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.
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.
In the studio
John Lennon played versions of ‘Dig A Pony’ several times at Twickenham Film Studios in January 1969, during a series of rehearsals which were filmed for the Let It Be movie. He ran through the song on 2, 7, and 13 January 1969.
By the time sessions started at The Beatles’ own Apple Studios later in the month, they were familiar with the song and enjoyed playing it.
They began work on the song properly on 21 January, performing it numerous times to work out their individual parts and the song’s arrangement. One of the following day’s many attempts was later released on Anthology 3.
23 January was mainly devoted to other songs, but at one point John Lennon started playing ‘Dig A Pony’, with Ringo Starr joining in on drums. 25 and 26 January also saw the song briefly returned to, although The Beatles’ attentions were largely elsewhere.
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 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 1970, however, Phil Spector edited them out while mixing the song for Let It Be.