It’s tough trying to figure out who wrote what in a Lennon-McCartney song from 1965 and earlier. In those days, they often composed (in John’s words) “in each other’s nose” and “eyeball to eyeball.” That’s how “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and other tunes came to be.
Later, when Paul spun tunes like “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude,” you can’t mistake it for anyone but him. The same goes for John’s “Yer Blues” and “Come Together.” They could only have been written by one person.
After the band split up, the old songwriting partners often answered questions about who was behind some of their best-loved songs. More often than not, Paul and John agreed about who wrote the tunes. However, there were two occasions when their recollections differed.
One of the disagreements came over the classic “In My Life” from 1965’s Rubber Soul. While no one disputes John had the idea and wrote all the lyrics, Paul claimed he wrote the music. But everyone from John to Beatles producer George Martin and university data scientists have disagreed.
John tried a new style of song, writing about memories of Liverpool.
At this point in The Beatles’ run, John had begun trying out more personal songs. “Help,” in which John discussed his own depression, is a good example. With “In My Life,” John took up the challenge of a journalist who asked him why he didn’t write about his childhood in song.
“It was, I think, my first real major piece of work,” he told Playboy’s David Sheff in 1980. “Up till then it had all been sort of glib and throwaway. [T]hat was the first time I consciously put my literary part of myself into the lyric.” (He also noted the influence of Bob Dylan.)
When it came time to write the music, John recalled lacking a middle section. That was where Paul came in. “His contribution melodically was the harmony and the middle eight itself,” John told Sheff. George Martin didn’t have any doubts about it either.
“‘In My Life’ is one of my favorite songs because it is so much John — a super track and such a simple song,” Martin said in Anthology. Yet Paul has for a long time believed he came up with the tune.
“I recall writing the whole melody,” Paul said. “And it actually does sound very like me, if you analyze it.” In 2018, data scientists from Harvard completed a study of the song that concluded it could only have been written by John.
All evidence points to John behind ‘In My Life.’
While it sounds a little silly to use data science to determine authorship, the methodology is convincing. Using 70 Lennon-McCartney songs, the Harvard researchers isolated musical note clusters and phrases distinctive to John and Paul through the years.
After applying their system to “In My Life,” they determined there was a 2% chance Paul wrote it. Most Beatles fans would agree it passes the ear test as a Lennon song as well. As in “Help” and “Across the Universe, there aren’t major shifts in pitch during the verses.
So what about the middle part John remembered Paul writing? It’s possible he wrote it in John’s style, following the layout of the song already in place. As with “A Day in the Life,” Paul’s small contributions often loomed large in the finished product. That’s how they wrote so many great songs together.
Regarding the keyboard solo in the song, that was pure studio trickery by Martin. He played the solo on a piano at half the speed you hear on “In My Life.” Then he sped it up, which delivered that harpsichord effect.
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