John Lennon wrote ‘I’m Losing You’ in Bermuda in June 1980, following a failed telephone call to Yoko Ono. It appeared on his final solo album Double Fantasy in 1980.
It literally started when I tried to call from Bermuda and I couldn’t get through. I was mad as hell and feeling lost in space and it’s… just as much a description of the separation period in the early Seventies as that occasion when I physically couldn’t get through on the phone.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
The origins of ‘I’m Losing You’ went back to late 1978, when Lennon wrote and recorded a home demo of ‘Stranger’s Room’ on a piano. Although it remained unfinished, the song’s verse and most of the lyrical ideas were already in place. All it was missing was a convincing chorus and middle section.
He wrote the song about being scared of losing me. ‘I’m Losing You’ was written a little before the Double Fantasy time. Early on he had the song in a slightly different form. I remember John playing it on the piano and then he built it up on the basic thing that he had.
‘I’m Losing You’ is an incredible song. When I hear that it makes me almost faint. It’s so beautifully written and the emotion is so powerful. I feel guilty, of course, as a woman, because he was scared he was gonna lose me.
Starting Over, Ken Sharp
‘Stranger’s Room’ was included on the ‘Lost Weekend’ disc of the 1998 box set John Lennon Anthology, although it came from after that time. Perhaps its lyrical content led to its inclusion, as did the fact that Lennon’s many home demos of the late 1970s meant there was a glut of recordings available for the ‘Dakota’ disc.
During his trip to Bermuda in the summer of 1980 Lennon returned to the song. Retitling it ‘I’m Losing You’, he taped a version featuring acoustic guitar and vocals, which featured new lyrics and a new bridge.
‘Stranger’s Room’ and the demo of ‘I’m Losing You’ showed that emotional vulnerability was still a hallmark of Lennon’s songwriting. It was fitting, then, that the first studio recording of it harked back to the sound of ‘Cold Turkey’ and 1970’s John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.
Jack Douglas, the producer of Double Fantasy, had previously worked with Cheap Trick on their At Budokan live album. At the time they were working with George Martin in Montserrat, so Douglas telephoned Martin and joked: “You’ve got my band and I’ve got one of yours; can I borrow my band for a few tracks?”
On 12 August 1980, Cheap Trick’s guitarist Rick Nielsen and drummer Bun E Carlos arrived at the Hit Factory studio to record ‘I’m Losing You’ and Ono’s ‘I’m Moving On’. Lennon played a second guitar part, and Tony Levin added bass guitar.
The whole band tracked the song live. John played guitar and sang, I played drums, Rick played guitar, Tony Levin played bass, and George Small was on keyboards. Tony had the fretless bass and George on piano. With those two guys and Lennon, the road was paved for us musically. Those guys were all top dogs and it was really a pleasure to do. John was like Chuck Berry, he was the perfect rhythm guitar player…
We walked through the song a couple of times. Rick came up with the song’s main riff and I came up with some drum parts. I asked, ‘What speed do you want this?’ And John said, ‘Oh, whatever speed you think it should be.’ They just kind of let me and Rick take the lead on it. We did a few takes and that was it.
Starting Over, Ken Sharp
The results were a great success. It took a handful of takes to complete, and as Nielsen added a second lead guitar part, Lennon turned to Carlos and said: “Man, I wish I’d had him on ‘Cold Turkey’ – we had Clapton on that and he froze up and could only play this one riff.”
Rick did the solo live and then he went and doubled his solo, which is not on the record [John Lennon Anthology]. It was meant to be doubled so it would be more of a prevailing theme. The guitar part was kind of orchestrated. While Rick was doubling it, I was in the booth with Lennon and he said, ‘Do you want to smoke a joint?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, sure, no problem!’ I remember when Rick was doing lead and John said, ‘Your guitar work is great. Clapton did something like this on ‘Cold Turkey’, but he could only do one lick.’ I think I said, ‘We’re just trying to give it a Plastic Ono Band feel.’ That’s where we were coming from because Cheap Trick were big Plastic Ono Band fans. We did ‘Cold Turkey’ and ‘It’s So Hard’. John was having a good time on that session. We all had a lot of laughs.
Starting Over, Ken Sharp
This song and Isolation are my favorite John Lennon songs…there are about 7 other solo songs that are my second favorite. What a talented musician.
There is a way John liked to walk down through a minor chord changing one note at a time. He did it in many of his compositions, a great example being the change in Cry Baby Cry. Anyway he does it here with the Am and I can’t believe others haven’t noticed, but he lifted it right out of the song “Something.” It is identical to the descending notes played during “I don’t want to leave her now, you know I believe and how…” Match that up with the top of the verse.
I think that’s quite cool, that he lifted that from George.