Nowhere Man

Rubber Soul album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 21, 22 October 1965
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith

Released: 3 December 1965 (UK), 21 February 1966 (US)

John Lennon: vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar, lead guitar
Paul McCartney: harmony vocals, bass
George Harrison: harmony vocals, lead guitar
Ringo Starr: drums

Available on:
Rubber Soul
Yellow Submarine Songtrack

Originally released on Rubber Soul in the UK, Nowhere Man was born of John Lennon’s feelings of isolation in his Weybridge home, where he spent hours in solitary contemplation away from the mayhem of Beatlemania.

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I’d spent five hours that morning trying to write a song that was meaningful and good and I finally gave up and lay down. Then Nowhere Man came, words and music, the whole damn thing, as I lay down.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

In March 1966, the Evening Standard newspaper published an article by journalist Maureen Cleave about John Lennon’s home life. While the piece became notorious for Lennon’s “more popular than Jesus” statement, it revealed much more about the off-duty life of the Lennons.

He can sleep almost indefinitely, is probably the laziest person in England. ‘Physically lazy,’ he said. ‘I don’t mind writing or reading or watching or speaking, but sex is the only physical thing I can be bothered with any more.’
Maureen Cleave

The theme was touched upon again in Hunter Davies’ authorised biography of the group.

I can get up and start doing nothing straight away. I just sit on the step and look into space and think until it’s time to go to bed…

If I am on my own for three days, doing nothing, I almost leave myself completely. I’m just not here. Cyn doesn’t realise it. I’m up there watching myself, or I’m at the back of my head. I can see my hands and realise they’re moving, but it’s a robot who’s doing it.

John Lennon
The Beatles, Hunter Davies

Nowhere Man was written by Lennon during the late stages of Rubber Soul, when he and McCartney were struggling to come up with enough songs for the album.

I was just sitting, trying to think of a song, and I thought of myself sitting there, doing nothing and going nowhere. Once I’d thought of that, it was easy. It all came out. No, I remember now, I’d actually stopped trying to think of something. Nothing would come. I was cheesed off and went for a lie down, having given up. Then I thought of myself as Nowhere Man – sitting in his nowhere land.
John Lennon
The Beatles, Hunter Davies

When McCartney arrived the next day to begin a songwriting session, he found Lennon asleep in his conservatory.

When I came out to write with him the next day, he was kipping on the couch, very bleary-eyed. It was really an anti-John song. He told me later, he didn’t tell me then, he said he’d written it about himself, feeling like he wasn’t going anywhere. I think it was actually about the state of his marriage. It was in a period where he was a bit dissatisfied with what was going on; however, it led to a very good song. He treated it as a third-person song, but he was clever enough to say, ‘Isn’t he a bit like you and me?’ – ‘Me’ being the final word.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

Nowhere Man made its way into The Beatles’ live repertoire, and was one of the songs performed during their final concert at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park in August 1966.

The song also made a brief appearance in the 1968 animation Yellow Submarine, when The Beatles sang it to Jeremy, a creature living in the Sea of Nothing.

In the studio

The Beatles recorded Nowhere Man over two days. The first of these was 21 October 1965, when they taped two takes of the song after a period of rehearsal.

The first of these takes was a false start; the second was a rhythm track played on just electric guitars, with a three-part vocal harmony introduction.

The next day the group began a remake, completing the rhythm track in three attempts. They then overdubbed vocals onto the second of these, including John Lennon’s double tracked lead vocals.

We were always forcing [the Abbey Road staff] into things they didn’t want to do. Nowhere Man was one. I remember we wanted very treble-y guitars, which they are, they’re among the most treble-y guitars I’ve ever heard on record. The engineer said, ‘All right, I’ll put full treble on it,’ and we said, ‘That’s not enough’, and he said, ‘But that’s all I’ve got, I’ve only got one pot and that’s it!’ And we replied, ‘Well, put that through another lot of faders and put full treble up on that. And if that’s not enough we’ll go through another lot of faders’…

Anyway you’d then find, ‘Oh, it worked!’ And they were secretly glad because they had been the engineer who’d put three times the allowed value of treble on a song. I think they were quietly proud of all those things.

Paul McCartney
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn
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23 Responses to “Nowhere Man”

  1. Jake

    I’ve always thought of ‘Nowhere Man’ as a perfect, pop-rock song. It’s complete – just the right length for 60′S AM radio, Lennon’s vocal, the splendid harmonies, the ideal guitar solo ending with the descending chords before the chime of the last note. All in all, perfection in pop music. It’s been my long-time favorite Beatles single.

    Reply
  2. budd

    i know how lennon felt,i had the same feelings about myself as well.we’re all nowhere men or nowhere people.that’s the whole universal message of the song.it cheers you up when you’re down.it makes you think.one of his best vocals and the three part harmonies could’ve been recorded a cappella and it would’ve still been superb.

    Reply
    • MeanMrs.Mustard

      I’ve thought that the point would be made better if they had done that. It’s funny, because for a while, I forgot the song was in THIRD person! But then it came up out of the shuffle, and the a cappella introduction blew my mind.
      Did any of that make sense?

