Seventy-five years ago today, on October 9, 1940, at 7:00 am in the Maternity Hospital on Oxford Street in Liverpool, England, John Winston Lennon was born. He was the first and only child of Fred and Julia Stanley Lennon.
John would grow up to be a guitar player; a singer; the leader of a skiffle band; a songwriter; and a recording artist. He would achieve his greatest success and most enduring fame as a member of the 1960’s British rock band known as The Beatles.
This sixstr story is about one of John Lennon’s songs.
Not long after The Beatles – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison & Ringo Starr – started recording for Britain’s EMI/Parlophone Records, Brian Epstein, the band’s manager, set a rather lofty goal for the quartet. He decreed that, henceforth, The Beatles would record and release two, 14 song, long playing record albums of new material during each calendar year.
And they did, at first.
In 1963, they produced Please Please Me and With The Beatles.
In 1964, A Hard Day’s Night (sadly, with only 13 songs) and Beatles For Sale topped the charts.
Help!, The Beatles’ fifth album, was released on August 6, 1965.
Fully aware of the pending end-of-the-year deadline, the band gathered at Abbey Road Studios in London, England, on Tuesday, October 12, 1965 to begin recording their sixth album. Working with them in Studio Two were producer George Martin and recording engineers Norman Smith, Ken Scott and Ron Pender.
The first two songs The Beatles worked on – “Run For Your Life” and “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Had Flown)” – had been written (mostly) by John Lennon.
Over the next seven days, they recorded three more songs for the new LP: Paul’s “Drive My Car” 0n October 13; George’s “If I Needed Someone” on October 16; and the John (mostly) & Paul collaboration, “In My Life,” on October 18.
(Also on October 16, The Beatles churned out the song “Day Tripper” and on October 20, they cut the song “We Can Work It Out.” These songs were not for the next LP, but would be released as a single on December 3, 1965.)
As good as the five numbers intended for the LP were, The Beatles needed more songs.
So, John Lennon went home.
He spent five hours trying to write a new song. As he told Beatles’ biographer, Hunter Davies, years later: “Nothing would come. I’d actually stopped trying to think of something. I was cheesed off and went for a lie down, having given up. Then I thought of myself as Nowhere Man – sitting in this nowhere land. “Nowhere Man” came, words and music, the whole damn thing.”
Late in the evening on October 21, 1965, The Beatles recorded two unsatisfactory takes of “Nowhere Man.”
On Friday, October 22, in a session that ran from 2:30-11:30 pm, they started over on “Nowhere Man” and produced the finished tracks for the song in three takes.
For the recording of “Nowhere Man,” John played the rhythm guitar part on his Gibson J-150 E acoustic guitar and sang the lead vocal. Paul played the bass guitar and Ringo played the drums. George played the lead guitar part on his new blue Fender Stratocaster electric guitar.
Paul and George sang harmony vocals with John on the song’s “A” sections. (“He’s a real Nowhere Man…,” “Doesn’t have a point of view…,” and “He’s as blind as he can be…”) They also added “Aaaaaah, la, la, la” back-up vocals to the “B” sections. (“Nowhere Man, please listen…” and “Nowhere Man, don’t worry…”)
For the song’s guitar solo, George and John (using his new Fender Strat) played the eight-bar melody in unison.
George Martin produced the mono and stereo mixes of “Nowhere Man” in Abbey Road’s Studio One on October 25-26, 1965.
“Nowhere Man” was released as the fourth track on the first side of the album Rubber Soul on December 3, 1965.
There are two things about “Nowhere Man” that I really enjoy.
One is the gorgeous three-part harmony singing that The Beatles open the song with and continue using for every “A” section throughout the recording.
The other is the chord progression that John Lennon came up with to accompany those “A” sections.
John Lennon wrote and played “Nowhere Man” in the key of E major. In the third measure of the eight measure “A” section, John strums a big, open-position A major chord on his Gibson acoustic. (Listen behind the lyric “…knows not where he’s….”) A major is the standard “4 chord” or “IV chord” in the key of E. But then, in the sixth measure of the “A” section, John switches his fingering to an open-position A minor chord. This introduces a harmony that is outside of the key of E and is known as a “minor IV” chord. (Listen behind the lyric “…bit like you and…”)
In the United States, the Capitol Records version of Rubber Soul did not include “Nowhere Man.” Instead, the company released it as a single (b/w “What Goes On”) on February 21, 1966.
Finally, “Nowhere Man” was one of the songs that The Beatles played in their last official public performance on August 29, 1966 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California.
1965 would be the last year that The Beatles released two albums of new material in the same calendar year.