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alan w. pollack's
notes on ...

Notes on "Dig It"

 





Notes on ... Series #171 (DI)
  by Alan W. Pollack
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       Key: F Major
     Meter: 3/4 (surprise!)
      Form: (fade-in)  Refrain | Refrain' |
                     | Refrain'' ... (fade-out) + spoken bit
        CD: "Let It Be", Track 5 (Parlophone 0777-7 46447-2)
  Recorded: 24th, 26th January 1969, Apple Studios
UK-release: 8th May 1970 (LP "Let It Be")
US-release: 18th May 1970 (LP "Let It Be")
 
1

General Points of Interest

 

Style and Form

  Next note Given the sometimes seemingly endless hours and even days on end of the Beatles drifting out of one loosely coupled but extended jam session into another during the "Get Back" month of January 1969, our snippet of a song here, "Dig It", would appear to bear an unfair and awesome burden, serving as the sole remnant of such musical horseplay to make the cut for the official "Let It Be" album.
  Next note But "Dig It" also demonstrates once again how even humblest of Beatles recordings bears examination and provokes thought. No matter that the specific musical content here is arguably slight. It's the exploitation of the recorded medium for its own sake that creates value in this case. And more irony: it doesn't really matter if it was genuinely Phil Spector's own idea to handle it in this manner. The upside credit for just about anything good on the "Let It Be" album acrues to the group themselves, with Spector left holding the bag for what's wrong with it. So much for the Beatles as nature intended.
  Next note The official release of this song on the "Let It Be" album is a scant minute-long choice cut excerpted from a much longer performance of it in the studio, with a spoken bit from an entirely different arrangement of the same number tacked on to the ending. This simple yet deft act of audio retouching uncannily elevates an otherwise half baked, improvisationally executed idea (as evidenced by the film clips and unedited audio tape) into a recorded "gesture," at once both inspired for wild zaniness and presciently apt in the way it sets up Paul's big anthem which follows. But no offence intended: anyone who has ever goofily jammed with friends at a home party must listen to this track and think on some level, "gee, I can do just as well as this."
  Next note In spite of its comparable brevity, "Dig It"'s gesture should not be confused with what I've described elsewhere as the complete-but-miniature "bonsai song form;" see the notes on "Wild Honey Pie" and "... In the Road". "Dig It" is different, both in its circular, undifferentiated form, and the extent to which the fade-in tips you off that what you're listening to is taken out of context from something much longer. Actually, the circular form only goes to add to the illusion of open ended duration.
 

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The tune is rivited around the tonic note of the home key in the manner of the talking blues style, but there are also noticeable flashes of the bluesy flat third and flat seventh scale degrees.
  Next note The chords are your old, elementary friends: I, IV, and V.
 

Arrangement

  Next note The backing track is a muddy kitchen sink kind of production with organ, piano, and drums playing prominent roles.
  Next note The backbeat of the complete performance of "Dig It" varies over the long run, but our excerpt for the official release is clearly in a syncopated 3/4.
2

Section-by-Section Walkthrough

 

Refrain

  Next note The entire musical fabric is based on a simple four measure pattern which I believe tends to repeat itself in pairs:
 
       --------------- 2X ----------------
      |F       |Bb      |C       |Bb      |
   F:  I        IV       V        IV

   [Figure 171.1]
 

Spoken Bit

  Next note John's falsetto spoken bit is neatly (and not at all randomly) spliced in so that the start of it overlaps with the fade-out of the base track, but with the ending of it left fully exposed.
3

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note The carefully cropped and retouched fragment of "Dig It" on the "Let It Be" album presents the song as if it were something that is all John's, and John's only. I believe this is a distortian of reality, but you need to hear the complete recording and its associated alternates to get the broader perspective.
  Next note I trace the origin of the song to at least as far back to the 1/9 session at Twickenham where the infamous "Commonwealth Song" is followed by another improvisation entitled "Get Off!" The latter features John and Paul antiphonally shouting a free association stream of people's names (some obscure as well as those of celebrities) over a twelve-bar blues vamp, and the frequent refraining phrase, "can you dig it?"
  Next note The rest of the extant performances are from the sessions at Apple. 1/24 is the date of what you might call the pair of "spastic" versions of the song in which the arrangement is characterized by comically sloppy slide guitar work and an equally unreliable tempo. The vamp is still twelve-bar, and John and Paul continue to spar verbally with wicked case of the sillies. The second take from this day has a complete ending built out of the classically Beatlesque gambit of three-times-you're-out.
  Next note The ending of this take also happens to be from where "Hark the angels" comes from, though you need to check two bootlegs ("Songs From The Past", volumes 1 and 2) in order to hear the entire thing. Trailing the spoken bit you're familiar with, John, on the source tape, actually mock sings a line of "Hark ..."
  Next note 1/26 is the date on which the official recording was made. The longest excerpt of this unofficially available grinds on for 8:23 with the following points of interest:
 
  • minute 1-2: Someone is playing kazoo, and some of the backing vocals come from George. Lyrics contain the time-of-day motif. Ensemble almost breaks down at one point.
  • minute 3: "Can you give it? Well I can take it."
  • minute 4: Paul joins the background vocals. John makes his predictable "Fer Christ' sake" remark, pretty much disqualifying this part of the track from appearing on the album, though it does appear on "Get Back"! "Are you big enough to get it? I can hardly keep my hands still."
  • minute 5: "Like a rolling stone / FBI / CIA / BBC / BB King / Doris Day / Matt Busby / Dig it ..."
  • minute 6: Meter wobbles toward more of a 4/4 march beat.
  • minute 7: Piano becomes more prominent in the mix. "All you got to do is ask for it, say pretty please ..."
  • minute 8: Complete but relatively rough ending, as though having run out of steam.
  Next note The "Let It Be" album version of about 50 seconds is taken from around the fifth minute, with the 1/24 spoken bit tacked on. The version slated for the "Get Back" album is about four minutes in length and contains roughly the second half of the eight-minute recording. It also has the same partial spoken bit spliced in which is followed by a final plagal cadence for the backing ensemble that is not part of the 8:23 tape. There's even a video excerpt of this performance in the "Let It Be" film, showing the four Beatles, plus Yoko, Billy Preston, Heather Eastman, and George Martin (shaking a Latin percussion instrument).
  Next note Reportedly there's 33 seconds worth of an outtake from 1/27 that I haven't heard. Any takers out there? And finally, there's part of a very fast version in 12/8 rhythm recorded on 1/29, featuring Paul with a doo-wop, woah-woah-woah backing vocal.
  Next note The alternates, even the parts of the official take that were edited out, suggest a level of byplay between John and Paul (and even George) that belies the John-only vision suggested by the official track. While "Dig It" may have been inspired and even loosely "composed & conducted" by John, I think the full set of outtakes provides a rare but by no means unique counter example to the conventional portrayal of the group at this point as supposedly being incapable of having a good time out together.
  Regards,
  Alan (080199#171)
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