My favorite part of this rooftop concert performance, other than the fact that there's a false start so Ringo can put down his cigarette? The fact that there's a production assistant or someone holding up a legal pad so John can read his lyrics. I just find it kind of adorable. For a guy who wrote some awesome lyrics, John often had a hard time actually remembering them-- the rooftop concert also saw him hilariously flubbing the lyrics to "Don't Let Me Down," which you can check out in this video. (They performed "Don't Let Me Down" twice that day, and my original posting shows the second, flub-free take-- hence the extra link here. But I'm digressing.)
Anyway, good thing he had the lyrics in front of him for "Dig a Pony," because they're fairly complicated and hard to memorize. Well, "complicated" might be the wrong word, but they're entirely nonsensical-- I wouldn't even call them "surreal," which is a word frequently used to describe a song like, say,"I Am the Walrus." "I Am the Walrus" is like a series of images being recited by a deranged person, but the language in "Dig a Pony" isn't really imagistic at all-- it's more just playing some kind of rhyme game. John's taking pleasure less in visual nonsense and more in auditory nonsense. If that makes (ahem) sense. But the impulse is kind of the same, in that he's just having fun with words without any of them really meaning a whole lot.
If the words have any meaning at all, they seem to be signifying this expansive, optimistic worldview-- "you can" do various things to "anything" is what the song basically assures you over and over again. And that expansiveness is in the music, too. The vocal melody just climbs and climbs, from the "I--hi hi--hi hi" stuff all the way up the verse to the exuberance of the short "All I want is you" chorus, where Paul rocks his falsetto about as high up as can be imagined. When the instruments cut out from under the voices on that bit, it's sounds almost like actual flight, in a weird way. And then they start over with that gradual climb. In effect, you might not know exactly what the heck they're singing about, but you end up feeling pretty good about it.
I also feel pretty good about the guitar riff of the intro, which sounds pleasantly all over the place even as it keeps the song grounded in a pretty strict (and, for the Beatles, quite rare) triple time. This live version shown here is also the version that made it onto the Let It Be album, and it sounds shuffly and clunky amongst some of Phil Spector's other shiny overproduced tracks. But I'm glad he left it live and just kept his hands off of it. "Dig a Pony" might not be this tremendous masterpiece of the Beatles' catalog, but it's a fun, groovy song meant to be rocked out with guitars and bass and drums, and it seems to me that hearing it live like this would be absolutely the best way to hear it. Although the version on Let It Be Naked (a.k.a., Paul's attempt to rewrite an admittedly unfortunate history) is pretty much the same, they were apparently able to digitally correct a slightly wrong pitch of John's, and although I've never heard exactly where that is, it sort of bugs me to know that they did it. Because, seriously, sometimes you have to just let it be. As someone said once.
"Dig a Pony," released in the U.K. side A track 2 of Let It Be, May 8, 1970; in the U.S. May 18, 1970.