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.
The Beatles 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.
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
Although McCartney claimed that the song was a collaboration based on an idea by John 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.
Rolling Stone, 1970
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.
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 for one.
They 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.
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
The unreleased take two broke down because Paul McCartney thought there would be another middle sixteen after the solo. The guitar break itself was fluffed by George Harrison, prompting John 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 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. The Beatles recorded a number of versions in 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, 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’.