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(John Lennon – Paul McCartney – George Harrison – Ringo Starkey)
It's safe to say that each and every rock and roll band that has ever existed have engaged in an activity that has become known as “jamming.” This is the exercise where each member of the group plays their instruments in a somewhat unihibited way in order to releive the pressure felt from working out serious detailed arrangements of music. Many times, it just takes one member to suggest a rhythm or key to play in, which in turn encourages the rest of the band to join in. Anyone who has ever been in a serious working group, or even in just a simple basement band, can attest to this being a regular occurrence.
If this is true with the teenagers in your neighbors garage, then it certainly has proven to be the case with the most popular band in the world, The Beatles. In fact, many of their excursions into “jamming” have happened in the recording studio with the tapes rolling. Many times, in between recording the rhythm track of one of their songs, one group member may start singing or playing an old song that their current composition reminds them of, this causing the others to join in for a quick impromptu performance. Other times, just to blow off steam, they would just start playing an indistinct musical progression for a while.
One such example of this was on June 1st, 1967, the very day that The Beatles' highly acclaimed masterpiece “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band” was released. Studio time was booked at De Lane Lea Music Studios in London for The Beatles to record, George Martin and two engineers being on hand with the intention of capturing every moment of brilliance on tape. Author and historian Mark Lewisohn was granted the privilege of hearing the recordings made on this day in preperation for his book “The Beatles Recording Sessions.” Here is his description of what he heard:
“On this day, 1 June 1967, perhaps the most celebrated day in their career, The Beatles went into the studio and recorded nothing but untitled, unplanned, highly tedious and – frankly – downright amateurish instrumental jams, with a bass guitar, an organ, lead guitar with reverb, guitar strings being scraped, drums and tambourine. The single-minded channelling of their great talend so evident on 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' did seem, for the moment, to have disappeared.”
Obviously, The Beatles did not wish to have this heard by any ears but their own (and probably not even their own) and surely did not want it to be released to the public in any form. Even the legendary avant garde recording commonly referred to as “Carnival Of Light” that they recorded on January 5th, 1967 has never seen the light of day, despite Paul McCartney's desire to release it against the wishes of George Harrison.
There are, however, two examples of Beatles “jamming” that have been included on official Beatles releases during their career. Both of these examples took place during the extensive rehearsals / recording sessions of January 1969, which resulted in the “Let It Be” film and soundtrack album. Because of the intended informal nature of this project, John Lennon suggested that these two tracks be included on the album. One of these, “Maggie Mae,” was an impromptu truncated rendition of an old song the band was familiar with that was played in-between takes of their song “Two Of Us.” The other was 39 second segment of a fifteen minute loosely formulated “jam” they called “Dig It” that was recorded on January 26th, 1969, during their rehearsals for the song “Let It Be.”
The Beatles discussing plans for "Let It Be," Twickenham Film Studios, January 1969
Since what we recognize as the Beatles' track “Dig It” is actually a small section of an ad-libbed “jam” led by John Lennon, its writing can be pin-pointed to the first two days that the song was performed at Apple Studios on Savile Row in London. As detailed below, they fooled around with this song idea four times on January 24th, 1969, elements of which were remembered when they returned to it two days later on January 26th, 1969. It is a segment of the taped rendition from this second day that we will consider to be the completed composition of “Dig It” since it ended up appearing on the “Let It Be” album. Therefore, “Dig It,” as we know it, was composed entirely on January 24th and 26th, 1969.
Interestingly, John's mock DJ ad-lib "That was 'Can You Dig It' by Georgie Wood, and now we'd like to do, 'Hark The Angels Come'" was stated by John after one of the four renditions of "Dig It" they performed on January 24th, 1969. This falsetto phrase became a part of the "Dig It" track as it was edited onto its conclusion as a humorous transition to the song "Let It Be," which is heard next on the album.
