In 1980 Lennon commented on “I’m A Loser”:
“That’s me in my Dylan period. Part of me suspects I am a loser, and another part of me thinks I’m God Almighty.”
He says he wrote it on a plane while The Beatles were touring with Jackie DeShannon. It was one of the first songwriting departures from the lighter fare Lennon and McCartney had wrote until then.
George Harrison brought a new Gretsch guitar to the sessions which produced a pronounced nasal—bright, full treble, and twangy—quality to this track that had not been heard before.
For a rock song, “I’m A Loser” contains a stronger blend of folk elements than almost anything else the Beatles had done to-date. It is a swollen contradiction- half country, half rock ‘n’ roll, with a narrative to match- half storytelling, half aggressive release. The opening moments are direct and confessional: “I’m a loser/And I’m not what I appear to be.” True to form as a folk ballad, the composition consists of a four-line verse with chorus,and no middle eight.
Beatle scholar Alan Pollack comments:
“The details of the arrangement seem more carefully organized than usual toward maximizing contrast between the verses and refrains. For the refrains, John is double tracked and joined by Paul's harmonizing above him, the bassline is walking, and the percussion gets noisier and more sizzling. The rhythm guitar provides a background wash containing a high level of noise from the pick being strummed across strings. The lead guitar provides its own wash of bent-note chords during the verses.”
After the first few Beatle albums the voices of John and Paul become much more distinct and recognizable— musically, meaning the sound of the actual voices. About the same time the separate narrative styles of the lyrics become obvious. John’s distinctive voice becomes apparent in this song as it would also soon after in “In My Life” and “Help!” These are all very personal songs, managing to look inward while at the same time crying out. For the first time on this track 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
With its country and western veneer, the song effects a lighthearted ambience that undercuts, at times, the song’s sobering message about the vexing relationships that so often exist between ourselves and the world.
To the narrator, love is a matter of winning and losing. The song addreses the disappointments of love from a more theatrical angle, beginning with a stagey, capella introduction. Lennon assumes the role of the fool-hearted narrator endemic in country-and-western songs.