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.
John Lennon, 1980
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.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Early drafts

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’.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

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.

John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

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

John Lennon's draft lyrics for In My Life

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