When was it recorded? Aug. 14, 1964
When was it first released, and on which album? Dec. 4, 1964 on “Beatles for Sale”
Who wrote it? Lennon
Have I heard this song before? Yes
What my research dug up:
John wrote “I’m a Loser” in the summer of 1964. The inspiration for it lies in three places: country music, Bob Dylan, and Kenneth Allsop.
According to Rolling Stone, “The country is in the fingerpicking, guitar twang and downhearted words; in 1964, the Beatles were listening to songs by Buck Owens and George Jones that McCartney said were ‘all about sadness.’” We’ll come back to that Paul quote in a minute.
I’ve talked about Bob Dylan and his influence on/interplay with The Beatles a few times before, noteably on Day 109: “I Should Have Known Better.” Quoth reviewer Richie Unterberger, “The Dylan influence is most evident in the instrumental break (and to a lesser degree on the fade), where Lennon takes brief harmonica solos that sounds very indebted to Dylan.”
“’I’m A Loser’ is me in my Dylan period, because the word ‘clown’ is in it. 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.” — John Lennon
About.com reasons that, compared to Dylan’s then-current output, John would have been referring to Dylan’s 1963 song, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” Here’s that number for reference.
(Ahhh, look at how young he is in that video!)
According to the Beatles Bible, “Dylan’s acoustic songwriting and lyrical depth had a profound effect on Lennon; as a result, he began to explore his own feelings more in song.”
John’s exploration of his own feelings in his lyrics was also a result of his meeting with journalism Kenneth Allsop in Mar. 1964. Quoth the Beatles Bible, “Allsop told Lennon that his songs lacked the depth and meaning of his book In His Own Write. [Allsop] suggested that Lennon try to write more autobiographically, basing his songs on personal experiences rather than generic sentiments of love.”
According to Alan Pollack, “‘I’m A Loser,’ though, is somewhat unique, both in terms of this general context as well as in the larger one of John’s other regretful or bitter songs written to this point of his career. For the first time in this one, the focus is completely on self-blame almost to the excessive extreme of maudlin self-pity, but likewise with none of the previously familiar emphasis at all on bitter accusations.” Unterberger also noted, “it’s also about something more — the hypocrisy of keeping up a happy face when your world’s falling down, and of having a different, less positive self-image than the one the world sees.”
I’ve written on a few John songs that are subtle (or less-than-subtle) cries for help in the face of his mounting fame. In turn, as About.com wrote, “I’m a Loser” was “a reaction to the worship the Beatles were already receiving on the world stage, tied to Lennon’s own insecurities.”
“Looking back on it I think songs like ‘I’m A Loser’ and ‘Nowhere Man’ were John’s cries for help. 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’. You didn’t really think about it at the time, it’s only later you think, ‘God! I think it was pretty brave of John.’” — Paul McCartney (Barry Miles, Many Years From Now)
The Beatles recorded “I’m a Loser” in eight takes on Aug. 14, 1964. Two months later (and two months before the release of “Beatles for Sale”), the Fab Four “debuted this number on an episode of ABC-TV’s ‘Shindig!,’ which often traveled to London to present British bands performing live” (About.com). You can tell it’s new based on how well Paul knows the words (/sarcasm).
The group also performed the song before it appeared on any album on BBC Radio’s “Top Gear.” This was recorded Nov. 17, 1964, aired Nov. 26, and appeared on the compilation album “Live at the BBC” in 1994. (The Beatles performed “I’m a Loser” two more times for BBC Radio programs. Bootleg recordings of those can be found online, but you didn’t hear it from me.)
Here’s the version from “Beatles for Sale.” Quoth About.com, “This song was mistakenly labeled ‘I’m A Losser’ on initial pressings of ‘Beatles For Sale.’” Talk about serendipity.
According to my sources, the Beatles considered releasing “I’m a Loser” as a single before John wrote “I Feel Fine” (covered on Day 101), which they liked better.