See, this is the kind of story that would have probably had John labeling me a Nowhere Woman. There's nothing to be proud of about being wasted on a Thursday night just because your workday sucked overmuch or whatever, you know? It's about as ordinary as can be. But I can take any abuse on this point. After all, John apparently wrote "Nowhere Man" about himself, at a point when he was at a moment of crisis about his band, his wife, his ennui, and so on, and he wasn't feeling very pleased with himself either. Actually, he purposely set out to write a so-called "serious" song, a song that would say something important, and after messing around for hours with nothing, "Nowhere Man" seems to have popped out his head relatively complete-- almost they way that "Yesterday" came so naturally to Paul. Isn't it great when this kind of thing happens-- when you work and work, and then when you finally put the stuff away in frustration something just comes to you? Anyway, this seems to make "Nowhere Man" a good one to file away with all the other Lennon armchair psychology songs, if we choose to. Or we can just enjoy a totally solid mid-'60s folk rocker. Either way, I dig it.
I've commented on this before, but one thing the Beatles were really, really good at was a smart and sometimes conservative use of vocal harmonies. So to me, part of why "Nowhere Man" stands out so much is that it milks the vocal harmonies. It's three-part harmonies almost all the way in this song, as if the Beatles have entered, I don't know-- Crosby, Stills, and Nash territory or something, except that it still sounds so Beatley it's unmistakable. That a capella entrance with John and Paul and George singing so thickly is so awesome as to almost be iconic. I rarely bother to post videos from Yellow Submarine here, since the Beatles had nothing much to do with that film, but the sudden entrance of this song is one of the most exuberant parts of the film for me. The sound just blooms from out of the dialogue. (And Jeremy is kind of cute here too.)
But anyway, like John, I enjoy some good dense vocals, and "Nowhere Man" offers some of the best around. The way the three-part harmonies are juxtaposed with the bridges (or verses, or whatever they are), in which John takes the lead with Paul and George la-la-la'ing supportively behind, cleverly gives your ear a break, but all the singing is phenomenal. Between that lush singing and George's sunny guitar-- which had apparently been put up to triple treble or something, with the band pushing and pushing the engineers for more and more treble-- "Nowhere Man" sounds summery and bright, and somehow not as preachy as you would think it should sound if you just read the lyrics. There's a lot of hope here, a lot of smiling and sort of saying "come on, then!" through music. It's lovely. And those musical gestures, for me, rescue "Nowhere Man" from that dirty feeling that some of George's preachier lyrics can sometimes instill in me. (Sorry, George, but the difference just totally stands out.) This is subjective, though. I've read a lot of commentary on the way that John takes himself a bit too seriously here, and maybe that's true, but the sunshine in the music makes the whole thing work for me.
And by the way, it's very unfair of me to brush over George's guitar work as I did above. It surely deserves a few sentences of adulation. This solo is one of my favorites, perhaps-- George works out a pretty countermelody and plays it about as lushly as you can play a guitar (though there's surely echo and so forth to help this out). It sounds laid back and breezy but also earnest enough that you can't hear it as jokey or anything like that. Like the rest of the song, the solo bursts with this underlying optimism. That's the optimism and deft feel that makes "Nowhere Man" one of the strongest tracks on Rubber Soul.
And as such, it was a natural for the Beatles' live act. Here they are playing it in Munich on their last European tour in 1966. Note that they seem to have a hard time nailing the vocals exactly when they do it live-- it's not bad, but it's slightly out of tune. (Which is adorable.)
And here they are doing it at the Budokan in Tokyo. There are similar vocal screw-ups, but I still love it so, especially John's introduction. Anyway, enjoy!
"Nowhere Man," released in the U.K. side A track 4 of Rubber Soul, December 3, 1965; in the U.S. side A track 3 of Yesterday and Today, June 20, 1966.