That’s me in my Dylan period. Part of me suspects I’m a loser and part of me thinks I’m God Almighty. [Laughs]
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Dylan’s acoustic songwriting and lyrical depth had a profound effect on Lennon; as a result, he began to explore his own feelings more in song.
‘I’m A Loser’ is me in my Dylan period, because the word ‘clown’ is in it. I objected to the word ‘clown’, because that was always artsy-fartsy, but Dylan had used it so I thought it was all right, and it rhymed with whatever I was doing.
Lennon was inspired further by an encounter with the journalist Kenneth Allsop, whom he had met in March 1964.
Allsop told Lennon that his songs lacked the depth and meaning of his book In His Own Write. He suggested that Lennon try to write more autobiographically, basing his songs on personal experiences rather than generic sentiments of love.
The encounter marked a turning point for Lennon, and Allsop’s advice played a key part in inspiring him to write ‘In My Life’ in 1965.
Looking back on it I think songs like ‘I’m A Loser’ and ‘Nowhere Man’ were John’s cries for help. We used to listen to quite a lot of country and western songs and they are all about sadness and ‘I lost my truck’ so it was quite acceptable to sing ‘I’m a loser’. You didn’t really think about it at the time, it’s only later you think, God! I think it was pretty brave of John.
In the studio
The recording was straightforward, and took eight takes to get right with no overdubs needed.
I reckon the best way to describe this one is a folk song gone pop. John and I both sing, but John does most of it. He also plays some nice harmonicas, too.
Disc, 14 November 1964
Beatles For Sale was released four months after ‘I’m A Loser’ was recorded. On 17 November 1964, however, they gave fans a sneak preview of four tracks from the album, along with ‘I Feel Fine’ and ‘She’s A Woman’, on the BBC radio show Top Gear.
This BBC version of ‘I’m A Loser’ was first broadcast on 26 November, and was eventually released commercially on 1994’s Live At The BBC.
The Beatles recorded another version for the BBC on 26 May 1965. John Lennon sang one of the lines as “Beneath this wig, I am wearing a tie,” introducing a moment of bathos into an otherwise maudlin song.