Dig A Pony

Let It Be album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 22, 24, 28, 30 January 1969
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Glyn Johns

Released: 8 May 1970 (UK), 18 May 1970 (US)

John Lennon: vocals, rhythm guitar
Paul McCartney: vocals, bass
George Harrison: vocals, lead guitar
Ringo Starr: drums
Billy Preston: electric piano

Available on:
Let It Be
Anthology 3
Let It Be... Naked

John Lennon's only significant new contribution to the Let It Be album (his Across The Universe had been recorded nearly a year previously), Dig A Pony was the first song to be recorded during the Apple Studios sessions in late January 1969.

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The version which appeared on Let It Be, however, was from the group's famous rooftop performance on 30 January.

Dig A Pony contained mostly nonsense lyrics, which Lennon dismissed in 1980 as "another piece of garbage". However, some tantalising references can be found, including to The Beatles' one-time name Johnny and the Moondogs ("I pick a moondog") and Mick Jagger (I roll a stoney/Well you can imitate everyone you know").

However, like so many of Lennon's songs of the period, the dominant influence is Yoko Ono. Dig A Pony was originally titled All I Want Is You, words which appear in the chorus and which constitute the song's only direct, meaningful sentiment.

I was just having fun with words. It was literally a nonsense song. You just take words and you stick them together, and you see if they have any meaning. Some of them do and some of them don't.
John Lennon, 1972

In the studio

The Beatles first performed Dig A Pony at Twickenham Film Studios in January 1969, during a series of rehearsals which were filmed for the Let It Be movie.

By the time sessions started at the group's own studio at Apple later in the month, they were familiar with the song and enjoyed playing it. They recorded it a number of times on 22 January, one of which was later released on Anthology 3.

The Beatles returned to the song two days later, recording a number of attempts - one of which was later chosen for the unreleased Get Back album.

A session on 28 January kicked off with another attempt at Dig A Pony. The Beatles recorded the song a number of times, as well as discussing how best to perform it.

The Let It Be album and film contained a version of the song recorded during the group's rooftop performance at Apple on 30 January. The recording began with a false start; in the film Ringo Starr can be seen putting his cigarette down and crying out 'Hold it!'

On the rooftop a production runner on the film, Kevin Harrington, knelt and held a clipboard in front of Lennon with the lyrics on it. The performance ended with Lennon saying "Thank you brothers. Hands getting too cold to play the chords".

The 22 January version on Anthology 3 preserves the "All I want is..." opening and closing lines. These lines were a part of Dig A Pony throughout the various recording sessions. On 23 March, however, Phil Spector edited them out while mixing the song for Let It Be.

50 responses on “Dig A Pony

  1. Joseph Brush

    John’s most new significant song for the Get Back sessions was Don’t Let Me Down.
    I was very disappointed to discover that Don’t Let Me Down was not on the Let It Be album when it came out.
    I had been expecting it to be on since I owned the Kum Back bootleg which also included Teddy Boy as well.
    I guess they wanted to build up the Beatles Again (or Hey Jude) album with the inclusion of Don’t Let Me Down.

    1. Drew

      I was upset about that too, so I got the bare version of Let It Be (with the mixing and not from their rooftop concert or recording seesions) and is just a regular, non-concept album. You may know it as Let It Be Naked.

      Don’t Let Me Down wasn’t put on the album for some kind of recording thing. More people bought singles than albums because they were singles because they were cheaper. They would make more money in the long run this way. Don’t Let Me Down was released as a single.

      That’s my best guess.

      1. Joseph Brush

        By the late sixties things had changed concerning public consumption of albums and singles.
        Rock albums had obtained a huge share of the music marketplace at a time when there was usually only one single per LP.
        Therefore,in the record stores, an album had a longer shelf life than singles.
        It was more econmically feasible to purchase an album.
        Artists didn’t need a hit single to have a decent sized hit album.
        Hence the emergence of cult groups.
        In North America, FM radio became popular with massive airplay for albums in contrast to the AM concentration on singles.
        Also at the same time, individual sound components with improved sound became availabe to more consumers.
        Don’t Let Me Down was previously released on the Hey Jude album but at the time I STILL EXPECTED that song to be on LIB.
        Obviously LIB would have been a much better album with the inclusion of Don’t Let Me Down.
        Since I owned a copy of the bootleg Kum Back since 1970-1971, I had some idea of what something like LIBN (no Spector) would sound like.