When laboriously perusing through the 141 hours of music and dialog from The Beatles' January 1969 rehearsals at Twickenham Film Studios and Apple Studios, recorded on what has become known as the “Nagra Tapes,” we notice a catch phrase that was batted around quite a bit. “Can you dig it?” is a phrase that is said to date back to the early 19th Century. Its definition is to inquire whether someone acknowledges the need to study hard in order to uncover the deeper meaning of something. In the later 1960's however, the phrase resurfaced and has since been viewed as a dated and stereotypical expression of the hippy generation. This is evidenced in the song “Can You Dig It?” from The Monkees' “Head” soundtrack album of December 1968, as well as repeatedly contained in the sucessful 1969 hit “Grazing In The Grass” by The Friends Of Distinction. John and Paul used the phrase repeatedly during these January sessions, undoubtedly being an inspiration to the title of Lennon's song “Dig A Pony” which was also featured in the “Let It Be” project.
Other ad-libbed lyrical contributions from John include "the FBI, and the CIA, and the BBC," as well as notable personalities that popped into his head. Legendary blues guitarist "B.B. King" was an obvious transition from "BBC," while actress "Doris Day" appears to be part of an inside joke among The Beatles at that time. The name "Doris" is heard mentioned regularly among them on the "Nagra Tapes," evidenced in John's ad-libbed phrase "Phase one in which Doris gets her oats" as included in John's banter before the beginning of "Two Of Us" on the released "Let It Be" album. "Matt Busby" comes into John's mind just after "Doris Day," him being a former Liverpool football player who was then managing Manchester United and had become widely regarded as one of the greatest sports managers of all time.
John Lennon may have been the catalyst to the song's existence but, since all four of The Beatles contributed to the performance of "Dig It" under their own inspiration at the time, it is understandably listed as a “Lennon / McCartney / Harrison / Starr” composition. In actuality, since Billy Preston was contributing to the performance on that day as well, it could arguably be said that the keyboardist should also be credited as songwriter. George Martin, on the other hand, should not be so included, his shaker playing on this day being only a contributing factor to the enjoyment of the event as it was happening.
One could argue, however, that since the rendition they performed on this day was a continuation of an ad-lib version of Bob Dylan's song “Like A Rolling Stone,” John even vocalizing the song's title using a similar melody line to what Dylan sang, maybe he should be credited as a contributing songwriter to “Dig It.” As it turns out, Mr. Zimmerman has never fought for copyright infringement, nor could we ever imagine him claiming any credit for the song!
Apple Headquarters, 3 Saville Row, London.
On January 24th, 1969, which was the 13th day of the “Get Back / Let It Be” project, The Beatles entered Apple Studios on Savile Row in London for more rehearsals and recording. The primary focus on this day turned out to be the songs “Get Back” and “Two Of Us,” but they did concentrate on other compositions as well as blow off some steam with cover songs and “jamming.” It was in this environment that “Dig It” came into being for the first time.
After extnsive work on the two songs mentioned above, the group started running through a long list of selections by other artists, such as “Maggie Mae,” “Diggin' My Potatoes” and other Lonnie Donegan songs. This moved into songs by Guy Mitchell, such as “Singing The Blues,” John playing a Hofner Hawaiian Standard lap-steel guitar with a slide as he played on George's “For You Blue.” While still sitting in front of this instrument, John progressed into an ad-lib jam playing similarly as he had just done on “Singing The Blues.” Lyrically, possibly inspired by “Diggin' My Potatoes” and/or the “Can you dig it?” catch phrase of the time, Lennon repeatedly sang variations of the phrase. Paul joined in on vocals and exchanged lines such as, “I can dig it,” “everybody dig it” and so on.
After two brief experiments of this sort, John developed this idea a little further in a 12-bar blues progression with slide guitar, the result being a four minute jam with all four Beatles playing that continued with the “can you dig it” lyrical theme. After Lennon claims that you can “dig it every morning” and “dig it every evening,” he demands “I want some insurance, I need a guarantee.” Paul continues to interject his “dig it” lines but then comically imitates a remote location DJ, announcing “Coming to you from the heart of Chicago's blues land, Blind Lame Lennon!”, reprising a similar interjection from their as-yet unreleased 1967 recording “You Know My Name (Look Up The Number).” With John's slide guitar getting a little wild towards the end of the song, Paul sings, “I think you're out of tune, boy.” Clearly, The Beatles were enjoying themselves during this session.
