One After 909

Let It Be album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 22, 24, 28, 30 January 1969
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Glyn Johns

Released: 8 May 1970 (UK), 18 May 1970 (US)

John Lennon: vocals, rhythm guitar
Paul McCartney: vocals, bass
George Harrison: lead guitar
Ringo Starr: drums
Billy Preston: electric piano

Available on:
Let It Be
Anthology 1
Let It Be… Naked

Although best known as a Let It Be album track, One After 909 was one of The Beatles’ earliest songs, and was originally recorded in March 1963.

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Paul: It’s the first… one of the first songs we’d ever done.
Glyn Johns, engineer: John wrote it when he was about 15, didn’t he?
Paul: Yeah…
Dialogue, Let It Be sessions, January 1969

The group first recorded One After 909 on the same day as From Me To You in 1963. However, two bootleg versions by The Quarrymen exist, dating from 1960, one of which was featured in the Anthology TV series. Two other fascinating live recordings of the song exist, both from a 1962 rehearsal at the Cavern Club.

Paul McCartney later explained how One After 909 was an attempt to write an American railroad song in the style of their musical heroes.

It has great memories for me of John and I trying to write a bluesy freight-train song. There were a lot of those songs at the time, like Midnight Special, Freight Train, Rock Island Line, so this was the One After 909; she didn’t get the 909, she got the one after it! It was a tribute to British Rail, actually. No, at the time we weren’t thinking British, it was much more the Super Chief from Omaha.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

Although McCartney claimed that the song was a collaboration based on an idea by Lennon, his former songwriting partner remembered it as a solo effort.

The One After 909, on the whatsit LP, I wrote when I was 17 or 18. We always wrote separately, but we wrote together because we enjoyed it a lot sometimes, and also because they would say, well, you’re going to make an album together and knock off a few songs, just like a job.
John Lennon
Rolling Stone, 1970

John Lennon mentioned in a number of interviews the significance of the number nine. His songs included Revolution 9 and #9 Dream, and a number of key dates in his life took place on the ninth of the month.

That was something I wrote when I was about seventeen. I lived at 9 Newcastle Road. I was born on the ninth of October, the ninth month [sic]. It’s just a number that follows me around, but, numerologically, apparently I’m a number six or a three or something, but it’s all part of nine.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

In the studio

On 5 March 1963 The Beatles were at Abbey Road to record their third EMI single, From Me To You. After completing the song and its b-side, Thank You Girl, they wanted to record two more Lennon-McCartney originals. They were One After 909 and What Goes On, but there was only enough time to tape one.

The group recorded four takes of One After 909, along with an edit piece which began at the guitar solo and lasted until the song’s end. Throughout the session they were unsure of the song’s arrangement, with all but one of their attempts breaking down.

The 1963 attempts sound rather more pedestrian than the 1969 version, and clearly The Beatles and George Martin felt the recording was unsatisfactory. It remained unreleased until Anthology 1 in 1995.

It was a number we didn’t used to do much but it was one that we always liked doing, and we rediscovered it. There were a couple of tunes that we wondered why we never put out; either George Martin didn’t like them enough to or he favoured others. It’s not a great song but it’s a great favourite of mine.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

The unreleased take two broke down because McCartney thought there would be another middle sixteen after the solo. The guitar break itself was fluffed by Harrison, prompting Lennon to ask, “What kind of solo was that?”

A sequence of two unfinished takes was included on Anthology 1. The first of these, take three, broke down when Paul McCartney found the song hard to play without a plectrum. The second was take four, which was halted when Lennon began singing during the guitar solo.

A new edit for Anthology 1, combining takes four and five, created a complete 1963 version of One After 909. The recording is most notable for the group’s use of “shaid” instead of “said”, a fairly common feature of their early EMI recordings.

Six years later the group revisited the song, with Billy Preston on keyboards. They recorded a number of versions over three consecutive days, beginning on 28 January 1969.

The Let It Be album and film featured a performance from the roof of Apple, on 30 January. The Beatles clearly enjoyed playing the song – and this time Harrison’s solo was first-rate. As the performance drew to a close John Lennon sang an impromptu line from Danny Boy.

