03 May 2012

THE BEATLES: From "One After 909" To "One After 909"

The Beatles. We get it. They were great. Not just great, they were the best goddamn rock 'n' roll band in the world and every band should hope to achieve even a fraction of what The Beatles accomplished. Right?! They were creators, innovators, leaders, pretty, popular, religious, open, free, flawed, they were the fuckin' Beatles, man!

The plaudits are endless. The praise, impassioned. The criticism, begrudging.

We get it.

The Beatles story has been rehashed so many times. Stories ironed into legend, legends carefully crafted by the survivors into the perfect Beatles mythology.

We get it.

We dog-eared the favorite bits in our Beatles books, we bought the limited edition magazines, wore out the Anthology CDs, watched The Beatles Anthology a million times, bought the vinyl, the CDs, the remasters.

Seriously, we get it!

What more do we need to do?

We need to take a listen to "One After 909."

Sure, "One After 909" is a fun track but ultimately - especially compared to the rest of their catalog - a bit of a throwaway song on Let It Be. But in between the lines of "One After 909" is rush of emotion and history that brings a tear to my eyes. Hyperbole? Sure. But doesn't it always seem like that when you're talking about The Beatles?


"One After 909" isn't anything to write home about. It won't find its way on to many top 10 Beatles songs lists. It's just a catchy little blues number ("Blues riff in B, watch me for the changes, and try to keep up").

But "One After 909" will speak more about the career of the Beatles than any other song.

Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney in McCartney's home in the summer of 1957 (John was 17, Paul was 15) "One After 909" was first recorded on 5 March 1963 but that version remained unreleased until the Anthology in the mid-90s.

"One After 909" was recorded again in January of 1969 for Let It Be.

It's rare that a band takes a song from their earliest days and records it again at the end of their career. (Imagine Radiohead re-recording an unexceptional song like, say, "How Do You?" on the last album they ever released). The Beatles - in their typically unconventional way - did it.

This ditty gives us a rare glimpse into their growth as people and as musicians.

| The Beatles - "One After 909" (False starts, take 3, take 4, take 5. Recorded 5 March 1963) |

According to the fantastic book by Ian McDonald Revolution In The Head, "One After 909" was the twelfth song The Beatles officially recorded (at Abbey Road). Lennon was on lead vocals, rhythm guitar and harmonica. McCartney on bass and supporting vocals, George Harrison on lead guitar with Ringo Starr dutifully on drums.

In these series of false starts from Anthology 1 you can hear the lads in what McDonald calls "comic disarray." You can hear the exasperation from Lennon as McCartney botches a bass line. Lennon himself coming in early in the middle of a Harrison solo.

The breakdown in concentration during these recording sessions (and, ultimately, not finishing a suitable version for release) could be a result of their insane (in comparison to modern times) schedule. The night before the boys were performing at a ballroom in the evening at St Helens just outside Liverpool before traveling 200 miles south to London to record "One After 909" in the morning. The next day they traveled back north to Manchester for a BBC radio appearance.

| The Beatles - "One After 909" (Complete, take 4 and 5 combined. Recorded 5 March 1963) |

According to the Anthology 1 liner notes:
Finally, by editing them together, we hear how [take] 4 and 5 could have been made into a master.
Take a careful listen: Here you can hear the sound cultivated by playing thousands upon thousands of hours* in the seedy clubs of post-war Hamburg. You can hear the youthful energy in the song and in their voices (Lennon was 22; McCartney was 20; Harrison 20; Starr 22). Listen to power, pace, and melody of this song, a fresh Beatles twist (and shout) on the blues that was unheard of in the early-60s.

There is a beautiful simplicity in this song. This was four working-class guys just playing some rock 'n' roll, with absolutely no idea what was ahead of them.

From that initial recording of "One After 909" in March of 1963, The Beatles were on a runaway train of success and innovation.

Bare with me through this brief and tedious timeline:

Year One (of their official recording career): Between 1962-1963 Please Please Me and With The Beatles were both recorded and released.

Year Two: In 1964 the band films the movie A Hard Day's Night and record and release the soundtrack. They spend the fall recording Beatles For Sale and release it by December.

Year Three: Help! and Beatles For Sale were filmed, recorded, released in 1965. In the second half of '65, Rubber Soul was recorded and released.

Year Four: Revolver recorded. Soon after its released in August of 1966, The Beatles - frustrated with the process and poor sound quality - quit touring. Note, this is only about four years into their professional recording career.

Year Five: The Beatles recorded and released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967 and recorded, filmed, and released Magical Mystery Tour.

Year Six: The Beatles spent early 1968 in India before spending the rest of the year recording The Beatles (The White Album) and releasing it in November of '68. If differences in style were already apparent between Lennon and McCartney, The White Album surely brought those differences into sharp focus. In middle of all this they released Yellow Submarine in July of '68.

Year Seven: The weary Fab Four spent a good chunk of January 1969 recording and uncomfortably documenting Let It Be on film. On 30 January 1969, they played their famous rooftop concert recording "Dig A Pony," "I've Got A Feeling" and "One After 909" live.

After the frustrating sessions of Let It Be in January, The Beatles pull it together (somewhat) and record their swan song Abbey Road between February and August of 1969 (by August, Lennon was 28; McCartney was 27; Harrison 26; Starr 29).

Abbey Road is released in late-September of '69 and Let It Be is finally released in May of 1970. By the end of 1970 the Beatles were finished as a band.

[Ed. Note: See the "REFERENCE" section at the end of this post for an even more tedious timeline.]