After Billy Preston arrived a little later that day, they decided to run through this “Dig It” experiment one more time with the keyboardist, this rendition lasting nearly five minutes. At its conclusion, John stated in a high voice, “That was 'Can You Dig It' by Georgie Wood. And now we'd like to do 'Hark, The Angels Come.” this statement being remembered fondly and later edited into both the film and the soundtrack album.
On January 26th, 1969, the 15th day of the “Get Back / Let It Be” project, The Beatles primarily worked on perfecting Paul's song “Let It Be.” While Paul played piano, John played bass on a six-string Fender Bass VI, George played his newly acquired Fender Rosewood Telecaster, Ringo his Ludwig Hollywood drums and Billy Preston played a Hammond organ. This being a Sunday session, which was an unusual event but deemed necessary due to the time crunch to finalize the project by the end of the month, Paul's girlfriend Linda Eastman was present on this day along with her daughter Heather.
After much work on the song “Let It Be,” John began strumming his bass like a guitar, playing what he called a “bossa nova” style riff that the others joined in on. After singing the chorus of Bob Dylan's hit “Like A Rolling Stone,” he claimed that it sounded a bit like an Aretha Franklin song. Paul suggested that he was referring to her recent version of “Say A Little Prayer,” to which John said, “no, no, it's her new one,” George interjecting “that's the one Delaney wrote,” referring to the artist he was to tour with later that year. John then began singing the lyrics to “Twist And Shout” on top of this progression, Linda's six-year-old daughter Heather simultaneously finding a microphone to “sing” into for the next eight minutes. John even encourages the child, repeatedly singing “Come on, Heather!”
However, just after the three minute mark of this jam, John begins singing “Well, can you dig it,” which recalls their fun exercise from two days prior. With all six musicians wailing (George Martin joined in on the fun with a percussive shaker), as well as Heather on her microphone, this progresses into what has been considered the final version of “Dig It.” Paul joins in with a vocal interchange with John as before, McCartney improvising his own “pick it up” lyrics at around the ten minute mark, encouraging John to shout “For Christ sake, come on!” among various other things.
At the 11:35 mark, John reprises the inspiration to this whole rendition by singing “like a rolling stone” three times. Lennon then recalls a blues jam The Beatles performed on January 9th at Twickenham Studios (subsequently titled “Get Off!”) where they recited a laundry list of names that popped into their heads, such as “James Brown,” “Richard Nixon” and “Winston Churchill.” On this occasion, John names the FBI, the CIA, the BBC, “B.B. King,” “Doris Day” and “Matt Musby” before giving this up and going back to his “dig it” refrain. The jam goes on for nearly another two minutes with vocal interchanges between John and Paul as Ringo switches to a standard swing beat to finish off the last minute of the performance. A 49 second edit from this 15 minute performance was chosen to grace the released “Let It Be” soundtrack album.
The Beatles did return to “Dig It” two more times during the January 1969 Apple Studio rehearsals / recordings for the “Get Back / Let It Be” project, the brief rendition that occurred on January 28th being done without Paul in-between extensive rehearsals of “The Long And Winding Road” and “Get Back.” The rehearsal of “Dig It” that was recorded on January 29th, however, shows how refined this “jamming” excersice had become. This being the 18th day of rehearsals, the primary focus of this day was to run through all of the songs that they had perfected the most during the month in preperation for their inclusion on the final product, in whatever form that would be. In-between these refining rehearsals, “Dig It” was gone over as well with Ringo's impressive snare-rolling drum beat propelling the rhythm.
This version, which nearly stretched to seven minutes in length, has John playing his Epiphone Casino this time around, reprising his recollections from three days earlier of naming the FBI, BBC, “Doris Day” and “Matt Busby.” Among Paul's scat vocals in the background, John continues his pattern of naming names, this time listing all of the song titles that they had been working on during January: “You can dig it in the morning, dig it for dinner, any day...Don't Let Me Down, Get Back, I've Got A Feeling, Two Of Us, All I Want Is You, Teddy Boy, One After 909, All Things Must Pass, Dig It, Let It Be, The Long And Winding Road, For You Blue, Maxwell's Silver Hammer, and Through The Bathroom Window...” The song slows its pace during the last minute and, after John utters a few German phrases, comes to a close as an instrumental jam. Thus was the last Beatles performance of what became known as “Dig It.”
