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The Beatles Songs: Piggies

The history of this classic Beatles song

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The Beatles Songs: Piggies

The handwritten lyrics to "Piggies"

lifeofthebeatles.blogspot.com

Piggies

Written by: George Harrison (100%)

Recorded: September 19 and 20, October 10, 1968 (Studio 1, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)
Mixed: October 11, 1968
Length: 2:04
Takes: 12

Musicians:

John Lennon: sound effects
Paul McCartney: bass guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 4001S)
George Harrison: lead and harmony vocals, acoustic guitar (1963 Gibson "Super Jumbo" J-200)
Ringo Starr: tambourine
Chris Thomas: harpsichord
Eric Bowie, Henry Datyner, Norman Lederman, Ronald Thomas: violins
Keith Cummings, John Underwood: violas
Eldon Fox, Reginald Kilbey: cellos
Available on: (CDs in bold)

The Beatles (a/k/a "The White Album"; UK: Apple PMC 7067-8; US: Apple SWBO 101; Parlophone CDP 7 46443 2; CDP 7 46444 2)

History:

  • One of four George Harrison tracks on the "White Album," and certainly the snarkiest, "Piggies" was actually written by Harrison during the Revolver sessions and only discovered when the guitarist returned to his mother's home in and found a copy of the lyrics in her attic. Completing the song, George was stuck for a line to rhyme with "In their eyes there's something lacking," and his mother suggested "What they need's a damn good whacking!" For his part, Lennon suggested the song's metaphorical punchline: "Clutching forks and knives to eat their bacon." (In the original demo, recorded at Harrison's Esher home when the group returned from India, the line ended instead with "pork chops.")
  • A random discovery gave the song its rather baroque feel; while preparing to record it on September 19, 1968, engineer Chris Thomas came across a harpsichord in Studio 1, placed there for an upcoming session. When he was informed that he couldn't move it into the usual Studio 2, Thomas and Harrison decided instead to record the song in the larger studio and utilize their find. (Loads of band infighting, coupled with the members' increasing ability to produce themselves, meant that producer George Martin was often absent from the "White Album" sessions, as he was for the basic track of "Piggies." The basic track was laid down on the 19th, featuring acoustic guitar, bass, tambourine, and Thomas himself playing the accordion. The next day Harrison laid down a tour de force of lead and backing vocals, pinching his nose so as to make him sound more "proper" during the bridge and exploring the very bottom and top of his vocal range with the stunning (and quite amusing) harmonies on the third verse.
  • John Lennon helped with the finished result, adding pig sounds from a 78 in EMI's sound effects vaults and augmenting that with his own grunts; finally, as the final touches were being put on the "White Album" on October 10, a returning George Martin added the chamber-music string section, recording it on the same day, and with the same musicians, as the arrangement for "Glass Onion." John and Paul deliberately placed it between "Blackbird" and "Rocky Raccoon" in the album's final sequence as a joke, creating a trilogy of sorts of animal-themed tunes.

Trivia:
  • As with so many "White Album" tracks, the sound effects on "Piggies" are slightly different, and come in at different places, in the mono mix. George's rhythm guitar track is also louder.
  • During recording of the song, George and Paul played some new songs they'd been working on for Thomas: George gave an impromptu run-through of "Something," wondering aloud if it was "any good," while Paul gave everyone a preview of "Let It Be."
  • Despite its jovial tone, "Piggies" is one of the most lyrically controversial Beatles tracks, depicting as it does a series of cannibalistic "pigs" in "starched white shirts." Though "pig" was pejorative '60s slang for a policeman, a term which survives today, Harrison was always adamant that the "piggies" in question were representative of upperclass society, referring to the song rather obliquely as a "social comment." ("Pig" was also in common usage at the time as a way to describe anyone that was power- or money-hungry.) Notorious cult leader Charles Manson, who led his followers to commit a series of grisly murders in 1969, reportedly became convinced that "Piggies" was one of a series of White Album tracks instructing him to instigate a race war against the power elite. Indeed, the murderers wrote the word "piggies," as well as other lyrics from the album, on the wall in their victims' blood.
  • Harrison may have literally had the last word on the meaning, however, with the original fourth verse. It wasn't used in the released version, but is present in the demo and was included in a number of Japanese live performances in 1991:

    Everywhere there's lots of piggies
    Playing piggy pranks
    You can see them on their trotters
    At the piggy banks
    Paying piggy thanks
    To thee pig brother!

Covered by: Phish, Greg Hawkes, Danny Colfax Mallon, Jeff Sato Project, Danbert Nobacon

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