The Classic Beatles Song John Lennon Wrote After He ‘Stopped Trying to Think’
When you look back at the Beatles’ epic run, you might point to “Nowhere Man” as a line in the sand. Though John Lennon had cried out in desperation (“Help!“) on a previous track, the assumption was the one whose help he needed was a significant other (i.e., a woman).
That wasn’t the case with “Nowhere Man,” which arrived on Rubber Soul, the 1965 record George Harrison called the band’s “first fully fledged pothead album.” On this track, John sang about a character who’s “as blind as can be” and doesn’t even manage to have a point of view.
Indeed, he couldn’t have trekked further from work like “A Hard Day’s Night” and “If I Fell,” which John had written the previous year. And, when John spoke about composing “Nowhere Man,” he stressed how different the songwriting experience was for him.
John Lennon said ‘Nowhere Man’ came only after he’d given up on writing
By the time The Beatles tackled “Nowhere Man” in October ’65, they had completed several key tracks for Rubber Soul. “Drive My Car,” the opener by Paul McCartney, and “If I Needed Someone,” George’s nod to the California sound, were already on tape.
The same goes for “In My Life” and “Norwegian Wood,” two stunners John had brought to the studio earlier in the Rubber Soul sessions. But John would still come out with “Nowhere Man,” a song that came to him after a long night of frustrating attempts at writing.
In his ’60s Beatles biography, Hunter Davies quoted John explaining how his frustrations ceased. “I’d actually stopped trying to think of something,” John said. “Nothing would come. I […] went for a lie down, having given up. Then I thought of myself as Nowhere Man, sitting in this Nowhere Land.”
Looking back on writing “Nowhere Man” in 1980, John continued the story. “[It] came, words and music, the whole damn thing, as I lay down,” he told David Sheff in All We Are Saying. “So letting it go is what the whole game is.”
‘Nowhere Man’ became 1 of the last new songs The Beatles performed live
When The Beatles embarked on their final tour, they had just finished Revolver (1966), an album with several songs they wouldn’t consider playing live. (“Tomorrow Never Knows” would have been particularly tricky in that regard.)
So the final Beatles live sets only featured songs up to Rubber Soul. But the Fab Four also passed on most of that album on their ’66 tour. Rather than figure out who’d play George Martin’s keyboard solo on “In My Life,” it appears they simply excluded it.
However, “Nowhere Man” was one of two Rubber Soul tracks to make the cut. (George’s “If I Needed Someone” was the other.) If you ever catch videos of a ’66 show, you might see one of the band’s energetic performances of “Nowhere Man,” featuring John singing over a screaming crowd.