brother became Paul’s lawyers) or how incredibly difficult it was to extricate Klein from the Beatles’ affairs once he had gotten involved. It just goes to show that the Beatles were clearly musicians first, not businessmen, and that the steady guidance that Brian Epstein provided them during their early years was perhaps more necessary to their success than it was given credit for.
This book also provided a lot of insight into the Beatles’ personal lives, especially John and Yoko’s relationship. I went into this book vaguely knowing their story, and I have to say I am no bigger fan of either of them after reading this book. Though Paul will never say flat-out that “Yoko broke up the Beatles,” it certainly seems like her relationship with John and constant presence in the studio put a huge strain on the band’s relationship and led to John becoming disinterested with continuing his Beatles involvement. Of course, even casual Beatles fans could come to that conclusion, but “You Never Give Me Your Money” goes into incredible depth about the various ups and downs with John and Yoko through the years, even aside from his famous “Lost Weekend” in Los Angeles. I was not previously aware of how tense their relationship was at times during the 1970s even when they were living together in New York.
It is also frustrating to read that John was literally about to go write with Paul again several times throughout the 1970s, when Yoko stopped him and basically forbade him from doing so, or manipulated him into not visiting Paul when he had planned to. There’s no telling that anything musical would have come of it, but this book makes clear that she wanted John to have absolutely no part in a Beatles reunion, which is annoying, but not surprising, for any devoted fan to read. However, this was all news to me, so I do appreciate how much new information I learned from reading this book even if some of it was disappointing.
If there’s one qualm I have about this book, it’s that its structure sometimes feels as haphazard as the episodes in Beatles history that it is describing. Many chapters flip-flop between multiple individual stories about John, Paul, George, and Ringo that have nothing to do with each other. I applaud the author for closely following the chronology of the events he writes about by stacking them all up next to each other, but to make the book an easier read I would have noted a clearer separation between sections that pertain directly to different Beatles.
I was also hoping for slightly more detail about George, of course, particularly about his involvement with Monty Python and how he met his second wife Olivia. The book provides great detail about how John and Yoko met, as well as Paul and Linda’s early relationship, but George and Ringo’s marriages do not get nearly as much book time (probably because they weren’t as directly entangled with the Beatles’ story, but still). With the significant involvement that Olivia now has in the Beatles empire, I think she deserved more attention in this book. However, “You Never Give Me Your Money” never shies away from admitting that its main focus is “Beatles legal and relationship drama through the years,” so if Olivia and Barbara Bach (Ringo’s wife) did not cause that much drama, then just as well that they don’t have a huge focus in this book.
With that all said, I learned more new information about the Beatles from this book than I have in a long time, possibly since I read “The Beatles Anthology” book years ago. It is truly insightful and provides a lot of new information for fans like me who already know the wistful, triumphant version of the Beatles’ story and are looking for some edgier details. If you think you know everything about the Beatles already, this book will prove you wrong. Yes, it’s a bit depressing to read in parts, and no Beatle comes across as a saint here. But I am so glad I read this book, and I look forward to having it as a reference in my “Beatles library” for years to come.