One of the highlights of the Rubber Soul album, ‘In My Life’ was written mostly by John Lennon, and started out as a nostalgic set of memories of Liverpool.
There was a period when I thought I didn’t write melodies, that Paul wrote those and I just wrote straight, shouting rock ‘n’ roll. But of course, when I think of some of my own songs – ‘In My Life’, or some of the early stuff, ‘This Boy’ – I was writing melody with the best of them.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Lennon regarded ‘In My Life’ particularly highly, citing it – along with ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, ‘I Am The Walrus’, and ‘Help!’ – as among his best.
For ‘In My Life’, I had a complete set of lyrics after struggling with a journalistic vision of a trip from home to downtown on a bus naming every sight. It became ‘In My Life’, which is a remembrance of friends and lovers of the past. Paul helped with the middle eight musically. But all lyrics written, signed, sealed, and delivered. And it was, I think, my first real major piece of work. Up till then it had all been sort of glib and throwaway. And that was the first time I consciously put my literary part of myself into the lyric. Inspired by Kenneth Allsop, the British journalist, and Bob Dylan.
He first had the idea for the song in 1964, when journalist Kenneth Allsop asked Lennon why his songs were less revealing and challenging than his books. Musing on this, Lennon decided to take a nostalgic look at specific places and memories from his Liverpool past.
I think ‘In My Life’ was the first song that I wrote that was really, consciously about my life, and it was sparked by a remark a journalist and writer in England made after In His Own Write came out. I think ‘In My Life’ was after In His Own Write… But he said to me, ‘Why don’t you put some of the way you write in the book, as it were, in the songs? Or why don’t you put something about your childhood into the songs?’ Which came out later as ‘Penny Lane’ from Paul – although it was actually me who lived in Penny Lane – and ‘Strawberry Fields’.
In the same interview, Lennon described how the song’s early draft was significantly different from the final version.
‘In My Life’ started out as a bus journey from my house on 250 [sic] Menlove Avenue to town, mentioning every place I could remember. And it was ridiculous. This is before even ‘Penny Lane’ was written and I had Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, Tram Sheds – Tram Sheds are the depot just outside of Penny Lane – and it was the most boring sort of ‘What I Did On My Holidays Bus Trip’ song and it wasn’t working at all. I cannot do this! I cannot do this!
But then I laid back and these lyrics started coming to me about the places I remember. Now Paul helped write the middle-eight melody. The whole lyrics were already written before Paul had even heard it. In ‘In My Life’, his contribution melodically was the harmony and the middle eight itself.
The original draft mentioned a list of Liverpool landmarks, including Penny Lane, the Abbey cinema, the Old Dutch café, and the Dockers’ Umbrella – the colloquial name for the Liverpool Overhead Railway, now demolished.
Penny Lane is one I’m missing
Up Church Road to the clock tower
In the circle of the Abbey
I have seen some happy hours
Past the tram sheds with no trams
On the 5 bus into town
Past the Dutch and St Columbus
To the Dockers Umbrella that they pulled down
I love this song and I adore these comments as well. May I please try to clarify this issue. I believe they are referring to the musical link created by the melody of “With lovers and friends… ” heading back to … “In my life”. That may be considered the “middle 8” here, and it is genius. The song is genius, combining classical music with popular music and coming up with something unique and beautiful.
Paul is only writing that he took the musical ideas John handed him, told him to go have a cup of tea, sat down and put it all together. John is only saying he wrote the lyrics and had the general musical idea beginning with “There are places I remember…”. They really do not disagree that much. Both could be basically right. Paul could feel he tied it all together musically and John could remember that he had the musical idea and Paul tied it together with a twist on “With lovers and friends…”. Both agree on George Martin’s classical music input on the piano… Are they so far apart? I don’t think so. John certainly did not have a complete musical composition when he went to Paul. Paul certainly did not say he came up with the basic idea… they both deserve credit, and we may accept both 80 % to 90 % of both accounts.
Peace and love to all.
Vive les Beatles pour une éternité !