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The Story Behind The Song: How John Lennon created '#9 Dream'

@SamWKemp

On first listen, the beautifully syrupy pop ballad that is John Lennon song ‘#9 Dream’ seems as though it couldn’t be further from its numerical cousin, The Beatles’ ‘Revolution 9’. With its lush string sections, glittering acoustic guitar arpeggios, and exuberant melodies, this 1974 track, taken from Walls And Bridges, sees John Lennon at his most uninhibited.

Like many of John Lennon’s best works, ‘#9 Dream’ emerged fully formed in that brief intersection between sleep and wakefulness. “That was a bit of a throwaway. It was based on some dream I had,” Lennon would recall in 1980. Having heard the lines “Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé”, he quickly sat down to write out the rest of the song

The writing process was effortless, a welcome contrast to the usual grind that he ritually submitted himself to. “That’s what I call craftsmanship writing, meaning, you know, I just churned that out,” he said. “I’m not putting it down, it’s just what it is, but I just sat down and wrote it, you know, with no real inspiration, based on a dream I’d had”.

Lennon decided to combine the dream-inspired fragments with those of a song he’d started earlier in the summer, ‘So Long’, the melody of which he based off the string arrangements he’d written for Harry Nilsson’s version of Jimmy Cliff’s ‘So Many Rivers To Cross. This blend formed the basis for ‘#9 Dream’.

With a skeleton track established, Lennon made a rough demo version using an acoustic guitar. By the time he went into the studio to record Walls And Bridges, he had settled on the title #9 Dream’ and written the majority of the verse lyrics and the central refrain: “Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé” – which Lennon discovered featured nine syllables.

In the studio, Lennon took complete control, deciding to produce the track himself, bringing in May Pang, who he was romantically involved with at the time, to deliver backing vocals. As Pang remembered: “This was one of John’s favourite songs, because it literally came to him in a dream. He woke up and wrote down those words along with the melody. He had no idea what it meant, but he thought it sounded beautiful. John arranged the strings in such a way that the song really does sound like a dream. It was the last song written for the album”.

The dreamlike atmosphere Lennon wanted to capture motivated him to pay a lot of attention to the textural quality of ‘#9 Dream’. The vocals, for example, sound as though they have double-tracked at least five or six times, giving Lennon’s voice a choral quality. “On ‘#9 Dream’, that’s an incredible vocal sound,” overdub engineer, Jimmy Iovine later said. “There’s a lot of very interesting things done to that vocal sound to make it sound like that. There was so much echo on his voice in the mix, and doubling and tape delay”.

But even as Lennon was recording the vocals, he was forced to make changes to the lyrics. He was in the middle of a take when Al Coury from Capitol records burst through the door, shouting: “‘They’re not going to play this record’”. When John asked why, he was told: ‘”Because you’re saying ‘pussy’ on it!’” To get around this, the lyrics were changed ever so slightly. What had been sung ‘pussy’ became ‘poussé’. kinda like French.”

On release, ‘#9 Dream’ peaked at number 23 and spent a total of eight weeks on the charts. British listeners took to it uneasily, opposing its heavily produced sound. In retrospect, however, there’s something intently charismatic about ‘#9 Dream’. With its reversed vocal sections, it seems to reference The Beatles ‘Revolution 9’, while also marking itself out as the complete antithesis of that kind of audio experimentation.

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