The Beatles’ discography is rarely shaken. The ban delivered so many classic songs during their comparatively brief tenure that even six decades after they first emerged as pop’s saviours, they’re still enthralling audiences young and old. The recent Disney-funded reframing of the Get Back sessions via Peter Jackson’s documentary only went to further confirm the group as iconoclastic behemoths, unlikely to be removed from the collective consciousness for some time.
That documentary proved that, as well as the music the band made, perhaps the most alluring aspect of their history, was the moments we didn’t get to see. When the band first appeared, they arrived apparently fully formed as the Fab Four, a pop outfit capable of turning a room full of teenagers into a swelling, heaving, hysterical pack of culture-hyenas. So the off-cuts of their journey feel even more prescient. Below, we have one such off-cut from John Lennon’s most favoured Beatles numbers.
The Beatles may have arrived as a swashbuckling pop band all ready to whip a number one away from rock and roll. However, it was after this initial flurry of [o-tastic pomp that things kicked up a gear. Though the band’s early efforts are as beloved as any other from their catalogue, a few songs saw the band ditch the charts and head straight for the heart. After a collision course with the voice of a generation — Bob Dylan — the band found it within themselves to shelve the usual pop fodder and instead use their songs to express themselves fully. One of the first attempts the band made to do this was the beautiful ‘In My Life’.
Taken from the always favourably thought of Rubber Soul, ‘In My Life’ not only represented a switch of attack for the band but Lennon himself: “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.”
The song was one of Lennon’s first that addressed his own life directly, as he told David Sheff in 1980: “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’.”
“‘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,” he continued in the same interview.
“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.”
Truth be told, in the rarely heard demo below, it is hard to gather up this sentiment. Amid the scratchy audio and off-key strumming patterns, the essence of the song is all that remains. However, diving into such an artefact of, not only The Beatles’ recording history, but Lennon’s life at large is a joyous moment to savour.