35 years after John Lennon’s death, and 50 years since the release of Rubber Soul, here’s one of his best songs: ‘In My Life’. Half a century has passed since The Beatles’ Rubber Soul was released on 3 December 1965, and as the years have passed the song that I have come to love most off that album is Lennon’s ‘In My Life’.

Rubber Soul

But it wasn’t like that when I first heard the album as a raw 17-year old. You really need to have lived a bit to appreciate what is now regarded as one of the Beatles’ finest songs.

At the time, it was the extraordinary tale recounted in ‘Norwegian Wood’ that made me sit up and take notice. The exotic sound of the sitar, coupled with the elliptical lyrics that suggested a scene from some modernist novel, made ‘Norwegian Wood’ my favourite track for quite a while:

I sat on a rug, biding my time, drinking her wine
We talked until two and then she said, “It’s time for bed”

She told me she worked in the morning and started to laugh.
I told her I didn’t and crawled off to sleep in the bath

That, and the more immediate appeal of ‘rubber soul’ like ‘You Won’t See Me’, ‘Drive My Car’ and ‘The Word’, meant that, for some time, ‘In My Life’ got lost for me.

Inside the Rubber Soul factory
Inside the Rubber Soul factory

The inspiration for the song is often traced back to an interview with Lennon by the journalist Kenneth Allsop in March 1964. Allsop had asked him why he didn’t write more songs about his own life and experiences. Lennon took this to heart and wrote a long poem about people and places from his past, a mundane description of a trip into town from his home on Menlove Avenue on a bus, naming every sight:

Penny Lane is one I’m missing
Up Church Rd 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's draft lyrics for 'In My Life'
John’s draft lyrics for ‘In My Life’

John soon realised, however, that ‘it was the most boring ‘What I Did on My Holidays’ song, and it wasn’t working’. But then, re-working the lyrics, the song became much more personal, recalling people -‘lovers and friends’ – as well as places in a Liverpool home that now seemed a world away from the Surrey mansion where he wrote the words:

There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life, I’ve loved them all…

Interviewed years later, John said that before Rubber Soul, ‘We were just writing songs à la the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly: pop songs with no more thought to them than that.’ He came top see ‘In My Life’ as ‘my first real, major piece of work. Up until then, it had all been glib and throwaway.’

Rubber Soul quality control
Rubber Soul quality control (photo: yerdoingreat.wordpress.com)

John later called ‘In My Life’ his first ‘real, major piece of work’. Until then, he said, ‘it had all been glib and throwaway.’

I started being me about the songs, not writing them objectively, but subjectively. I think it was Dylan who helped me realize that – not by any discussion or anything, but by hearing his work.

Advertisements

14 thoughts on “‘In My Life’: the song from Rubber Soul I grew to love the most

  1. This was always a favourite album of mine. I was 14 and my first was You Won’t See Me with the irrepressible “oooh ooh la lala, oooh ooh la lala” refrain that I could sing along to with a few ciders on board. Like you I needed some livin’ to truly appreciate In My Life.
    Thanks for the memory

  2. I never tire of hearing this song. A truly inspirational piece of music. Kurt Vonnegut’s quote says it best-“I say in speeches that a plausible mission of the artist is to make people appreciate being alive a little bit. I am then asked if I know of any artists who pulled that off. I reply ‘The Beatles did.'”

  3. Interesting that whereas John cut out the Penny Lane reference, Paul wrote a whole song about it.

    Penny Lane is about the universal in the particular. In My Life is about the particular in the universal.

    There is also the mystery of whether in fact Paul, as he has sometimes claimed, actually wrote the music to In My Life.

    Whatever, it’s my favourite song of all time, beating Yesterday, Night and Day and Summertime.

  4. Interesting that whereas John cut out the Penny Lane reference, Paul wrote a whole song about it.

    Penny Lane is about the universal in the particular. In My Life is about the particular in the universal.

    There is also the mystery of whether in fact Paul, as he has sometimes claimed, actually wrote the music to In My Life.

    Whatever, it’s my favourite song of all time, beating Yesterday, Night and Day and Summertime.

    By the way, “journalist” does not do justice to that extraordinary polymath Kenneth Allsop. The reason that he could talk to someone like Lennon about that art of writing lyrics is that he could also hold his own with people like Robert Graves. I don’t think John would have taken advice from any old hack!

  5. I agree with you absolutely about Kenneth Allsop, Steve. He was a superb writer – and one of the first to seriously discuss environmental issues in his articles.

  6. As with most things in life, age allows you to ‘see’ so much more in any piece of work. I can now see more in this song, both as an older person and also as performed by an older person. Listen to the version by Sean Connery on the album “In my Life” by George Martin.

  7. Thanks for sharing. Absolutely one of my favorite Beatles tunes. “In My Life” has a truth to it that you really connect to; it’s powerful and beautiful.

  8. I grew up with my older sister a massive Beatles fan; she visited the Cavern a number of times, and became a member, even though we lived in Yorkshire. The Beatles, and Tamla Motown were the soundtrack of my childhood. When she died 17 years ago, we played this at her funeral, along with Let it Be….with the congregation joining in Let It Be. Since then, In My Life has been about my sister. And yes; the connections grow stronger as we get older……X

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s