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
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”.
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.