There’s no denying that 1965’s Rubber Soul was a breakthrough for The Beatles. With that record, the band had moved far beyond the “Love Me Do” and “From Me to You” tunes that defined their early records. In their place, you found tracks like “Girl” and “I’m Looking Through You.”
Marijuana and the music of Bob Dylan influenced the Fab Four’s songwriting heavily during this time. You could hear it clearly in John Lennon songs like “In My Life” and “Nowhere Man.” The subject matter was richer, and John was ready to explore new themes.
Looking back on this period before he died, John seemed especially proud of “In My Life.” With that track, he resolved to look into his own past for the first time and translate his experiences into song lyrics. The result was an unqualified success, but he needed a little help.
Paul McCartney was happy to chip in with the middle section’s melody, but the song still needed a solo break. On Rubber Soul, that became what sounds like an advanced harpsichord (i.e., baroque keyboard) part. But it’s trickier than the parts you hear when any Beatles play the keys.
The Beatles’ longtime producer altered the speed and pitch of the keyboard solo.
When The Beatles asked producer George Martin to come up with something, he found a solution that ended up sounding polished. After John asked him to deliver an “end of the world” sound for “A Day in the Life,” Martin coaxed just that out of classically trained musicians.
During the Rubber Soul sessions, Martin took it upon himself to find a way to finish “In My Life.” In Anthology, he said how he came up with the solo while the band was having a tea break. But it was too difficult for him to play live in the studio.
So he played it at one octave lower and at half the speed you hear on the record. Then he sped it up to double time and played it for John, who gave it the thumbs-up. Listening to the record, you’d think it was a classically trained pianist handling the embellishments and runs.
But it was simply Martin up to his old studio tricks. It’s one of countless times he pulled off this type of thing for the Fab Four — and why he was often called “the fifth Beatle.”
Martin ranked ‘In My Life’ among his favorites by The Beatles.
Looking back on his Beatles work for the Anthology project, Martin described “In My Life” as “one of my favorite songs because it is so much John — a super track and such a simple song.” On that count, he and John agreed wholeheartedly.
That wasn’t always the case, as John preferred a rawer sound on records as the unabashed rock-and-roller (or “Ted,” in Martin’s words) in the band. When Martin (along with Paul) began putting together the medley for Abbey Road, John was vocal about how he hated the idea.
However, John compromised with the others on what turned out to be the band’s last studio album. Shortly after it was released, John told everyone he was quitting and moving on. It seemed like the right time for all concerned.