“Piggies” is a song by The Beatles on their “White Album” from 1968, of course. Considered an anti-establishment song, it also appears on their “Anthology 3” album as a demo from George Harrison’s home.
Released: 22nd November, 1968 (UK), 25 November, 1968 (US)
Recorded: 19th-20th September and 10th October, 1968
Studio: EMI Studios, London
Genre: Baroque pop, folk
Track Duration: 2:04
Record Label: Apple
Songwriter: George Harrison
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Ken Scott
George Harrison: lead and harmony vocals, acoustic guitar, also backing vocals
John Lennon: tape effects, vocalised grunting, also backing vocals
Paul McCartney: bass, also backing vocals
Ringo Starr: tambourine
George Martin: string arrangement
Chris Thomas: harpsichord
Henry Datyner, Ronald Thomas, Norman Lederman, Eric Bowie: violin
John Underwood, Keith Cummings: viola
Eldon Fox, Reginald Kilby: cello
Written by George Harrison in early 1966, “Piggies” is all about greed and consumerism. He forgot about the song for a while but returned to it soon after he found the manuscript again in early 1968. He discovered those early lyrics in the attic of his parents’ house in Liverpool during a visit there. Furthermore, his mother, Louise, helped to provide a line in the song.
From the mid-sixties in America, the word “pig” began to mean something other than the police. Indeed, this encompassed all establishment figures and even consumerism itself. However, Harrison says that he wasn’t using “pig” in its new context.
“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!”
I, Me, Mine
Be that as it may, at the time, the counterculture became more politically focused and the title of the song itself stirred up much scrutiny.
Apart from adopting the most memorable line from his mother, John Lennon also chipped in with the lyrics. He provided the final line to the song, “Clutching forks and knives to eat their bacon”. This replaced Harrison’s original line, “to cut their pork chops”. The song was a little longer but the band decided to omit a verse resulting in a song lasting around two minutes.
We may never know what George Harrison was fully thinking while writing the song although the intension was light-hearted satire. However, theories do exist. For example, musicologist, Walter Everett, claims that there is evidence that Harrison’s main inspiration for the song was George Orwell’s Animal Farm from 1945.
Meanwhile, author Ian Inglis, says some songs from the The Beatles’ White Album drew inspiration from their childhood and Piggies is one of those. However, there is no getting away from the consumerism and class distinction theme.
During 1967, Charles Manson became a cult leader and his followers, aka the Manson Family, later misinterpreted the song with dire consequences.
The political upheaval in the late 1960’s coincided with the rise of the Black Power movement in America. At the same time, Charles Manson believed that there would be an uprising which would see the establishment and the black community at war with each other. The result of this apocalyptic conflict would see the Manson Family rule America on counterculture principles.
In order to instigate the conflict, there needed to be a catalyst of some sort. Manson believed that music from The Beatles’ White Album gave such instructions. “Piggies”, especially the line provided by Harrison’s mother, “What they need is a damn good whacking”, poured fuel on the fire.
They believed that attacks against the white bourgeoisie could spark off the conflict. After committing a series of murders, the Manson Family daubed “Political Piggy”, “Pig” and “Death to Pigs” on the walls using the victims’ blood. In one horrific murder, they inserted cutlery into the victim’s body as if to reference the line, “Clutching forks and knives to eat their bacon”.
The authorities acted swiftly and brought the cult down.
The Beatles started recording Piggies on the 19th September, 1968, in Studios One and Two at the Abbey Road studio in London during the 7.15pm-5.30am session. There was 11 takes that day and they chose the last one as the rhythm track for overdubbing.
On the 20th September, George Harrison recorded his lead vocals but there are three contrasting elements. At the beginning of the song we hear a more natural approach. In the middle, Harrison sang through a filter to create the nasal sound. Then, the end chorus is where Harrison sings his own harmony vocals in various ranges.
On the 10th of October, George Martin arranged a string section suitable for overdubbing onto the final mix.
The version we hear on their “Anthology 3” album from 1996 is the demo song. The band recorded this at George Harrison’s home in May, 1968 and it includes George Harrison’s last line before Lennon’s amendment.