That the Beatles transformed over the course of their career is hardly news to anyone. In the relatively short span of 1962 to 1969, their personalities, relationships, and songwriting evolved, but ultimately they were the same four people: John, Paul, George, and Ringo. At the core of that line-up was the legendary Lennon/McCartney partnership, an often exceptionally complicated pair who undoubtedly brought out the creative best in one another.
Unlike the ill-fated duo of Frank Sinatra and Stevie Wonder.
The sessions that eventually led to the Let it Be album and film were designed to bring the band back to its roots–“as nature intended,” according to an ad campaign–mostly in that the resulting music would be free of overdubs and “electronic watchamacallit.” (This eventually proved to be far from the case, but that’s a story for another write-up.) But the frosty, on-camera rehearsals brought the band back to its roots in another way. To lighten the mood, the band would occasionally break out into spontaneous renditions of selections from the early Lennon/McCartney songbook. Some of these were familiar–“From Me to You,” “Every Little Thing”–while others, such as “Because I Know You Love Me So” and “Too Bad About Sorrows,” have never surfaced elsewhere. But one track in particular had quite a storied history and was seemingly too good to confine to brief jam sessions.
John and Paul wrote “One After 909” in 1960 and the Beatles recorded it for EMI three years later. (A composite of two incomplete 1963 takes finally saw release on 1995’s Anthology 1.) This version is certainly charming and would have served as a fine b-side back in the day, but it’s definitely more interesting for the curiosity factor of hearing the young band tackle a song that would eventually end up on its final album. The sloppy, smoking Let it Be version serves the song much better. A lot of that credit goes to Billy Preston’s funky keyboards. This was in itself another throwback: the band had met Preston in 1962, and George Harrison asked him to sit in with the band during these 1969 sessions in a mostly-successful effort to ease tensions.
From a songwriting standpoint, “One After 909” obviously sounded like a step back after the band had offered up tracks like “Hey Jude” and “Strawberry Fields Forever,” but there’s something kind of endearing about the fact that they dug up such an oldie for their final released album.