The Beatles recording career lasted from about September 1962 to about August of 1969. That's seven years. Within seven years they recorded some of rock 'n' rolls most popular albums. Many times recording brilliant albums one right after the other.

Think about it. Seven years. That's it.

In seven short years they went from Hamburg rockers, to movie stars, to champions of the psychedelic movement, innovators of recording technique and technology, Sgt. Pepper's, White Album, Let It Be, Abbey Road. Done.

By comparison, it took Radiohead about six or seven years to get from their album Pablo Honey, to The Bends, to OK Computer to the cusp of releasing Kid A.

Let's take a more commercially popular band: U2. From their debut album Boy in 1980, they managed to release three more albums within six years before just releasing Joshua Tree

| The Beatles - "One After 909" (Remastered; Recorded 28-29 January 1969) |

Just sit back and think for a second: "One After 909" was first put to tape in 1963 and then put to tape again in 1969. That's only six years. In six years The Beatles wrote and recorded eleven** albums (before recording and releasing Abbey Road) with most of them considered to be classics.

Take a listen to the Let It Be version of "One After 909."

According to McDonald, "One After 909" was - out of about 188 - the 166th song recorded by The Beatles. Scroll up, listen to the 12th song recorded by The Beatles and then listen to the 166th recorded song by The Beatles.

In six years these mop-topped pop stars were long-haired, bearded old men.

Give the Let It Be version another listen.

There's Lennon's raw voice. It's battered by cigarettes, heroin addiction, general anger towards life, The Beatles, the world but carefully balanced by the love he shared with Yoko Ono.

McCartney's distinct and bouncy bass playing and still-pristine vocals are mature, full, confident but still weighed down by the pressures of being a Beatle and the business of being a Beatle.

Harrison's guitar playing had improved far beyond Lennon and McCartney since the 1963 recording. It's confident. Listen to his tight, blistering lead-guitar work. He's cool, calm and at peace with the impending end of The Beatles and fully prepared/eager to carry on.

And, of course, Ringo with his rock-steady and underrated assault on the drum kit.

Then there's keyboard player Billy Preston (the fifth Beatle?) providing an energy, spark, and inspiration that The Beatles as a complete unit hadn't felt in years.

"One After 909" is a song that highlights the earliest of days when the boys were just a skiffle band, just a band trying to write some simple songs, rock 'n' roll, pick up chicks, get out of working-class Liverpool. And in 1969, "One After 909" is a bittersweet reminder of how far they've come, how far they've grown together and grown apart. How the business of being a Beatle gave them unimaginable success and riches and also tore friendships apart.

In just under three minutes you can almost hear years of frustration and the pressure of being a Beatle being released in a cathartic fashion. Frustration, pain, bitterness, drug addiction, divorce, the weight of unintentionally being cultural leaders, all set aside and emotions let loose in a song so simple, so pure, so rock 'n' roll.

Forget the books, the magazines, the documentaries, the legend, the mythology, the revisionist history, the true story of The Beatles won't be found there.

Where does the true story of The Beatles lie? Just listen. The true story - as it always was and has been - is in the music. It's from "One After 909" to "One After 909."

* Read Outliers by Malcom Gladwell and the "10,000 hours" concept as it relates to The Beatles. Or just read the synopsis on Wikipedia.
** We're counting the original UK LP releases, not all those insane US versions.

  • September 1962 - February 1963: Please Please Me recorded.
  • 5 March 1963: "One After 909" recorded, unreleased.
  • 22 March 1963: Please Please Me released.
  • July - October 1963: With The Beatles recorded.
  • 22 November 1963: With The Beatles released (the same day John F. Kennedy was assassinated).
  • January - June 1964: A Hard Day's Night is filmed and the soundtrack recorded.
  • 6 July 1964: The A Hard Day's Night film is released.
  • 10 July 1964: A Hard Day's Night soundtrack is released.
  • August - October 1964: Beatles For Sale recorded.
  • 4 December 1964: Beatles For Sale released.
  • February - June 1965: The movie Help! is filmed and the soundtrack recorded.
  • 29 July 1965: The movie Help! is released.
  • 6 August 1965: The soundtrack to Help! is released.
  • June - November 1965: Rubber Soul is recorded.
  • 3 December 1965: Rubber Soul is released.
  • April - June 1966: Revolver is recorded.
  • 5 August 1966: Revolver is released (only three years after Please Please Me.
  • 29 August 1966: Fed up with touring, The Beatles play their last show at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
  • December 1966 - April 1967: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band recorded.
  • April - November 1967: Magical Mystery Tour recorded and filmed (in September).
  • 1 June 1967: Sgt. Pepper's released.
  • 8 December 1967: Magical Mystery Tour album released (new songs plus previously released non-album singles).
  • 26 December 1967: Magical Mystery Tour film released.
  • January 1968: The Beatles film cameo for Yellow Submarine.
  • February 1968 - April 1968: The Beatles visit India.
  • May 1968 - October 1968: The Beatles record The Beatles (The White Album).
  • 17 July 1968 (UK): Yellow Submarine animated feature released.
  • 22 November 1968: The Beatles released.
  • 17 January 1969: Yellow Submarine soundtrack released (featuring four unreleased songs).
  • January 1969: Most of Let It Be recorded.
  • 30 January 1969: Rooftop concert.
  • February 1969 - August 1969: The Beatles record Abbey Road.
  • 26 September 1969: Abbey Road released.
  • 8 May 1970: Let It Be released.
(Whew. Exhausted? Me too. And so were The Beatles).

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