After producer Glyn Johns was given the task of putting together an album comprising the best of these January 1969 sessions, he chose the January 26th recording of “Dig It” to include therein. "One night I took a couple of reels of the eight-tracks away with me to Olympic Studios," Glyn Johns recalls, "and mixed two days of rehearslas with a lot of chat and humor and so on. I thought it would make the most incredible Beatles album ever, because it was so real." He edited this version of "Dig It" to create a 4:29 track comprising a good portion of the later minutes of the take that included the “like a rolling stone...Doris Day” vocalizations. He decided to edit in John's comment from January 24th “...and now we'd like to do 'Hark The Angel's Come'” in imitation of english actress and comedian Grace Fields as a segue into the song “Let It Be,” which was the next track on the proposed album. This editing work, as well as a stereo mix of the track, was accomplished on March 13th, 1969 at Olympic Sound Studios by Glyn Johns, George Martin possibly being present as well. The Master tape banding and compilation for this album was done by George Martin, Glyn Johns and engineer Steve Vaughan on May 28th, 1969, although it didn't meet with The Beatles' approval and did not get released in this form.
Interestingly, on August 11th, 1969, with the entire “Get Back / Let It Be” project put on hold, a mono tape copy of the March 13th stereo mix of “Dig It” was made by engineer Phil McDonald. This tape copy, along with a tape copy of the recently recorded “Maxwell's Silver Hammer,” was given to Mal Evans for him to give to Malcolm Davies at Apple Studios in order to cut acetate discs. It could be assumed that, since Paul had expressed a desire to release “Maxwell's Silver Hammer” as the next Beatles single, these two tracks were being proposed as the a- and b-side. While having a four-and-a-half-minute version of “Dig It” as a b-side of a Beatles single is interesing, I'm thinking most of us would agree that this overall suggestion would have been a mistake, one that the other Beatles undoubtedly vetoed.
On January 5th, 1970, the “Get Back / Let It Be” project was getting nearer to being released in some form, the movie being finalized at this point. Glyn Johns was once again commissioned to put together a soundtrack album and entered a control room at Olympic Sound Studios to complile and band together the master tape for the LP. He used the same stereo mix of “Dig It” for this release but, since the song “Let It Be” was placed elsewhere in the running order, the “now we'd like to do 'Hark, The Angels Come'” introduction led into “The Long And Winding Road.” At any rate, this album was also rejected for release.
Once Phil Spector was chosen to prepare the soundtrack album for what was now called “Let It Be,” he met with engineers Mike Sheady and Roger Ferris in Room 4 of EMI Studios to create a new stereo mix of “Dig It.” He selected the same January 26th rendition of the song as Glyn Johns had chosen but edited it down to the “like a rolling stone...Matt Busby” section for inclusion on the album. Although vocalizations from Paul were heard during this segment of the performance, especially during the "like a rolling stone" lyrics, Phil Spector decided to pan this out of the mix entirely. Since McCartney was not involved in the final mixing work on the album and Phil Spector was there at Lennon's request, one can assume that Paul's vocal contributions were omitted at John's request. Phil Spector also chose the “...'Hark, The Angels Come'” announcement from January 24th to use as a segue to the song “Let It Be” as Glyn Johns originally proposed.
Song Structure and Style
Unlike almost all of the entire Beatles catalog (the most notable exception being “Revolution 9”), “Dig It” does not have a discernable structure at all. Being the result of an improvisation, this Beatles track is simply a ten-times repeated four chord progression (F – Bb – C – Bb) in 6/8 time. The section of this “jamming” exercise, which is faded in and then out as Phil Spector desired, roughly parses out to be 20 measures in length.
Lennon's “That was 'Can You Dig It' by Georgie Wood...” statement from January 24th was strategically edited on top of the track on the downbeat of the 19th measure, this signaling the January 26th performance to be quickly faded out entirely. A brief snippet of a guitar playing a descending pattern is heard in the background while John's statement is being heard, the final words “'Hark, The Angels Come” appearing after the “Dig It” performance has dissapeared entirely, as if a DJ was humorously announcing “Let It Be” as the next selection on his radio playlist.
