"I objected to the word 'clown' because that was always artsy-fartsy," Lennon explained in a 1974 interview, "but Dylan had used it so I thought it was alright, and it rhymed with whatever I was doing. " Although other writers may speculate as to when Lennon's songwriting changed, most agree that the true turning point was with "I'm A Loser. " While his inner feelings may have been unfounded, they nonetheless were very real to him.
From this point forward, with very few exceptions, John Lennon wrote about what John Lennon was feeling. He didn't write songs about 'Desmond and Molly' or fictional situations about romance. He kept quite firm in his resolve to use his songwriting talents to express how he felt.
And we all can be grateful for that. Starting off the proceedings, though, is an informal out-of-tempo introduction with Lennon's vocals leading the way, signaling McCartney to join in on harmony vocals on the word " loser," which is repeated twice. During these harmonies, John plucks out the notes of the chords in a typical singer / songwriter fashion.
He then sets the tempo with his acoustic guitar on the final lyrical phrase of the introduction " I'm not what I appear to be. " This introduction, no doubt from a suggestion by George Martin, is loosely based on the chorus that is heard a little later. Lennon once again is the standout of the song as a whole, his acoustic guitar played somewhat aggressively with plenty of pick noise on the strings as if it helped him tell his disheartening story.
Ringo jumps back and forth between subdued and accentuated playing very appropriately, while virtually no drum fills are played throughout the song. (One does creep in at the end of the second measure of the final instrumental section, which has the awkward-but-distinctive 'Ringo' feel to it. ) The band turns off all that energy like a light switch as they enter into a second sixteen measure verse.
The band dramatically returns to their subdued arrangement and single tracked vocal as John hits his low notes on the appropriate words " frown" and " cry. " Once again the band switches off the volume for a third verse with a different set of lyrics. This time, John's low notes appropriately accentuate the lyrics " late" and " lose all.
" The volume swells once again for the final repeat of the chorus and reappearance of the instrumental section, which is also identical to the first except that George struggles to perform the planned solo with the same accuracy as he did the first time. This is somewhat masked by the song fading out shortly before the instrumental section was due to conclude. The instrumentation is quite subdued during the verse, which highlights the storyteller in giving us his sorrowful details.
The drums softly ride on the closed hi hat, the lead guitar offers subtle bending phrases after each lyrical line and the bass delivers a simple "oompah" pattern while John's acoustic guitar provides a foundation to the sad story. His vocals are single-tracked, which provides an intimacy between himself and the listener. What adds to the potency of these lyrics is the autobiographical nature depicted throughout.
The repeated line " I'm not what I appear to be" suggests John's personal feelings, as Kenneth Allsop suggested he interject into his lyrics during their discussion back in March of that year. Lennon also adds the telling line " Although I laugh and I act like a clown, beneath this mask I am wearing a frown. " John's clownish antics while performing live are now legendary, as are his irreverent answers in interviews during the Beatle years, which he later admitted were due to the insecurities he was feeling.
These insecurities were depicted in later songs, " Help!" being the most noteworthy example. The folk music style evident in this song, ala Dylan, sinks right down to the structure itself, utilizing a 'verse/ chorus/ verse/ chorus/ instrumental/ verse/ chorus/ instrumental' formula, which becomes ababcabc. The instrumental section this time is shared between a harmonica solo from John and a guitar solo from George.
After a repeat of the chorus, the band maintains the feverish swell of volume into the first instrumental section, which is sixteen measures long and is a hybrid of the verse (the first eight measures) and the eight measure chorus. The first half of this section features a Dylan-like harmonica solo from John while the second half features a Carl Perkins-like solo from George, which adds a touch of rockabilly to the proceedings. Note how closely the guitar solo resembles that which accompanies last years' " All My Loving.
" Then the chorus kicks in with sizzling cymbals and tambourine from Ringo, walking bass and wailing harmony vocals from Paul and double-tracked vocals from John. This formula results in an eight measure chorus that screams to the world what a " loser" the singer is. McCartney once again gives a stellar performance on bass, especially during the chorus and instrumental section, while shooting up to perform his usual spot-on higher harmonies.
His insistence on George Harrison pre-planning his guitar solos works well in this song as George comes through with hardly a blemish (at least the first time through). His accents and bent notes throughout the verses also add appropriate delicate touches to the song. The entire group kicks in on the downbeat of the first verse, which is sixteen measures long.
The most interesting focal point of the verse is John's dissension down to a low G note at the end of the second and fourth melody lines. While he struggles to hit these notes at the lowest end of his register, he hits the target nearly flawlessly throughout the song (albeit with much practice from the previous six takes). These melodic drops fit in perfectly with the lyrics that depict how "down" he feels about himself, which fall on the words " crossed" and " end.
" The lyrics seem to appear as a brutally honest admission of gambling at the game of love and losing big time, which in itself is very convincingly done and quite unlike anything Lennon has written before. While previous songs such as " Not A Second Time" and " I'll Cry Instead" portray the singer as the one being hurt and therefore we should feel sorry for him, this song shows him fully admitting his guilt. Although crying has been a general theme in John's songs for years, the line " is it for her or myself that I cry" shows the pitiable situation he finds himself in.
He knows he blew it, and he is wallowing in self-pity. We therefore admire him for being man enough to admit his mistakes.