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  • Richard Conniff writes about behavior, in humans and other animals, on two, four, six, and eight legs, plus the occasional slither.

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Animal Music Monday: “Piggies”

Posted by Richard Conniff on May 9, 2016

George Harrison wrote the original “Piggies” for The Beatles White Album, released on November 22, 1968.  But I ran across this interesting instrumental cover from 2015 on YouTube.  If the tune were not so familiar, you might mistake it for a pretty bit of folk music from the early baroque era:

I asked a musician friend to comment.  He performs baroque and Renaissance music and, as it happened, had never heard the original Beatles tune. So he listened with an unbiased ear:

“This track started (and concluded, as well) as a completely convincing piece of Italian or Iberian music from the 17th century, in the spirit of Ucellini or Merula or dozens of others. Other than a few goofy chords in the bridge, there is little to give away that it is anything else. Unfortunately, it devolves in the middle section to a more diffuse “pan-Baroque” feel; just kind of a tacky pastiche. But aside from that, a pretty convincing articulation that “popular” music is kind of timeless and has been built on the same idioms and practices for centuries.”

Harrison intended the song as a harmless satire on the grubby, self-serving ways of the rich. According to Song Facts, he originally wrote one verse that was dropped from the final recording but resonates in a post-2008 world:

Everywhere there’s lots of piggies playing piggie pranks
You can see them on their trotters
At the piggy banks
Paying piggy thanks
To thee pig brother.”

The song produced one appalling response: Though it’s better known that  “Helter Skelter” from the same album fueled Charles Manson’s crazed apocalyptic vision, he also read horrifying meanings into other songs from the White Album, including “Piggies.”  Manson took the line “What they need’s a damn good whacking” as part of the rationalization for the Manson Family raid on the home of actress Sharon Tate on August 9, 1969, leading to the murder of Tate, then eight months pregnant, and four others. The killers used knives and forks, ostensibly to echo the lines “You can see them out for dinner/With their piggy wives/ Clutching forks and knives/ to eat their bacon.”  Police found the words “pig and piggy” written on the living room wall in the victims’ blood.

Original Beatles tracks are generally not available on YouTube, for copyright reasons. But here’s something more like the original from the White Album, with apologies for the animation:

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