The Beatles had spent time in India studying Transcendental Meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Both Lennon and Paul McCartney found their stay an enormously creative time, and many of their compositions from the time were included on the White Album in 1968. Others were used on Abbey Road the following year, and a handful remained unused or were reworked on solo releases.
‘Look At Me’ was written around The Beatles’ double album time, but I just never got it done. There are a few like that lying round.
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner
When Lennon came to record his debut solo album, the lyrics of ‘Look At Me’ were a perfect fit. Its questions – “Who am I supposed to be?”; “What am I supposed to do?”; “Who am I?”; “Who are we?” – may have emerged from a period in which his marriage to Cynthia Lennon and his place within The Beatles were both being questioned, but in the wake of his Primal Therapy in 1970 it provided a continuation of the self-analysis that ran throughout John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.
The final recording again looked back to 1968, incorporating the fingerpicking guitar style he had learnt in India from Donovan. Lennon had used the style on songs such as ‘Dear Prudence’, ‘Julia’, and ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’.
Lennon recorded unreleased demos of the song in 1968 and 1970. Both featured the fingerpicked style and were almost identical to the album version.
A studio outtake was later issued on the Acoustic album and the John Lennon Anthology box set. Lennon played a steel string acoustic guitar on it, unlike the album version which was performed on nylon strings. It also featured Lennon strumming the chords rather than the arpeggios of the demos and album version.
The John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band recording also had double-tracked vocals by Lennon; the opening “OK?” “Yes thank you” showed that Lennon never lost his sense of humour, even when his lyrics were at his most soul-baring.