Lennon begun the song in 1976, when he wrote and recorded what was then known as ‘Everybody’s Talkin’, Nobody’s Talkin”. Performed on a piano with a drum machine backing, the song had most of the final lyrics of ‘Nobody Told Me’, and the chords were in place, although some fine-tuning was needed before it was complete.
Lennon later added more vocals and an acoustic guitar track onto the 1976 demo prior to recording Double Fantasy. This version kept the verses of ‘Everybody’s Talkin’, Nobody’s Talkin”, but Lennon sang the chorus of ‘Nobody Told Me’ over the top of the previous one.
He then taped a new version of the song, which was intended for Starr. It was recorded on acoustic guitar with a drum machine backing, and Lennon overdubbed a lead vocal part. Starr considered the song for his 1981 album Stop And Smell The Roses, but following Lennon’s death he decided he was unable to record any of his songs.
One of the lines in the song, “There’s a little yellow idol to the north of Katmandu”, was adapted from the opening lines of J Milton Hayes’ 1911 poem ‘The Green Eye Of The Little Yellow God’:
There’s a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Kathmandu,
There’s a little marble cross below the town;
There’s a broken-hearted woman tends the grave of Mad Carew,
And the Yellow God forever gazes down.
‘Nobody Told Me’ also had the line “There’s UFOs over New York, and I ain’t too surprised”. This was inspired by Lennon’s alleged sighting of a UFO in 1974. The liner notes of his album Walls And Bridges carried the announcement: “On the 23rd August 1974 at 9 o’clock I saw a U.F.O. – J.L.”.
Lennon brought ‘Nobody Told Me’ to New York’s Hit Factory studio on 7 August 1980, the second day of the Double Fantasy sessions. Take one was eventually released on the 1998 box set John Lennon Anthology. Ten takes were recorded altogether, the best of which was selected for Milk And Honey.
‘Nobody Told Me’ was issued as the first single from the album, with Yoko Ono’s song ‘O’ Sanity’ as its b-side. The song peaked at number five on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, and at number six in the United Kingdom’s singles chart.