-Piano Version of “One After 909”
“‘One After 909’…is one that I wrote separately from Paul when [I was] 17 or 18 in Liverpool,” Lennon said of this early composition, which takes its cue from locomotive-centric skiffle mainstays like “Rock Island Line” and “Freight Train.”
The earliest known recording of the song dates from April 1960, when Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and early Beatles bassist Stu Sutcliffe borrowed a Grundig reel-to-reel tape machine to record themselves performing (supposedly) in the McCartney family bathroom, where the tile provided a Sun Records-like echo.
An additional bootleg has surfaced of the band performing the song during an afternoon rehearsal at Liverpool’s Cavern Club in October 1962. This tape is believed to have served as a reference for their (relatively) new drummer Ringo Starr, who had joined their ranks weeks earlier in mid-August.
The first formal attempt the band made to record “One After 909” occurred on March 5, 1963, during the first flush of Beatlemania. Earlier in the day they’d knocked out a new single, “From Me to You,” and its B-side, “Thank You Girl,” but Lennon’s train song proved harder to nail and all but one of their takes broke down. Ultimately this studio version was shelved until 1995, when it was released as part of The Beatles Anthology collection.
“One After 909” languished until the start of the Get Back sessions in January 1969. The project began less than six weeks after the release of the White Album, the 30-song epic that the band had worked on for much of the second half of 1968. The sprawling collection had more or less cleaned out Lennon’s reserve of new compositions, and he arrived at Twickenham short of songs — at least compared to the prolific McCartney and Harrison. “John was obviously in the midst of a writing block during Let It Be,” Giles Martin says. “He’s really relaxed in most of the sessions. That’s the funny thing. Paul’s going, ‘Come on, guys!’ And John’s just going, ‘Ehh, I’ll do whatever…'”
Lennon would later cite his own “lack of material” as his reason for suggesting they dust off “One After 909.” The band fondly embraced the song, and it was quickly earmarked as a serious contender for inclusion in the climactic concert and subsequent album.
The addition of keyboardist Billy Preston’s Fender Rhodes went a long way in filling out the sound, On Jan. 29 — the day before the famous rooftop gig — producer George Martin suggested that Preston try playing a regular piano.
-An Extended Version of Lennon’s Jam “Dig It”
“Dig It”, 50-second snippet that ushered in the album’s title track in 1970. In reality, this is just a fraction of the song’s 12-minute length. Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s Let It Be documentary featured a clip just over three minutes in length, showing the Beatles having a ball as they improvise the song with a little help from George Martin on percussion while McCartney’s soon-to-be stepdaughter Heather twirls. Now, an extended excerpt of “Dig It” is available as part of Glyn Johns’ mix of the album.
The title is a catch phrase from the American satirical sketch-comedy program Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, which had become a favorite of the Beatles in early 1969. Lennon began riffing on the phrase during sessions on Jan. 24, making up a song that consisted solely of the words “Can you dig it?”.
Two days later, after spending much of the morning on McCartney’s elegantly restrained piano ballad “Let It Be,” John starts by beating out a latin-style rhythm on his six-string bass and yelping verses from Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” and the Isley Brothers’ “Twist and Shout.” Then 6-year-old Heather chimes in, howling wordless vocals while Lennon sings “Come on, Heather!” by way of encouragement. The effect is cute, Glyn Johns’ four-minute version, an edited composite of the most interesting moments in the jam, begins when Lennon takes over once again, swapping lines with McCartney about the many ways in which one can “dig it” before pin-balling from the FBI, the CIA and the BBC to B.B. King, Doris Day and the newly retired Manchester United football club manager Matt Busby. The song forward for a few more minutes like a proto-rap-reggae fusion number before petering out, thus concluding one of only two tracks credited to all four band members. (The instrumental “Flying” from Magical Mystery Tour was the first.)
-George Harrison and Ringo Starr’s “Octopus’s Garden” Writing Session
One of the most touching moments on the Let It Be box set occurred on the morning of Jan. 26, 1969. George Harrison can be heard helping Ringo Starr flesh out a new song that would ultimately become the second solo compositional contribution to the Beatles. Ringo had begun writing the piece while on vacation the previous August, after having temporarily left the Beatles during the increasingly tense sessions for the White Album. “That time was pretty stressful,” Ringo said in 2019. “I couldn’t take it anymore. I said, ‘I’m going with [wife] Maureen and the kids.’ We went off to Sardinia on Peter Sellers’ yacht…Later on, thanks to some ‘Bob Marley products,’ I was hanging out with the captain. He was telling me about how octopuses make these gardens. They go around the ocean finding shiny things and putting them in front of their cave. It was like, ‘Whoa, that sounds good.’ That’s how I wrote ‘Octopus’s Garden.’ I wanted to be under the sea then. It was just a down time.”
In January, George and Ringo huddled around a piano in the Beatles’ Apple Studios at 3 Savile Row. George himself had only recently returned to the fold after walking out on the rehearsals at Twickenham Studios two weeks before. The fraught backstory lends a complex subtext to an otherwise simple tune, a collaboration between two men who had already quit the Beatles. As Ringo pounds out the unfinished song, George goes out of his way to praise his rudimentary piano playing (“You’ve learnt A-minor, eh?”) before suggesting some new chord changes of his own. He’s patient and kind, strumming along on an acoustic guitar as they iron out lyrics that, at this early stage, include: “It would be nice / a paradise.”
This exchange (Harrison-Starr) occurs chiefly before the other Beatles arrive at the studio. (George would similarly debut his new song “I Me Mine” for Ringo early one session before the others entered.)
“As Paul and John had grown [as writers], I think the other two became more isolated,” Giles Martin suggests. “Everyone thinks a rift between Lennon and McCartney ended the Beatles. I don’t think it was, actually. I think that Lennon and McCartney take up a lot of space — and rightfully, so! But the energy of them needing to work together in the studio probably isolated the other two.”
Ringo had also unveiled two song fragments on Jan. 3, the second day of the Get Back/Let It Be sessions. One, a rollicking country-tinged ditty called “Picasso,” extolled the joys of purchasing a painting by the great master. “It’s too fast for me,” he laughed as he struggled to beat out the chords. The other, “Taking a Trip to Carolina,” is similarly Western in flavor — and similarly unfinished. Neither would be revisited during sessions or surface on any of his solo work.
After a brief run-through on the 23rd and a writing workshop with George three days later, the song (“Octopus’s Garden”) was shelved until spring. Despite his creative input, George declined to take a writer’s credit.