“Dig It” was released in the US on the “Let It Be” soundtrack album on May 18th, 1970. It was distributed in a gate-fold jacket in America, as opposed to the box set with photo book that was released in the UK. It spent four weeks in the top spot of the Billboard album chart and has sold well over four million copies in America alone. Interestingly, the original pressing of the record labels credit Ringo as "Starr," while later pressings correct this by using his proper name "Starkey."
Despite having a red Apple Records label, "Let It Be" was distributed by United Artists Records upon initial release, although it was eventually was dropped by the label's roster a few years later. While Capitol kept all other US Beatles albums in print throughout the 70's, “Let It Be” was the only LP from the group that wasn't legitimately available for a number of years. This was rectified in 1978, however, when Capitol Records purchased the UA catalog and re-released the “Let It Be” album once again, this time in a standard single sleeve cover. The album first appeared on compact disc on October 10th, 1987, and then as a remastered CD on September 9th, 2009.
The only performance of “Dig It” that can be said to have taken place was the 3:25 edit of the fifteen minute version of the song recorded on January 26th, 1969 that appeared in the “Let It Be” movie. It's obvious that direcor Michael Lindsay-Hogg thought enough of this footage to include it in the film as evidence of The Beatles enjoying this month's activity.
This footage shows the group having a great deal of fun, John throwing out spontaneous lyrics above Paul's structured ad libs “pick it up,” “you can get it” and “you can dig it.” John plays off of these backing vocalizations by singing suggestive phrases such as “Are you big enough to get it?...I'm big enough to get it...C'mon and get it...It's free!...I can hardly keep my hands still...You're gonna get it, alright!...You're gonna get it good!”
Bottles of Dr. Pepper, John's favorite, are sitting on Billy Preston's organ while Linda Eastman's daughter Heather wanders around aimlessly and George Martin gets a quick shot as percussionist. George Harrison and Billy Preston are both smiling and bobbing along, clearly enjoying this exercise, while Ringo appears to be joining in only because his performance is required. When this ad lib rendition falls apart, the segment ends with John's overdubbed phrase “That was 'Can You Dig It' by Georgie Wood” from January 24th while Ringo appears to fall backwards off of his drummer's stool.
The Beatles at Apple Studios, circa January 24th, 1969
As mentioned above, “Dig It” was featured on the “Let It Be” album primarily because of its inclusion in the accompanying film. While Glyn Johns intended to feature this improvosation as a four-and-a-half minute song on his proposed versions of the “Get Back” album, and Paul possibly suggesting it as the b-side to a “Maxwell's Silver Hammer” single, it ended up being relegated to becoming only a “link track” for the released “Let It Be” album by Phil Spector.
While it does make for an interesting segue between the songs “I Me Mine” and “Let It Be” on the soundtrack album, it can probably be agreed that this was the best place for “Dig It” after all. It stands as convincing evidence that, contrary to popular opinion, The Beatles really did enjoy themselves during the “Get Back / Let It Be” project...some of the time, at least!
Written by: John Lennon / Paul McCartney / George Harrison / Ringo Starkey
- Song Written: January 24 & 26, 1969
- Song Recorded: January 26, 1969
- First US Release Date: May 18, 1970 First US Album Release: Apple #AR-34001 “Let It Be”
- British Album Release: Apple #PCS 7096 “Let It Be”
- US Single Release: n/a
- Highest Chart Position: n/a
- Length: :51
- Key: F major
- Producer: George Martin, Phil Spector
- Engineers: Glyn Johns, Neil Richmond
Instrumentation (most likely):
- John Lennon - Lead Vocals, Bass (1961 Fender Bass VI)
- Paul McCartney - Piano (Bluthner Model One Concert Grand)
- George Harrison - Lead Guitar (1968 Fender Rosewood Telecaster)
- Ringo Starr - Drums (1968 Ludwig Hollywood Maple)
- Billy Preston - Organ (Hammond RT-3 w/ Leslie 145 cabinet)
- George Martin - shaker
Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski
Glyn Johns and The Beatles in the control room of Apple Studios, circa January 1969.
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