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Notes on "Piggies"


Notes on ... Series #140 (P)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: A Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Intro | Verse |
                  | Intro' | Bridge | Verse (instrumental) |
                  | Intro | Verse | Outro (with complete ending)
        CD: "White Album", Disc 1, Track 12 (Parlophone CDS7 46443-8)
  Recorded: 19th, 20th September 1968, Abbey Road 1-2;
            10th October 1968, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 22nd November 1968 (LP "White Album")
US-release: 25th November 1968 (LP "White Album")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note This is quite a surprising blend of pseudo-classical mannerisms in the music with sophomoric cynicism in the lyrics!
  Next note Classical connotations jump at you right off the surface of this song, starting with the harpsichord and cello on the backing track, and the almost painfully galumphing, square back-beat; but it runs deeper than that, as we'll see. Makes one wonder if this is sheer happenstance or else perhaps there is biographic evidence showing this was done aforethought.
  Next note For example, he says, the deployment of a brief instrumental intro before every verse is a technique you'll find occasionally in so-called nineteenth century art songs; e.g. page through any book of Schubert Lieder and you'll undoubtedly run into some examples. Please label this "Classical Exhibit Number 2". Its usage here makes for a bulky form which, in turn, makes the song feel "longer" than it actually is; only 2:04, including the trailing pig snorts!

Melody and Harmony

  Next note Classical Exhibit Number 3: the heavy use of melodic chord outlines (arpeggio fragments) in both the opening hook as well as the tune which follows.
  Next note The harmony, throughout, is rooted strongly to the home key in spite of a couple attempts to steal away from it.


  Next note The backing track features a nouvelle-cuisine melange of harpsichord, acoustic guitar, electric bass, bowed cellos, and tambourine. The carefully choreographed comings and goings of these several elements repays careful study.
  Next note The lead vocal is treated to several special effects common to the period in which it was recorded. The operatic male chorus appearing in the final verse is Classical Exhibit Number 4.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The intro is four measures long and neatly defines the home key and exposes the tune's hook twice over:
      |A           |E           |A           |E           |
   A:  I            V            I            V

   [Figure 140.1]


  Next note The verse is twelve measures long with three equal phrases that form a pattern of AA'B, though you might say that even the B phrase is derived from the second half of A':
      |A           |E           |A           |E           |
   A:  I            V            I            V

      |A           |E           |f#          |B           |
       I            V            ii           V-of-V

      |f#          |B           |E           |-           |
       ii           V-of-V       V

   [Figure 140.2]
  Next note The harmony of this section is not your typical twelve-bar blues form. The continued harping on just the I and V chords, starting in the intro and continuing through the first half of this section, makes the appearance of new chords in the second phrase quite welcome.
  Next note The repeat of chord progression of f# -» B creates a rhetorical effect from the way it appears each time at the opposite end of a phrase.
  Next note The harmonic rhythm slows up in the final two measures, filled out as they are by a popular cliché in which the two inner voices rise in parallel tenths; don't give all four "chords" individual roman numerals — the two measures are no more than a "prolongation" of the V chord.


  Next note The intro repeat leading into the bridge features a surprise twist on the original intro that is a textbook-like illustration of (ahem) the "malleability of motivic material". Call it Classical Exhibit Number 5.
      |A           |E           |A           |C#          |
   A:  I            V            I            V-of-vi

   [Figure 140.3]


  Next note That melodic twist at the end of the previous section would seem to hint at a potential modulation, but by the end of the first four measures of this bridge, you find that you're still quite within the bounds of the home key you started out in:
      |b           |C#          |D           |A           |
   A:  ii           V-of-vi      IV           I

      |E           |-           |-           |-           |

      |b           |C#          |D           |E           |
       ii           V-of-vi      IV           V

       |-           |-           |

   [Figure 140.4]
  Next note The bridge is an unusual fourteen measures long, built out of two unequal phrases (8 + 6).
  Next note Look fast or you'll miss the short-lived bluesy touch provided by the G-natural at the end of that nice bassline riff in measure 8.


  Next note The remainder of the song further sustains the classical tone:
  • Exhibit Number 6: the style of figuration used in the instrumental verse; harpsichord right hand parts in which the melody played by the last three fingers alternates with a repeated note played by the thumb, and cello parts dominated by scales.
  • Exhibit Number 7: the retreat to the parallel minor key for the outro; an especially popular gambit in theme and variation pieces; ...
  • ... followed by, in a disorienting context switch ("one more time"), Exhibit Number 8: a progression of two broadly executed chords that is ambiguous with respect to key. Ask yourself, does the song end with I -» V of the original A Major home key, or are we to grock it as a Plagal, IV -» I ending in the key of E?

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note Fastidious arrangement and pork chop/bacon wording changes aside, this particular song seems to change little between the Esher demo [**] and the studio take, at least compared to the kind of revisions we've seen made by John and Paul in their respective songs.
  Next note I wonder if this reflects some nervous reluctance on George's part to share anything less than finished with his song writing mates, feeling vulnerable in front of them even within the confines of an otherwise relaxed retreat. Honestly, I myself don't have sufficient command of the biographic material to draw a definitive conclusion in this area, but I do find the evidence thought provoking.
  [** The so-called Esher demos consist of 26 demos recorded at George Harrison's Esher bungalow, between the return of Lennon and Harrison from Rishikesh, India, in April 1968 and the start of the recordings for the "White Album" on the 30th of May 1968. Some of these were released on "Anthology", Volume 3.]
  Alan (010198#140)
Copyright © 1998 by Alan W. Pollack. All Rights Reserved. This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains intact and in place.