      Reply
  3. SD

    This one is really interesting!
    Here is what Everett writes:
    “A fourth track with Harrison’s and Lennon’s overdubbed Strats … mostly in tight unison but the two players are betrayed by intonation-related beats and by different parts at the second retransition (2:03-2:06) were on the left [channel], except for the two-man solo, which was placed on the right… (Tom Hartman alerted me to the doubled Strat part in May-June 1999 conversations.”

    Reply
    • michaelr

      In 1980 Lennon recalled that they ran outputs from his and George’s amplifiers and attached the cables to a small speaker. The speaker was then miked and fed to the board, adding to the treble effect that they demanded for the guitar sound.

      Reply
  4. Matt

    Is it just me, or do the boys go slightly flat by the end of the vocal introduction? The transition from the vocals to the instrumentation has always stuck out to me because of that.

    Reply
  5. Jon S

    I’ve always thought Nowhere Man was a perfect song recorded on a particularly good recording day. The backing track without the vocals is perfect. Almost no vocals needed. But then here come the best vocalists in all of rock and roll and it completes the song. George’s guitar fills are perfectly timed. I always have to listen to Nowhere Man until the end when Paul adds the final harmony.

    Reply
  6. brian

    I agree with Jon S, the best vocalists to grace rock ‘n roll. We hear the harmonizing magic here on this song, “If I Needed Someone” and of course their earlier songs like “This Boy” and “Yes It Is”. With “Because” on their last recorded album we’re treated to it one last time. No better three-part harmony anywhere.

    Reply
  7. David

    “Nowhere Man, please listen, you don’t know what you’re missing.”
    “Time after time you refuse to even listen, I wouldn’t mind if I knew what I was missing.”
    Hmm. You Won’t See Me was recorded at the last Rubber Soul session, apparently, about three weeks after Nowhere Man, but does anyone know which song was written first?

    Reply
    • paulsbass

      Ha, well done!
      I always found these two songs one of the VERY few repetitive moments for The Beatles with the very similar “ooh-lalala”s, but it turns out even the lyrics are similar!

      Nowhere man is still great, though.
      Sang it two days ago in a pub, went down well!

      Reply
      • Dave

        There was a book that stated this, opining that “You Won’t See Me” and “Nowhere Man” was the worst sequencing of consecutive songs on any Beatles album. I disagree, thinking that there are countless other track sequences that are worse. However, what I want to know is if this was your original idea or if your thinking was influenced by this book whose title I can’t recall.

        Reply
  8. Jonathan

    Local Cheshire legend has it that when the Fabs arrived at the Royalty Theatre, City Road, Chester on May 15th 1963, they dropped off their gear and asked where they could go for a walk. An electrician told them of the cottage named “Nowhere” which they could find by walking through the park and across the stone bridge towards Handbridge. It is claimed locally that this stayed with Lennon.

    Reply
  9. Paul

    This “new” information that John & George played the solo simultaneously on twin Fender Stratocasters rings false for me. One, George played the lead live on his Epiphone hollow body, not on a Fender. Two, It doesn’t sound like two guitars, it sounds like ONE GUITAR. Three, Mark Lewisohn makes zero reference to this in his “Recording Sessions” book.

    I DON’T BUY IT.

    Reply
    • James

      George was the “defacto” lead guitarist of the band, therefore the “live” argument means nothing; the solo (great as it is) is not overly challenging, well within John’s abilities; Lewisohn’s silence is just that-an argument from silence, and not valid; as the electric guitar tracks throughout the song were quite modified, the make of the guitars used is not as significant; re “double-tracking”, this was then, and is still today, a common “studio trick” used to fatten up individual tracks or a whole song. IOW, could very well have been two strats, singing away!

      Reply
    • Dave

      Lewisohn would not have detected John and George playing in unison on a single track when he listened to the tapes twenty years after the fact. There are at least two pieces of auditory evidence suggesting they did in fact both play lead. The first electric guitar chord, for example, has more notes than there are strings, supporting the notion that they either deliberately or accidentally (and I believe the latter) played slightly different chords. This is what they did on the first chord of “A Hard Day’s Night,” but in that case the difference was definitely intentional. The second piece of evidence comes from the end of the guitar solo. We hear a slide from the B (7th fret of the E string) to the open E followed by the swell of a decay from a harmonic. The attack is not audible, so it was played by adjusting the volume knob on the guitar (or, less likely, using a volume pedal) from silent to maximum volume while the note rang. It is not possible, using the techniques the Beatles were using in 1965, to play the solo and produce the described harmonic sound in a single track unless two guitarists are playing in unison. Listen to the recordings from the 1966 tour (Budokan, Candlestick, etc.) and note that George is unable to produce this effect on stage as you can always hear the attack on the last harmonic note.

      Reply
  10. piston broke

    The 2 part guitar solo may have some legs. Sounds to me like a 12 stringer for the first 4 bars of the solo and then a 6 stringer. Sounds awfully close to a Gretsch for me too, that one.

    Reply
  11. Sam

    It says John and George both play lead. Is George playing the lead fills and then John playing the solo?

    Reply
    • Julian

      As for the solo, I CLEARLY hear 2 guitars,so it’s John & George. The fills, I think just George.

      Reply

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