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notes on ...

Notes on "One After 909"


Notes on ... Series #174 (OA909)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: B Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Verse | Bridge |
                  | Verse | Verse (Guitar Solo) | Bridge | 
                  | Verse | Outro (with complete ending)
        CD: "Let It Be", Track 9 (Parlophone 0777-7 46447-2)
  Recorded: 22nd February 1969, Trident Studios;
            18th, 20th April, 8th, 11th August 1969, Abbey Road 2/3
UK-release: 8th May 1970 (LP "Let It Be")
US-release: 18th May 1970 (LP "Let It Be")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note With the exception of the two "Anthology" singles the "One After 909" must easily be the oldest "new" Beatlesong ever. Its official release date, as part of the "Let It Be" album, was May 1970, yet there are home recordings of the pre-Beatles playing the song virtually ten full years earlier.
  Next note It's a paradox: they supposedly held it back for so long because they never did feel it was quite ready for prime time. Indeed, in comparison to just about any other original song released on their first couple albums and singles, "One After 909" is an unusually simple and straightforward song in every compositional category.
  Next note In contrast to some of the subtle formalistic variants you'll find even in their early works, this one is fully cranked out with its two bridges and a guitar solo modelled on the pattern of the verse section. You might even say the form is a bit boxy from the way all the sections are built out of even numbers of four-measure phrases.
  Next note On the other hand, the stylized blues tint of the music allow it to fit in just about anywhere in the Beatles canon. And the lyrics have a deadpan bite and ambiguity in spite of the simple story they tell that can somehow pass for later, or at least "mature" Beatles fare.
  Next note Some truth in advertising: much of this particular note is drawn from a longer article published in The 910 (Vol.I, No.7) tracing the evolution of the song through a succession of bootleg recordings. For the moment let's just focus on the official recording.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note Harmonically, only four chords are used throughout and they're very simple ones at that, in spite of the hairy spelling of them caused by the 5-sharps key signature of the home key of B Major. In order of appearance, we have B, E, F#, and C#-Major (i.e. the I, IV, V, and V-of-V, respectively).
  Next note Furthermore, though not in a strict blues form, a couple of harmonic factors help conjure a very blues-like feeling overall: the long sustaining of the I chord (B) for a full ten measures at the beginning of each verse, and the manner in which the melody pits bluesy minor notes against the Major harmonies; actually, all quite reminiscent of "I Saw Her Standing There", in a way.


  Next note The arrangement is very much in the come-as-you-are, good time, jam-session style of the "Get Back" sessions of which it is so obviously a part. While there is some attention paid to the overall ensemble, on the surface the entire group seems to be playing in a continuously improvisatory style, a sort of rock equivalent of Dixieland jazz.
  Next note This roughness is somewhat exacerbated by the live, outdoor nature of the recording. Nevertheless, peeping through the thick sound one can't help notice Billy Preston's piano licks (the glissandos, as well as a little rising four-note motif: d-d#-b-b), George's twangy guitar fills in the intro and between sections, and Ringo's clean articulation of the "b'boom" figure in the third line of each verse section including the guitar solo.
  Next note Vocally, we have John singing lead with Paul in parallel thirds above him in the verses. For the bridges, John gets to sing solo with just the slightest bit of apparently spontaneous heckling help from Paul in spots (e.g. "run right home").
  Next note Recording-wise, the official version of "One After 909" comes directly from the rooftop concert of January 30, 1969 and is available in two very different mixes. The one on "Let It Be" has all the musical elements homogeneously blended, including the vocals mixed close to center. The "Get Back" mix of the identical take sounds much closer the un-retouched inline board tape of the rooftop concert which must have been, on some level, the common source of both mixes.
  Next note The vocals on the "Get Back" mix are separated to such an extreme that they can be almost completely isolated from each other by panning your stereo in one direction or the other. Compared with the "Let It Be" mix, this one has the drums further forward and the piano further back. In general, the less-processed "Get Back" mix has a realistically harsh sound which makes the "Let It Be" mix sound like the audio equivalent of a cream finished wine in comparison.
  Next note The editing of the song is also slightly different in these two mixes. The "Let It Be" version starts off clean, while the "Get Back" version opens with a clip of backstage, camera-crew chat and tuning. I assume that this clip was spliced in entirely out of context because there is a barely audible cut right before the music begins. Both versions end with John's launching into the opening of "Danny Boy" which we know from the video is the way it happened in real time. However, the "Get Back" unworthily tries to fool us by continuing with Paul's "Thanks Mo" and John's "I hope we passed the audition" comment, both of which are actually from the very end of the rooftop concert.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The intro is four plain measures of vamping on the I chord, introduced by a pickup one beat and a half before the downbeat:
      |B       |-       |-       |-       |
   B:  I

   [Figure 174.1]
  Next note Given the simplicity of the rest of the song, this kind of outro effectively sets the tone without giving much else away so early in the game.