    2. Deadpan69

      Yeah, “Don’t Let Me Down” is possibly the most underrated Beatles song and it would have made Let It Be a much better album had it been included.

  2. Deadman

    I’d suggest that Don’t Let Me Down was not included on the LIB album, primarily, because it had been released as a B-side. Remember that Klein’s rather poorly conceived Beatles Again was, originally, not released in the UK.

  3. Joseph Brush

    Poorly conceived is right but LIB does contains one B-side—For You Blue.
    So why not two B-sides on LIB?
    Except of course to increase sales for Beatles Again.
    Oh well, those were the days.

    1. Matt

      For You Blue was not a B-side (to The LOng And Winding Road) until after the Let It Be album was released and even then, it was only a US single and so the single was not considered part of the official UK Beatles canon.

      The Beatles usually kept their singles and albums separate because they felt that using an already released song again was ripping the fans off. Not including hits on an album was rare in the USA, which is why Capitol often changed the albums’ track lists and even the album names without the Beatles prior knowledge.

      1. Joseph Brush

        This particular single may only be a US single but it was still a single in the biggest record market in the world.
        The Beatles usually issued singles and albums separate because their record contract stipulated it so.
        Capitol often changed or altered albums’ track list because they had the power to do so despite any other intentions or considerations by the Beatles.

      2. Drew

        Was the changing of the name happenning on one of their early albums? There is a With The Beatles, but I have definatly heard of a Meet The Beatles album. What’s up with this?

        1. Joe Post author

          Meet The Beatles was a US album released by Capitol a couple of months after With The Beatles. It had some songs from Please Please Me, With The Beatles, and the single I Want To Hold Your Hand (which was non-album in the UK). It had similar artwork to With The Beatles – the b&w half-shadow photo by Robert Freeman.

          1. MJ Emigh

            There was a blue tint on the photo in the American release. First album I ever owned. I had no idea at the time that it was anything less than the first Beatles album.

            In fact, I never heard about the UK albums being any different until a few years later when I bought a cutout of a Stones album at Woolworth’s. Remember Woolworth’s? Albums for $1.88! I think it was “December’s Children.” The thin, shiny cardstock that the jacket was made of was the first clue. Then, the song list didn’t match my friend’s copy.

            I just came upon this site and forum while looking for something else. It’s really nice! Thanks to whoever got it here. I’ll be visiting often, I’m sure.

  4. Wing Dairu

    It sounds more like Ringo is sniffing than blowing his nose during the false start. Would make sense, given how cold it was on the rooftop.
    I’ve also heard that the false start was because he was only holding one drumstick, the other hand being occupied with a cigarette.

  5. Ian

    I really enjoy this song. It’s nonsense, but part of my attraction to Lennon is his absurdism. What I enjoy most about the song is the sentiment I take away from it – as well as “Don’t Let Me Down”: His unconditional love for Yoko Ono, which made permeated every aspect of his being.

  6. glass statue

    i love this song. the way i take it is that it is gives one a wonderful permission to be free with one’s mind emotions and attitude. it’s saying, it’s ok – go for it baby! radiate, penetrate, indicate, syndicate, imitate, celebrate. i love it!

    i don’t know what lennon meant, but that’s the way it have taken it.

    i personally think it was a great move to get rid of the “all i want is you” lines. they seemed to me to be clunky and sort of forced into or pasted on to the rest of the song. removing them really cleaned the song up, to my way of thinking.

    as far as lennon saying it was a piece of crap, i have learned to ignore it when i read that he said stuff like that. i am guessing he was sensitive to criticism, and that was his defense.

    for pete’s sake it was brilliant. it was part of what i consider lennon’s sort of transcendent phase, with Across the Universe, Because, and other works created toward the end of the beatles.

