After having first been exposed to the music of Bob Dylan sometime around 1964, John Lennon soon became infatuated with the folk singer-songwriter and would begin to adopt some of Dylan’s songwriting signatures as his own. Lennon mentioned a particular giveaway during an interview with Rolling Stone in 1974 when discussing The Beatles’ track ‘I’m A Loser’.
“‘I’m A Loser’ is me in my Dylan period, because the word ‘clown’ is in it,” Lennon explained. “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.”
‘I’m A Loser’ represents perhaps the first notable example of Lennon consciously channelling Dylan’s sound into his own compositions. Adopting a sound closer to country and western music, The Beatles twang their way through one of their most introspective songs up to that point, one that was one of their first not to deal with love and relationships in a straightforward manner. Years later, Paul McCartney would see the song as a major progression for Lennon and his willingness to write more personally.
“Looking back on it I think songs like ‘I’m A Loser’ and ‘Nowhere Man’ were John’s cries for help,” McCartney recalled in Barry Miles’ Many Years From Now. “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’ … It’s only later you think, ‘God! I think it was brave of John.'”
The Beatles had yet to even meet Dylan at this point: although the parties would meet to share a chat and a joint in New York on August 28th, 1964, ‘I’m A Loser’ was recorded two weeks earlier in London. When the song appeared on Beatles for Sale towards the end of 1964, it helped signal a weariness that the band had found with their initial teenybopper success. Much of the album was made up of covers, and even the title pointed towards the band’s discontent with the shallowness of their endless parade of love songs and mop tops.
Lennon pointed the way forward with tracks like ‘I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party’, ‘No Reply’, and ‘I’m A Loser’, which opened up a new sonic palate and a new narrative focus that allowed The Beatles to diversify their sound. Help! would be the final gasp of Beatlemania, as the band fully embraced Dylan and the artistic growth that came with him on 1965’s Rubber Soul. It all started with ‘I’m A Loser’, one of the most quietly revolutionary songs in The Beatles’ entire catalogue.