  Next note The verse is a four-square sixteen measures in length with phrases of equal length that create a pattern of AABA':
      |B       |-       |-       |-       |
   B:  I

      |-       |-       |-       |-       |

      |B       |-       |E       |-       |
       I                 IV

      |B       |F#      |B       |-       |
       I        V        I

   [Figure 174.2]
  Next note The harmonic shape here is closed at both ends. Note the contrast between the two lines of music with respect to harmonic rhythm.


  Next note The Bridge is also a four-square sixteen measures long, this time in an even more rotely repetitious ABAB phrasing pattern:
    -------------------------- 2X ------------------------
   |E     |-     |B     |-     ||C#    |-    |F#    |-    |
    IV            I              V-of-V       V

   [Figure 174.3]
  Next note In this case, the harmonic shape is open on both ends.


  Next note The outro features one of those classic three-times-you're-out gambits that grows smoothly out of the final verse. Picking it up at measure 13 of that section we have:
   |B     |F#    ||B     |F#    ||B     |F#    |B     |-     |
    I      V       I      V       I      V      I

   [Figure 174.4]
  Next note The final two measures can be analyzed at one lower level of detail, but their harmonic significance still adds up to a prolongation of the I chord.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note The most intruiging thing about this song is the approach/avoidance syndrome with which the Beatles repeatedly worked the song up toward a polished performance, only to pack it up again in mothballs. The chronological spacing over a nine year period and the provenance of the many alternate versions of "One After 909" as well as their detailed contents clearly reflect the history of the song.
  Next note The song must have been written during the late fifties. Lewisohn's Live book lists it as a staple of the fledgling Beatles stage act starting somewhere between 1957 - 1959 and all the way through 1962. The earliest known recording of it is on the so-called "Quarrymen, Spring 1960" tape (some tracks of which, but not this song, appeared on "Anthology", volume 1). They took it into the studio with them in early 1963 thinking to possibly turn it into an official release, only to quietly pack it away. After this one recording session, there is in fact no evidence that they performed the song in concert or for broadcast ever again until they suddenly were to whip it almost six years later out for the "Get Back" sessions of January 1969.

Archeology of the Alternate Versions

  Next note The alternates of the song all originate from just four more or less widely spaced times and places:
  • Group #1 — The Quarrymen Demos. We are especially fortunate to have two recorded versions of the song performed by the pre-Beatles reportedly in Spring, 1960. An amateur tape was clearly the source of this and the sound quality is relatively poor but the material is too important to quibble about that.
In spite of the superficial primitiveness of the performance and the recording, these versions of "One After 909" are surprisingly close in form and arrangement to the official version of January 1969, closer by far than the ones which come out of the sessions in the next two groups, 1962 and 1963 respectively.
This same Quarrymen tape also contains two other songs written by Paul and/or John that which would resurface later in their career; i.e. "I'll Follow The Sun" and "Hello Little Girl". But whereas these latter two songs were to undergo significant reworking before their next appearances (one on the "For Sale" album and the other at the Decca audition), our song appears here pretty much "right on" from day one.
  • Group #2 — Rehearsing at the Cavern Club, circa Fall 1962. Two takes of "One After 909" survive on a tape which purports to be the Beatles with their newly hired drummer, Ringo, rehearsing the likes of "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Catswalk" at their infamous Liverpudlian haunt.
Though more professional in both performance and sound quality than the Quarrymen demos, these are still rough in both categories when compared to the Beatles' official studio work. The arrangement played here is quite different than the Quarrymen's and once you hear the outtakes from the next set, you realize that on this tape, they were warming up and perfecting the version they would next take into EMI to work on with George Martin.
  • Group #3 — At EMI on March 5, 1963. Several outtakes of "One After 909" come from the same recording session as "From Me To You" and "Thank You Girl", and in my opinion, they are the tightest and hardest rocking of all the versions of the song ever. In comparison to both Quarrymen and Cavern takes, they had by this point added a slightly fussier intro, dropped the repeat of the bridge, and in general made the arrangement more hard driving.
Approximately three and a half unique takes from this session are available to collectors. Take 1 breaks up into a bit of an argument between John and Ringo. Take 2 is complete, and with the exception of a peculiarly monotonous guitar solo (about which John chides George the minute the performance is over) if nicely done. The ill-fated "Sessions" album was to feature a parts of different takes from this session spliced together and heavily EQ'd.
  • Group #4 — At Twickenham and Apple Studios, January 1969. We are fortunate to have a group of rehearsals and runthroughs of the song which are evenly spread out over the course of the month, culminating of course with the Official Version which was part of the rooftop concert.
These "Get Back" outtakes are more or less sloppy runthroughs of the same arrangement heard in the Official Version. Some reveal good humor, and some reveal studio chat which helps unravel the mystery of why the song was earlier witheld. The stumbling awkwardness of the takes from early in the project would tend to support the notion that they had not played the song for a long while and were groping their way collectively in real time to re-figure it all out again.

