It was recorded on 21 and 22 October 1965. "Nowhere Man" is among one of the very first Beatles songs to be entirely unrelated to romance or love, and marks a notable instance of Lennon's philosophically oriented songwriting. It was released as a single (although not in the United Kingdom) on 21 February 1966, and reached #1 in Australia and Canada and #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Similar to what happened a year earlier ("Eight Days a Week" and "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party" were on Beatles for Sale but not on Beatles '65), "Nowhere Man" and "What Goes On" were not on the U.S. version of Rubber Soul (released in December around the same time as the British version), but were back-to-back on a subsequent single and later (in June) on an album (Yesterday and Today).
Lennon, McCartney, and George Harrison sing the song in three-part harmony. The song appears in the film Yellow Submarine, where the Beatles sing it about the character Jeremy Hillary Boob after meeting him in the "nowhere land".
George and John play identical "sonic blue" Fender Stratocasters—John plays in the verses and George on the solo.
Lennon claimed that he wrote the song about himself. He wrote it after racking his brain in desperation for five hours, trying to come up with another song for Rubber Soul. Lennon told Playboy magazine:
"I'd spent five hours that morning trying to write a song that was meaningful and good, and I finally gave up and lay down. Then 'Nowhere Man' came, words and music, the whole damn thing as I lay down".
McCartney said of the song:
"That was John after a night out, with dawn coming up. I think at that point, he was a bit...wondering where he was going, and to be truthful so was I. I was starting to worry about him".
The song begins with E (I tonic) chord ("He's a real") and then involves a 5-4-3-2-1 pitch descent between the B (V dominant) chord ("nowhere man") and A (IV subdominant) chord ("sitting in"); a twist comes where Am (iv minor) replaces A in the final verse ("nowhere plans") and the simultaneous G# note melody creates a dissonant Am/major 7. The refrain, which appears three times, seesaws on a G# minor/A major sequence before falling back on an F# minor and leading back to the verse on a B7.