    1. Deadpan69

      I think I agree. John made a comment about Because saying that he liked it because the lyrics were very clear…no gobbledeguk or whatever word he used. This approach climaxed in Plastic Ono Band with all the plain talking. I liked his poetic approach…

  7. Robert

    I always thought the sniffing was Lennon making the joke of I dig a pony – which is I like a little horse – or I like a little heroin – which he sniffed. I could be wrong.

    1. zach

      That’s what I get out of the song, given the nonsensical lyrics. If every song Cobain ever wrote about nothing was because he was messed up on heroin, why is John Lennon above such a straight-forward assertion?

  8. Colorado Paul

    This is my favorite Beatles song. The lyrics are incidental (but clever) because the music and harmony is all that matters. The driving guitar riffs and harmonies make me nostalgic for the lost greatness. Their performance on the rooftop is tight and powerful. It is a fitting legacy for the greatest rock group…ever.

  9. Manfred the Bejewled Paisley Kumquat

    100% agree. it’s musically intricate. How many bands could/would create a song so tight melodic and intricate, and consider it almost a throwaway song, an afterthought song. i see no evidence that any band or artist has the melodic skill and musical sense to be able to pull off a song like this. If they did, it would be their tour de force.

    that’s why the beatles are chugging away 40+ years later.

    1. Joseph Brush

      A vastly underated song. The weird lyric matches the off beat music perfectly.
      This song could fit on Captain Beefheart albums like Clear Spot and Spotlight Kid.
      The one problem with that would be John (and Paul’s) impeccable vocals in contrast to the Captain.

      1. Von Bontee

        Hmm, not sure I really hear too much Beefheart in it myself (maybe lyrically?) but it sure is interesting to think about! I’ll have to pay extra attention next time I give it a listen.

        (HUGE fan of the Cap’n, btw – “Trout Mask” is in my alltime Top 3!)

      1. Jamie Schwartz

        What did XTC do…who are they…what part of,the world did they influence? I get it, you really like this band. But, please, don’t delude yourself that any people could change the world in all the various ways in which The Beatles have changed the world. I was 13/14 when I first heard ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’. The song is as fresh and fun as it was in 1964. They are as classic to rock as Mozart is to, well, classical music.

    2. Jamie Schwartz

      Thank you for reminding me of why I’ve loved The Beatles for almost 50 years. Not that I need reminding, but I have truly enjoyed, and am so appreciative of, your intelligent and thoughtful comments. All of my friends love The Beatles, but we don’t often engage in in-depth conversations about lyrics and melodies. Your comments re this being ‘almost a throwaway song…an afterthought’ and following that up with ‘that’s why The Beatles are chugging away after 40+ years…..’.

      In my family, we refer to The Beatles as MY Beatles. This website, The Beatles Bible, tells us that they are ‘OUR’ Beatles…they belong to our world.

      Thanks for reading. And thanks to The Beatles Bible for keeping our boys alive.

      Jamie

  10. Ally

    One of those ‘odd’ Beatles song that I really like. I think it’s something about the chord progression that accompanies the title lyrics. Oddly reminiscent of Cry Baby Cry and The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill, at least to me anyhow.

  11. Max Moose

    What band could pull off playing bluesy hard rock in waltz time and be brilliant doing it live? Just more proof the worlds best studio magicians were the world’s best live band as well. I love the tone John was getting on his Epiphone, his hammered-on chords and ocassional arpeggios, George’s melodic triads, and the incomparable harmonies between Paul and John. IMHO, the synergy between those two voices, across the spectrum of Beatle repertiore, is the greatest single asset in rock history.

  12. Jim S.

    It always bothered me that Phil Spector didn’t include Billy’s electric piano part. So when I bought NAKED, it was like YESSS!!!!! Listen to it closely, it’s a really neat part. Billy plays some “galloping” phrases during the main riff (a-la a PONY); but during the verse, he very tastefully blends in with John’s rhythm guitar. This creates a great, warm “chorused” sound. Why Spector left this out I can’t imagine….

    1. icdogg

      Problem with a lot of the piano parts on that album is that the Fender Rhodes was out of tune. This is very typical, and they need to constantly be re-tuned. I had one and it went out of tune every night. I got very good at tuning it.

  13. Schminking of gin

    I always thought Let It Be…Naked was far superior to the original LP. It sounds more like the boys wanted it to sound, stripped down, Getting Back to where they once belonged. Not sure why Lennon thought Spector did a good job with this. Plus LBIN includes Don’t Let Me Down

  14. Nicholas

    I haven’t read all the comments so not sure if it’s been mentioned, but does anyone else hear the influence on this from Cocker’s With a Little Help From My Friends? Funny, Cocker covered the Beatles adding his own treatment to the song, and then some melodic ideas made there way back again to them.

    1. Happiness is a warm gun

      Yeah, the thing I don’t like about this song is that is does sound like a Cocker song to me. Even John sounds like he’s imitating Cocker a bit. If I can put that out of my head while listening to it, I really like it. But I never liked Cocker so I don’t like thinking this sounds so much like his stuff.

      This song also sounds like it was written in an opiate haze to me. I’m OK with that, I’m not being judgmental here. But I always felt it had that weird, druggy, about-to-nod-off quality like music written by other musicians who wrote under the influence of heroin. I thought that even before I knew John had used heroin during this period.

  15. GeorgeTSimpson

    Do we hear George on Let It Be or just in the film? I thought he was only singing the All I Want Is line innthe beginning together with Paul

  16. Billy Shears

    A popular term for heroin in the mid-sixties was “Horse”… thus the term to “Ride a painted pony” as in the popular Blood Sweat and Tears song. The verse “You can celebrate anything you want” can be linked to Lennon’s use of the drug. I think that is is one of the weaker songs on the album. It sounds a little desperate..but honest. It is hard to identify with the cryptic words.

  17. Bungalow Bob

    Billy Shears, thanks for explaining the lyric “ride a painted pony.” I didn’t know that. Now I’m wondering whether the rather innocent-sounding song by the Hollies “On A Carousel” is REALLY about a never-ending drug-fueled nightmare!

    When compared to the many great songs on Let It Be, “I Dig A Pony” does come up a little short. But I still like it. I wonder if John cared so litle about the Beatles at this point, that he wasn’t even trying to bring his “A-game” material to the party?

  18. Bill Lowe

    Billy and Bob: Are you guys smoking peanuts? Dig A Pony may very well be the best song on the Let It Be album. Certainly, at a minimum, it belongs on the short list of great Beatles riffs, along with I Feel Fine, Day tripper, Ticket To Ride, and Hey Bulldog. Not Lennon’s A-Game? Sheesh

    1. Bungalow Bob

      Bill, I did say that I LIKE “Dig A Pony.” I agree with you, the main riff is a rock & roll classic. But I recall reading an interview with Lennon where he regretted not putting more effort into those rambling, tossed-off lyrics. And I’m pretty sure John’s heart and full attention were elsewhere other than the Beatles at that time. So… no, even though I LIKE the song, I don’t think it was Lennon’s “A-game.” (His “B-game” was pretty darn good.)

  19. David

    Hello, I’ve read about every article on this website, and I absolutely love the website. This song always carried a special liking in my heart, it’s just so odd, with a nearly random chord progression: beautiful chaos. They lyrics are almost poetic in their own right, no matter how incoherent they seem to be!

    On a note of interest, as we watch the song progress on their live performance, during the lines in which Lennon sings, “Where you can penetrate any place you go…” George ducks below John and leans back, and John leans back as well, as they play hand in hand together, rhythm and lead, and then George goes back to his mic smiling. I love seeing that part because it really showed how much they loved playing with each other, not matter how pissed off they got at each other. Great song with great phrasing, and when playing it live John just absolutely screams the main lines “All I want is you!” with pure raw emotion.

    It’s very magical in its own sense.

    Anyways, I love the website very much, and I think you’re absolutely brilliant, Joe!

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