Musicology of the Alternate Versions

  Next note The following observations might be made about this large group of alternate versions taken as a whole and in comparison with each other.

Common Denominators

  • They always played the song in the unusual key of B Major.
  • The vocal arrangement was always the same, with an Everly Brothers-like duet in parallel thirds for the verses, and John singing solo (more or less) in the bridge.
  • The form always included a solo section for guitar.

Major Variations

  • Versions from Groups #1 and #4 are in a bouncy vamping style, while Groups #2 and #3 are syncopated and hard rocking.
  • Versions from Groups #1, #2 and #4 are in a long form that includes two bridges, while Group #3 omits the second bridge.
  • Versions from Group #3 have a bluesy, three-chord intro, while all other versions have intros which vamp on just a single chord.
  • Though the guitar solo section was most often done in the sixteen-measure form of the verse sections, the solos in Group #1 and one of the versions from Group #3 are in twelve-bar blues form.
  • The little pauses which punctuate the rhetorical phrasing of the third line of each verse on the words "move over once ... (pause) ... move over twice ... (pause) ...", are filled in Groups #2 and #3 with a hammeringly insistent rhythmic figure (boom-boom-boom-boom) which in a funny way sounds coincidentally like of the "V-for-Victory" opening of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony! Groups #1, 4, as well as the Official Version offer a simpler and less emphatic figure (just "b'boom") in this same place.
  • With respect to the exact transcription of the words to the Official Version, versions from all four Groups vary all over the map in tiny ways.

Side Benefits

  • Versions from Groups #3 and #4 contain especially interesting bits of candid studio dialogue.
  • The outtakes from the "Get Back" sessions in particular (Group #4) contain a couple of unusually protracted conversations which illuminate both the social dynamics general of the group at the time as well as the background of this song in particular.
  • Following the first Twickenham performance (after a subtle cut in the tape) John, Paul, and George launch into an amazing little bull session about their past feelings for the song and how they ought to go about the business reviving it.
  • They start off in a laughingly reminiscent mode, reciting bits of the lyrics in comic voices. George jokes about it being one of their early songs from 1948 [sic!], Paul says "it's great", and John acknowledges that they "always meant to change the words a bit." But then George, apparently entirely unprovoked lets out the sarcastic proposal that maybe they should practice it, but then again, perhaps such practicing "will fuck it up?"
  • The chat which follows the second Twickenham performance is priceless. For those who enjoy the fly-on-the-wall nature of Beatlegs, it doesn't get much better than this.
  • Again, they air their past feelings about this song and this time the discussion provides quite explicitly the smoking-gun reason why they had never before allowed it to be officially released.
  • Paul opens by saying he never "sort of" knew what it was about before and this leads into a congenial synopsis by him and John of the story line of the lyrics. Then paydirt: Paul says, "Our Kid's (his brother Mike) been saying we should do it for years, but I told him you don't understand about these things." Paul continues to say he didn't think that the words were sophisticated enough, and John seconds with "we always thought it wasn't finished; couldn't do it without finishing it."
  • During this entire exchange Ringo and George are entirely silent except that Ringo at one point bangs around randomly on his drums (feeling bored or left out and trying to get attention?), and George manages to sneak in the sharply negative and essentially irrelevant comment about how "most people don't give a shit about the words as long as it's hopping along."

"Couldn't Do It Without Finishing It"

  Next note The fact that they picked this song up in 1969 after what seems to be an almost six-year blackout of it shouldn't overly surprise us. To the extent that the group was clearly steeped in heavy oldies-oriented mood during long stretches of the "Get Back" sessions, it's only fitting that they should dip into some oldies of their own. After all, "One After 909" is far from the only obscure Lennon and McCartney song from the Quarrymen period to surface during these sessions.
  Next note But what is extremely ironic about "One After 909" is that when it came time for them to revive this song, which had been taken quite close to official release back in 1963 with a polished, and detailed arrangement, they would choose to present it in a laid-back, lazy version which harks back not so much to the studio takes of 1963, but all the way back to the Quarrymen home demos of 1960. In context of their remarks about how it couldn't be released earlier because the words weren't sophisticated or finished enough, it is equally ironic that the lyrics of the official version are not substantially different in any way from what they ever had been.
  Next note Was this intentional, a nostalgia for days lost? Or in light of the general decline at the time of the group's technique as an ensemble, could it have been a conscious making of a virtue out of necessity? We likely will never really know the answer to such rhetorical questions, but for now, we can at least savor the irony.
  Alan (081999#174)
Copyright © 1999 by Alan W. Pollack. All Rights Reserved. This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains intact and in place.