Piggies

The Beatles (White Album) artworkWritten by: Harrison
Recorded: 19, 20 September, 10 October 1968
Producers: Chris Thomas, George Martin
Engineer: Ken Scott

Released: 22 November 1968 (UK), 25 November 1968 (US)

George Harrison: vocals, guitar
John Lennon: tape loops
Paul McCartney: bass
Ringo Starr: drums, tambourine
Chris Thomas: harpsichord
Henry Datyner, Eric Bowie, Norman Lederman, Ronald Thomas: violins
John Underwood, Keith Cummings: violas
Eldon Fox, Reginald Kilbey: cellos

Available on:
The Beatles (White Album)
Anthology 3

George Harrison began writing Piggies in 1966, the same year he composed the similarly ascerbic Taxman. Both songs, though musically quite different, contain social commentary about financial greed and class differences.

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Piggies wasn't recorded by The Beatles until late 1968. The song underwent some revisions beforehand, with lyrical contributions from John Lennon and Harrison's mother Louise.

Piggies is a social comment. I was stuck for one line in the middle until my mother came up with the lyric, 'What they need is a damn good whacking' which is a nice simple way of saying they need a good hiding. It needed to rhyme with 'backing,' 'lacking,' and had absolutely nothing to do with American policemen or Californian shagnasties!
George Harrison

Lennon, meanwhile, gave him the line, "Clutching forks and knives to eat their bacon". When the group demoed it at Harrison's Esher bungalow in May 1968, however, the line was "...to eat their pork chops". This early version can be heard on the Anthology 3 collection.

An additional verse was also cut from the song, although reinstated by Harrison during live performances after The Beatles split up. The lines can be heard on his album Live In Japan.

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

Piggies and Charles Manson

Although clearly about the pinstripe-suited businessmen who seemed a world away from the hippy ideals of the mid 1960s, Piggies was one of the songs fatally misinterpreted by the deranged Charles Manson and his Family in 1969.

Manson believed that black people would rise up and kill whites, though he and his followers would be saved, using a set of clues he believed were to be found in the book of Revelation and in The Beatles' White Album. In Manson's mind, Piggies represented the doomed whites.

Following the murder of Sharon Tate, Family member Susan Atkins daubed "Pig" on the front door of the murder scene in Tate's blood. The following day, after the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca using knives and forks, Manson's follower Patricia Krenwinkel wrote "Death to pigs" on the walls in the victims' blood.

In the studio

The Beatles began recording Piggies on 19 September 1968. The harpsichord on the song was played by producer Chris Thomas.

All four Beatles were there for the session and we were working in [studio] number two. I wandered into number one and found a harpsichord, not knowing that it had been set up overnight for a classical recording. So we discussed wheeling the thing into number two but Ken Scott said, 'No, we can't, it's there for another session!' So we moved our session into number one instead.

George Harrison agreed that my harpsichord idea was a good one and suggested that I play it. This I did, but while George and I were tinkling away on this harpsichord he started playing another new song to me, which later turned out to be Something. I said, 'That's great! Why don't we do that one instead?' and he replied, 'Do you like it, do you really think it's good?'

Chris Thomas
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

The group recorded 11 takes of the basic rhythm track of Piggies. It featured Thomas on harpsichord, Harrison playing acoustic guitar, McCartney on bass and Starr hitting a tambourine. According to Thomas, McCartney also performed Let It Be, not attempted by The Beatles until January 1969, in between takes.

The following day Harrison taped his lead vocals, which were artificially double tracked during the lines "play around in" and "damn good whacking". At the same time, John Lennon assembled a tape loop of pigs snorting, using effects tapes from the Abbey Road collection.

There's a tape called Animals And Bees (volume 35) which includes pigs. It's from an old EMI 78 rpm record and The Beatles may have used a combination of that and their own voices. That always works well - the new voices hide the 78 rpm scratchiness, the original record hides the fact that some of the sounds are man made.
Stuart Eltham, engineer
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

Piggies was finished on 10 October, with the addition of an eight-piece string section arranged by George Martin.

15 responses on “Piggies

  1. Julian

    I think that Ringo not only plays a tambourine, but also a bass drum. In the verse it’s every 1st measure of the bar & in the bridge it’s 1st and 3rd measure of a bar.

      1. Julian

        I’m learning English, so sorry if it is confusing. But under Paul’s bass I can hear a bass drum. In the verse it’s:

        Bass drum-tambourine-bass drum-tambourine, which is whole bar.

        Then in the bridge it’s
        bass drum-bass drum-bass drum-bass drum
        & tambourine playing eighth notes (doubling up the speed of the bass drum). That’s what I meant to say & again, sorry if it’s confusing!

        1. Joe Post author

          I think you may be right, though it follows the bassline so closely it’s hard to be sure.

          However, there are definitely two drum beats just before the “Everywhere there’s lots of piggies living piggy lives” bit. It’s in a different part of the stereo spectrum so probably wasn’t recorded at the same time as the bass/tambourine. I can’t be sure who it is but I’ll credit it to Ringo.

          1. Julian

            Yeah I was wondering about that, too!

            Joe, do you know what effect was used on George’s vocal from the line:
            “In their sties with all their backing” to “damn good whacking” line?

            It sounds like distorted megaphone or something!

            1. Joe Post author

              In Mark Lewisohn’s brilliant The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, he quotes studio engineer Ken Townsend: “We fed the microphone signal through a very sharp echo chamber filter, an RS106, so that it chopped off everything above and below the 3.5 kilohertz level, creating a very narrow band of sound.”

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  3. James Ferrell

    Good song, very much fitting into the chocolate box variety of the White Album. Great arrangement. and great bass sound. I think of this thunk thunk bass sound as being a real White Album thing. Anyone know if it’s the Rickenbacker with a pick DI?

  4. Jose

    I understand from listening to an interview with George Martin that recording one of Harrison’s songs was very tedious and painful. I wonder if the “one more time” at the end was in some way making a funny reference to that.

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