When was it recorded? Oct. 18 & 22, 1965
When was it first released, and on which album? Dec. 3, 1965 on “Rubber Soul”
Who wrote it? Lennon, with noteworthy contribution from McCartney & Martin
Have I heard this song before? Yes
What my research dug up:
So way, way back in 1999, there was this TV show called “Providence.” It was about a family in Providence, Rhode Island, and my family watched it together because we didn’t have cable and there was nothing better to do. Anyway, the theme song for this show was Chantal Kreviazuk’s version of “In My Life,” and one time my dad asked me if I knew who sang the song. When I answered “Chantal Kreviazuk,” and he said, “No, I mean, who actually sang it, the first people to ever sing that song,” it messed me up so bad. I had no concept of songs being covers back then! So here’s the story of who really sang “In My Life,” the originators themselves.
On Day 123: “I’m a Loser,” I wrote about journalist Kenneth Allsop and his questioning of John in Mar. 1964. To recap, “Allsop told Lennon that his songs lacked the depth and meaning of his book In His Own Write” and “suggested that Lennon try to write more autobiographically, basing his songs on personal experiences rather than generic sentiments of love” (Beatles Bible). Quoth Rolling Stone, “Taking Allsop’s critique to heart, Lennon wrote a long poem about people and places from his past.”
“’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… 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 (David Sheff, All We Are Saying)
Quoth the Beatles Bible, “‘In My Life’ was composed at Kenwood, John Lennon‘s house in Weybridge, England.” Paul came to help, and things get complicated.
“In My Life” is only one of two songs John and Paul disagree on who contributed what (“Eleanor Rigby” is the other one). According to Lennon, “His contribution melodically was the harmony and the middle eight.”
According to Paul, John had written the opening stanzas. However…
“I recall writing the whole melody. And it actually does sound very like me, if you analyze 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’ …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 (Barry Miles, Many Years From Now)
However much Paul contributed, “In My Life” is John’s show. As he told David Sheff for All We Are Saying, “[‘In My Life’] 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.”
“In My Life” was first recorded in three takes on Oct. 18 and according to Wikipedia “was complete except for the instrumental bridge.” The Beatles couldn’t decide what to compose for the middle section, but four days later George Martin stepped up to the plate.
“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 (Anthology)
Rolling Stone ranked “In My Life” #23 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and #5 on their list of the Beatles’ 100 Greatest Songs. CBC ranked the song #2 on its list of the 50 Greatest Tracks ever, while Mojo one-upped everyone by naming “In My Life” the Best Song of All Time in its 2000 poll.
Alan Pollack wondered in his notes, “What is it… that makes such a song so ultra special if not sacred to the collective consciousness? People often talk about the elliptical nature of John’s text as they mine for potentially relevant autobiographical underpinnings. But, again, I wonder if there isn’t something just a bit circular or at least reflexive about this mining for meaning. Is it possible that the vague references and ellipses of this song, beyond their being pregnant per se with whatever embedded or hidden meaning, also serve equally to invite and encourage the listener to respond personally, and autobiographically, indeed?”