Sir Paul McCartney 'misremembers' writing 'In My Life' – it was really John Lennon, says Harvard analysis
By Sarah Knapton, science editor
29 JULY 2018
Paul McCartney and John Lennon at the Variety Club Showbusiness Awards held at the Dorchester, London in September 1964
CREDIT: WILLIAM VANDERSON HULTON ARCHIVE
It has been a long and winding road, but academics may have finally solved the dispute over who wrote the melody for The Beatles’ song ‘In My Life.’
The track has always been attributed to John Lennon on the sleeve notes of The Beatles’ 1965 album Rubber Soul.
Yet Sir Paul McCartney has long claimed that he actually penned the melody, telling the music writer and broadcaster Paul Gambaccini in the 1970s: ‘Those were the words John wrote, and I wrote the tune to it. That was a great one.’
Now US and Canadian researchers have concluded that Sir Paul probably ‘misremembers’, because the song bears all the musical hallmarks of Lennon.
Mark Glickman, senior lecturer in statistics at Harvard University, and Jason Brown, Professor of Mathematics at Dalhousie University, created a computer model which broke down Lennon and McCartney songs into 149 different components to determine the musical fingerprints of each songwriter.
Rubber Soul was released in 1965
And they discovered that, stylistically, there is less than one in 50 chance of Sir Paul having written the music to ‘In My Life.’
“We wondered whether you could use data analysis techniques to try to figure out what was going on in the song to distinguish whether it was by one or the other," said Dr Glickman.
“The basic idea is to convert a song into a set of different data structures that are amenable for establishing a signature of a song using a quantitative approach. Think of decomposing a colour into its constituent components of red, green and blue with different weights attached.
“The probability that 'In My Life' was written by McCartney is .018. Which basically means it's pretty convincingly a Lennon song. McCartney misremembers.”
‘In My Life,’ is ranked 23 on Rolling Stone's The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Lennon wrote the lyrics in reminiscence of his childhood years, with the original version based on a regular bus journey he took which passed Penny Lane and the Salvation Army children’s home Strawberry Field. However he later reworked the song to be a broader look back at his youth.
The original lyrics to In My Life, which are now housed at the British Library
CREDIT: WIKIPEDIA CREATIVE COMMONS
Sir Paul claimed to have set Lennon’s lyrics to music, after being inspired by songs by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles. Yet up to his death Lennon said only the ‘middle-eight’ and harmonies were Sir Paul's work.
For the study researchers ‘decomposed’ Beatles’ songs written between 1962 and 1966, analysing features such as frequency of chords, chord transitions, melodic notes and pitch.
They found a major distinction. While the pitch of Sir Paul’s songs was complex and varied, Lennon’s did not change much at all.
"Consider the Lennon song, 'Help!'" added Dr Glickman. "It basically goes, 'When I was younger, so much younger than today,' where the pitch doesn't change very much.
“It stays at the same note repeatedly, and only changes in short steps. Whereas with Paul McCartney, you take a song like 'Michelle.’' In terms of pitch, it's all over the place."
The research showed the styles of Lennon and McCartney are noticeably different
CREDIT: HULTON ARCHIVE FOX PHOTOS
However, although Sir Paul has lost the attribution of one song, it appears he has gained another.
The song "The Word," from the same album, which is attributed to Lennon, is almost certainly by McCartney, the researchers have concluded.
A spokesman for Sir Paul McCartney said the singer would not be responding to the study.
STUDY SAYS PAUL MCCARTNEY ‘MISREMEMBERS’ WRITING ‘IN MY LIFE’ MUSIC
30 JULY 2018
Hulton Archive, Getty Images
In Many Years From Now, Barry Miles’ 1997 biography of Paul McCartney, the Beatle recalled writing the melody for a set of John Lennon lyrics that eventually became “In My Life,” the immortal meditation on memory that Lennon sang on Rubber Soul.
Now, a pair of academics claims that statistical analysis proves there is less than a one in 50 chance of McCartney having written the music to the song.
“As I recall, he didn’t have a tune to it,” McCartney told Miles. “I said, ‘Well, you haven’t got a tune, let me just go and work on it.’ And I went down to the half-landing, where John had a mellotron, and I sat there and put together a tune. … I recall writing the whole melody. And it actually does sound very like me, if you analyze it.”
Harvard’s senior lecturer in statistics Mark Glickman and Jason Brown, professor of mathematics at Dalhousie University, did analyze it, and they disagree with Macca’s memory.
As NME reports, the pair used Beatles songs written between 1962 and 1966 for comparison to “In My Life,” analyzing melodies and chord transitions and frequency. These became data points they used to examine “In My Life” and to determine whether the music was written by one or the other musician.
“The basic idea is to convert a song into a set of different data structures that are amenable for establishing a signature of a song using a quantitative approach,” