When was it recorded? Jan. 22-30, 1969
When was it first released, and on which album? May 8, 1970 on “Let It Be”
Who wrote it? Lennon (with noteworthy contribution from McCartney)
Have I heard this song before? One version of it, anyway
What my research dug up:
“One Before 909” (or “The One Before 909”) is one of John’s earliest compositions. Musicologists agree the song was written before 1960 and probably as early as 1957.
“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.” — John Lennon (David Sheff, All We Are Saying)
According to Paul, “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.”
For reference, I wanted to post a version of “Midnight Special,” a traditional Southern (American) country/blues song. However, when I skimmed the Wikipedia page for a version of the song that would have been popular in the 1950s, I noticed “The Beatles” among the list of notable covers. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll probably have noticed I didn’t write about this song. It wasn’t even on the list I’ve been working off of. If my research got me to the correct destination, the Beatles recorded “Midnight Surprise” during their 1969 Get Back sessions. Lo and behold…
We know John wrote “One After 909” before 1960 because in the spring of 1960, the Quarrymen recorded two demos of it.
According to Alan Pollack, a fall 1962 rehearsal of “One After 909” recorded at the Cavern Club exists on bootleg. Quoth Pollack, “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.” It stands to reason that the song appeared in their early live shows. I’m posting enough videos here, so I trust you can find this version yourselves.
Now on Mar. 5, 1963, the Beatles decided to take “One After 909” to the studio while producing their third single, “From Me to You.” The Fab Four recorded five takes of “One After 909”; all but one of these takes broke down. “Anthology 1” included two versions of the song – Take Three and Four as a sequence, then Take Four and Five combined to make a complete version.
Can you imagine if they would have released this version in 1963?
Almost six years later, the Beatles brought “One After 909” back to the studio. Quoth Pollack, “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.” With my man Billy Preston on the keyboard, the band worked on the song Jan. 22, 24, and 28.
However, quoth Wikipedia, “The album version is the live performance from the rooftop concert which took place on 30 January 1969. This performance is also included in the ‘Let It Be’ film.” Phil Spector mixed it on Mar. 23; unlike a number of “Let It Be” songs, “One After 909” suffered no major changes.
“One After 909” appeared in 2003 on “Let It Be… Naked.” This version is a re-master of the original session tapes.
Pollack had a lot of great thoughts in his notes on “One After 909.” I tried to list the highlights or my favorite items, but I figured if you wanted to read all those I could just redirect you to the original article. SO! I’ll just add that I like every iteration of this song and really had fun learning the history (what a history) behind it.