The composition

‘In My Life’ was composed at Kenwood, John Lennon’s house in Weybridge, England.

I used to write upstairs where I had about ten Brunell tape recorders all linked up, I still have them. I’d mastered them over the period of a year or two – I could never make a rock ‘n’ roll record but I could make some far out stuff on it. I wrote it upstairs, that was one where I wrote the lyrics first and then sang it. That was usually the case with things like ‘In My Life’ and [‘Across The] Universe’ and some of the ones that stand out a bit…

I think on ‘Norwegian Wood’ and ‘In My Life’ Paul helped with the middle eight, to give credit where it’s due.

John Lennon
Rolling Stone, 1970

John Lennon's handwritten lyrics for In My Life

McCartney’s recollection of the song is somewhat different. Although he and Lennon said much over the years about the backgrounds to their songs, only when discussing ‘In My Life’ and ‘Eleanor Rigby’ did their memories substantially differ.

I arrived at John’s house for a writing session and he had the very nice opening stanzas of the song. As many of our songs were, it was the first pangs of nostalgia for Liverpool…

As I recall, he didn’t have a tune to it, and my recollection, I think, is at variance with John’s. I said, ‘Well, you haven’t got a tune, let me just go and work on it.’ And I went down to the half-landing, where John had a Mellotron, and I sat there and put together a tune based in my mind on Smokey Robinson and the Miracles…

I recall writing the whole melody. And it actually does sound very like me, if you analyse it. I was obviously working to lyrics. The melody’s structure is very me. So my recollection is saying to John, ‘Just go and have a cup of tea or something. Let me be with this for ten minutes on my own and I’ll do it’…

I tried to keep it melodic but a bit bluesy, with the minors and little harmonies, and then my recollection is going back up into the room and saying, ‘Got it, great! Good tune, I think. What d’you think?’ John said, ‘Nice,’ and we continued working with it from then, using that melody and filling out the rest of the verses…

So it was John’s original inspiration, I think my melody, I think my guitar riff. I don’t want to be categorical about this, but that’s my recollection… I find it very gratifying that out of everything we wrote, we only appear to disagree over two songs.

Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

In the studio

One of the first songs to be recorded for Rubber Soul, The Beatles recorded the rhythm track of ‘In My Life’ on 18 October 1965. This they did in three takes, after a period of rehearsal.

The instrumental break was left without a solo, as the group was undecided as to how it should sound. This dilemma was solved on 22 October by George Martin.

‘In My Life’ is one of my favourite songs because it is so much John. A super track and such a simple song. There’s a bit where John couldn’t decide what to do in the middle and, while they were having their tea break, I put down a baroque piano solo which John didn’t hear until he came back. What I wanted was too intricate for me to do live, so I did it with a half-speed piano, then sped it up, and he liked it.
George Martin

Martin originally tried the solo on a Hammond organ, which didn’t give the desired sound. He then switched to a piano, performing the celebrated solo slower and an octave lower than it sounds on the final version, so that it gave the desired harpsichord effect when sped up.

I did it with what I call a ‘wound up’ piano, which was at double speed – partly because you get a harpsichord sound by shortening the attack of everything, but also because I couldn’t play it at real speed anyway. So I played it on piano at exactly half normal speed, and down an octave. When you bring the tape back to normal speed again, it sounds pretty brilliant. It’s a means of tricking everybody into thinking you can do something really well.
George Martin
Sounds Of The Sixties, BBC Radio 2

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Next song: ‘Wait’
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