The second single to be released from Walls And Bridges, ‘#9 Dream’ featured John Lennon’s lover May Pang, and continued his fascination with the number nine.
That’s what I call craftsmanship writing, meaning, you know, I just churned that out. I’m not putting it down, it’s just what it is, but I just sat down and wrote it, you know, with no real inspiration, based on a dream I’d had.
In the early summer of 1974 Lennon recorded a series of home demos of songs, some of which ended up on Walls And Bridges. One of these was titled ‘So Long’ and, although an unfinished fragment, it later became the basis for #9 Dream.
That was a bit of a throwaway. It was based on some dream I had.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
At the time Lennon was producing Harry Nilsson’s album Pussy Cats, and the melody of ‘So Long’ was based on the string arrangement he had written for Nilsson’s cover version of Jimmy Cliff’s ‘Many Rivers To Cross’.
Lennon recorded a second demo on an acoustic guitar. The lyrics had begun to feature dream imagery, but the chorus was yet to come. Around this time he also toyed with using the title ‘Walls And Bridges’ for it.
This was one of John’s favorite songs, because it literally came to him in a dream. He woke up and wrote down those words along with the melody. He had no idea what it meant, but he thought it sounded beautiful. John arranged the strings in such a way that the song really does sound like a dream. It was the last song written for the album, and went thru a couple of title changes: ‘So Long Ago’, and ‘Walls & Bridges’.
The album Walls And Bridges was recorded in July and August 1974. By that time Lennon had settled on the title ‘#9 Dream’, and had a chorus refrain – “Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé” – which he claimed had come to him in a dream.
The words had no meaning, but summed up the ethereal atmosphere Lennon conjured up in the lyrics and production. Coincidentally, the phrase had nine syllables.
In the studio
John Lennon produced Walls And Bridges himself. Of its songs, ‘#9 Dream’ was the one which was most heavily produced; normally Lennon was happy to complete songs quickly and move on.
On ‘#9 Dream’, that’s an incredible vocal sound. There’s a lot of very interesting things done to that vocal sound to make it sound like that. There was so much echo on his voice in the mix, and doubling and tape delay.
Overdub engineer, Walls And Bridges
Studio engineer Roy Cicala announced “take nine” before every attempt to record ‘#9 Dream’. After the basic track had been recorded, a string arrangement by Ken Ascher was added, as were backing vocals by ‘The 44th Street Fairies’: Lennon, Pang, Lori Burton and Joey Dambra.
The words of the chorus were changed slightly by Lori Burton, Cicala’s wife.
Al Coury, the promotion man for Capitol, said, ‘They’re not going to play this record.’ When John asked Al, ‘Why?’ he was told, ‘Because you’re saying ‘pussy’ on it!’ So, Lori changed it to ‘Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé,’ kinda like French, and it worked. John listened to us. In fact, he listened to just about everything. He never used to come to the mix sessions until we called him. After all, there was no automation, so why have a breakdown over it? Just come in when you’re ready and then tweak it a little bit.
Sound On Sound
The lyrics featured “two spirits dancing so strange” calling his name. In the studio May Pang whispered “John” in response to the line “Somebody call out my name”. The snippet was reversed and reused in the second verse, following the words “Music touching my soul”.
‘#9 Dream’ was the second single to be issued from Walls And Bridges, following the surprise success of ‘Whatever Gets You Thru The Night’. Its b-side was another album track, ‘What You Got’.
The single was issued on 16 December 1974 in the USA, and 31 January 1975 in the UK.
In the United Kingdom it had the catalogue number Apple R 6003. It charted on 8 February, peaked at number 23, and spent a total of eight weeks on the charts.
‘#9 Dream’ fared better in the United States, fittingly peaking at number nine on the Billboard Hot 100 on 22 February 1975.
This song seems to be set apart from the other solo-John songs. When it first came out I was pleased to see that John was getting back into form. The production on this song was a cut above and I’ve always wondered why? The subject matter was peculiar. He asks, ‘Was it just a dream…it seemed so very real’ along with trying describe these ‘spirits’ etc. I also noted that John was going on about UFOs then but I didn’t think much about it then. Decades later and after much investigation into UFOs (and other things), I speculate that John was writing about an encounter with entities from a UFO. His lyrics come very close to approximating an abduction event. I won’t go into all of the very lengthy details why for the sake of space. Hindsight is always 20-20. When I accidently stumbled into realizing this possibility one day, the chills I experienced, I tell you.