Two versions of the Get Back album were prepared by producer/engineer Glyn Johns in 1969 and 1970. Although neither were deemed suitable for release, both opened with the rooftop performance of One After 909.

The song was mixed by Phil Spector, with no major changes, on 23 March 1970, and was released in May on the Let It Be album. The song was remastered in 2003 from the original session tapes for Let It Be… Naked.

24 responses on “One After 909

  1. Bill Schieve

    So Sorry, you guys are in error about the instrumental listings for One After 909……..George is on lead guitar and John is on rhythm guitar. Look at the footage of the Roof Top 30 Jan 69 recording…George is playing all those tastey licks and solo on his black and brown Fender telecaster, which was given to him by Eric Clapton and which was soon later disappeared/stolen.

    1. Juliana Brown

      I think you’re thinking of “Lucy” the red les paul… which was indeed stolen by later recovered by George via some trades from a dude who bought it from a store where the thief pawned it.

      The Rosewood Telecaster George played here never had anything to do with Eric Clapton. It was a prototype made by Fender just for harrison. Fender was trying to get the Beatles to use their stuff publicly since the vox deal was broken when Brian Epstein died.

      Fender also supplied then with all the amps you see as well.

      They also made a Rosewood Strat for Jimi Hendrix at the same time which apparently was never delivered to him.

      He ended up giving the Telecaster to Delaney of Delaney & Bonnie’s. It was recently sold for auction. It’s whereabouts have never been in question.

      Here’s one of numerous sources to corroborate: http://www.juliensauctions.com/auctions/entertainment_legends/george-harrison-guitar.html

    2. Aaron

      Clapton didn’t give him that telecaster, fender did. They made a few special all rosewood strats and teles, notably giving one to George and one one to Jimi Hendrix. I believe the guitar you are thinking of is the wine red les Paul Clapton gave George along with a Leslie cabinet fitted for guitars.

  2. Kevin

    Always wanted to know what the title “One After 909″ meant. That John had so many 9s in his life doesn’t clear it up. Is it the number of a train line the narrator is traveling on? A time the train leaves? Insights are welcome.

  3. charloss

    Its notable to see during the let it be sessions when i think Neil says.. what obout one after 909? and Paul says this song was made years ago and its not for now. At the end he get inyected again, and at last they did it

  4. Jonny Music

    I think I actually like the earlier version of this (the one on the Anthology) more than the later version… the later version sounds more like a “piss take” while early on they were more serious about a song like this.

  5. Fred

    I like Billy Preston’s piano on a number of Let it Be songs, but this one is early 60′s stuff, though recorded in 1969… Preston’s electric piano gives it that 70′s flavour that in my opinion is totally out of place.

  6. Condemned

    This is so weird… because I’ve had a sort of cosmic connection to the number “909″ for years now (seeing it everywhere I go), and only just discovered a few years ago that the Beatles referenced it as well! Crazy.

  7. ManNamedLear

    I dig both versions of the song. I heard the 1963 version long before I heard the 1969 version.

    Regarding the 1963 version, two things bother me:

    1. That Ringo’s occasional kicks are so noticeable.
    2. That the song slows down a little bit.

    Do these bother anyone else? (Or am I just expecting perfection where I shouldn’t?)

  8. Bill

    No, it’s John commenting on the solo. Even though it was left unfinished, I still prefer the ’63 version over the ’69 version. Hell, I even prefer the ’62 rehearsals over the ’69 version…

  9. appmanga

    About the “shaid”s; this wasn’t just an affectation or a gimmick, it’s mic technique. In order to reduce plosives (the boom that hits the mic when ones sings “s”, “t”, “f”, “m”, “wh”, and “ph” sounds, among others), schooled performers would use substitutes (“sh” for “s”, “vh” for “wh”, “n” for “m”, “d” for “t”) to reduce the plosive effect. With compression and de-essers this type of thing has become less necessary, but many vocalists and announcers still use this technique.

  10. Bongo

    It was a pleasant surprise when I first heard it on the Anthologys. Good move Apple for releasing all these gems, although some of these were bootlegged!

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