John Lennon wrote this gentle folk-rock ballad in the autumn of 1965 at his home in Kenwood, St. George’s Hill Estate, Weybridge, Surrey.
Just as "Yesterday" mysteriously came to Paul McCartney, "Nowhere Man" simply came to Lennon at dawn after he'd stayed up all night, struggling to come up with a new song for Rubber Soul. He happened upon a phrase, "nowhere man," which, he felt, described his own fears about himself. "I thought of myself sitting there, doing nothing and getting nowhere," he later said.
The song, a quasi-biographical composition in the vein of "I'm A Loser" and "Help!," was recorded on October 22, 1965, after several failed attempts the day before. Apart from its beautiful, ethereal vocal harmonies, the song is also striking for the parts played by McCartney and George Harrison.
Besides gracing the track with his most melodic bass part to date, McCartney was instrumental in wringing an ultra-trebly sound out of Harrison's and Lennon's newly acquired Sonic Blue Fender Stratocasters, especially for Harrison's joyous, verse-based guitar solo.
"We wanted very trebly guitars, which [Stratocasters] are. They're among the most trebly guitars I've ever heard on record," McCartney said. "The engineer said, 'All right' … and we said 'That's not enough,' and he said … 'I've only got one pot and that's it!' We replied, 'Well, put that through another lot of faders and put the treble up on that."
It can be argued that the high-E harmonic note that ends Harrison's guitar solo also sounds the death knell for The Beatles' reliance on their once-ubiquitous Beatlemania-era instruments, namely their Gretsches and Rickenbackers (excluding McCartney's 4001S, which he'd use well into the late Wings era).
Damian Fanelli is the online managing editor at Guitar World.