#9 Dream

#9 Dream single - John LennonWritten by: Lennon
Recorded: July-August 1974
Producer: John Lennon

Released: 4 October 1974 (UK), 26 September 1974 (US)

John Lennon: vocals, acoustic guitar
Nicky Hopkins: electric piano
Jesse Ed Davis: electric guitar
Eddie Mottau: acoustic guitar
Ken Ascher: clavinet
Klaus Voormann: bass guitar
Arthur Jenkins: percussion
Jim Keltner: drums
Bobby Keys: saxophone
May Pang, Lori Burton, Joey Dambra: backing vocals

Available on:
Walls And Bridges
Power To The People - The Hits

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.

#9 Dream - Walls and Bridges (Remastered)

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.
John Lennon, 1980

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.
John Lennon, 1980
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.

The words of the chorus were changed slightly by Lori Burton, the wife of studio engineer Roy Cicala, who also sang backing vocals on the song.

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.
Roy Cicala
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 studio, Roy Cicala announced "take nine" before every attempt to record the song. 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.

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.
Jimmy Iovine
Overdub engineer, Walls And Bridges

Chart success

#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 31 January 1975. 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.

In the United States it fared better, fittingly peaking at number nine on the Billboard Hot 100 on 22 February 1975

26 responses on “#9 Dream

  1. Tweeze

    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.

  2. Joseph Brush

    Hey Joe, correct me if I am wrong but didn’t John write this song during the 1973 Mind Games sessions, according to your May Pang interview?

    1. Joe Post author

      It’s hard to get the chronology precisely right, but I don’t doubt that he started the song during the Mind Games sessions, as May says. As far as I can tell the demos were recorded in 1974, so hopefully both scenarios are correct.

  3. CraigC

    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 of the chorus were changed slightly by Lori Burton, the wife of studio engineer Roy Cicala, who also sang backing vocals on the song.

    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.

    Ok, so which is it? It can’t be both.

    1. Joe Post author

      For the sake of comprehensiveness it probably should be, but I decided to limit the number of compilations I listed. Since there have been *many* Lennon reissues over the years, I decided to just focus on the currently-available ones. As far as I know Shaved Fish is no longer being made.

      That said, it was put out in Lennon’s lifetime so probably deserves a mention. But I have to draw a line somewhere. It’s the same with McCartney’s back catalogue – there have been various best-ofs and compilations, and it makes sense to focus just on the current ones.

  4. Jenny

    Guys..the phrase ah. Böwakawa pousse pousse..surely seems and sounds like a phrase out of this world..however..pousse means “shoot” in french…doesnt that ring a bell to all of u ..that the dream was warning him that he would be shot dead..?? Think about it..the bowakawa..is a bit weird..cant find it anyway..must be from another world!!!

  5. Hoshi

    I think this is a song of lamentation by John. He missed the Beatles, perhaps subconsciuosly. The Beatle experience now only seemed like a dream to him, that happened so long ago.

    I have seen a video of John and Yoko walking in NYC, him doffing his fedora at people calling out his name. He missed all that fame and recognition, but had a smile on his face when they did that.

    The two spirits dancing were John and Paul, as were the two mirrors going round and round. The river of sound was all the music they produced.

    1. SMiLE

      In a YouTube comment to the song, someone claims that “böwakawa” means “beetle” in Swahili and “Ah, böwakawa poussé poussé” could be interpreted as “The Beatles are getting back together” in Swahili. While I think that it was just nonsense words John heard in a dream, it’s open to anyone’s interpretation what the words really mean.

  6. Murray

    The first time I heard this song I thought about the details of his death. Even the image on the album cover, his head facing upward toward the sky, looked identical to the very last photo if John, as he lay on a gurney at the entrance to the hospital. That photo was plastered on the cover of the morning papers.

    I think John had a premonition of his own death. “Someone called out my name” refers to Chapman. “Something hot, sudden cold” refers to the bullet and the instant bodily reaction. “Two spirits dancing” refers to both those last moments on the sidewalk, as well as earlier when Chapman stalked John for an autograph.

    From a spiritual perspective, if we are indeed souls come to earth to inhabit a human character for a short while, then “so long ago” may refer to recall back into the Spirit World before incarnating as John Lennon. As he would have been confused as to the true timing of what seemed like a déjà vu moment, he wondered, “was it just a dream?” But a premonition is also a recollection, just from our prior spiritual life, where we are given glimpses of the life we are about to live … on earth.

    Anyway, I think this song envisions the details of his death. The “mirrors” remark refers to Chapman’s claim that HE was john lennon. What do you think?

  7. TC

    “pousse” in French is the past tense of push. i.e. pushed, or if spelled “poussez” (pronounced the same way) is the imperative form (i.e. a command to someone) “push”.

  8. ForgetScowl

    Aside from all of this lyrical imagery interpretation is the production/arrangement of this song which is brilliant and no surprise that it was Lennon himself who mastered those controls. I remember the use of this song to ease me from the pain of crashing down hard from a very high place. It was the sound of his voice and his production of sound that soothed me like a baby from a nightmare. Another accomplishment of his artistic possibility.

  9. Graham Paterson

    This is one of my favorite songs of all time by anybody. A beautiful melody and Lennon himself did a great job of the production, The album it came off Walls and Bridges is so underrated. Recorded near the end of the Lost Weekend when he was still with May Pang he and a great group of musicians put together a mid 70s classic. This wonderful song is the high point of an album that summarizes so well what he had recently been through. Lennon at his autobiographical best. This song came in a dream to John Lennon literally with all that the number 9 meant to him. Inspired creativity at its best.

  10. chris j

    I’d always thought the “Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé” part was an obvious wink to George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord (written in 1969) which itself borrowed from different sources and was in the middle of a huge copyright infringment suit from “Bright Music” since 71, complicated by their split up with their manager Allen Klein in March 73 who then helped “Bright Music” getting more money for the resemblance to 1963’s “He’s so fine” by the Chiffons. Harrison said he was more consciously inspired by “Oh Happy Day !”

    Turns out John Lennon said it came to him in a dream (while dozing off listening to “All Things Must Pass” ?).

    Ah! Böwakawa, my sweet Lord
    Halleluya pussy pussy

    Hare Krishna, pussy pussy
    Hare Rama,pussy pussy

      1. chris j

        I just heard a demo version of it on John Lennon “Rarities / Demos” Volume 2 on youtube, and there’s even a bit that has disappeared in the final version where he starts singing the slide guitar theme of My Sweet Lord and repeats it.

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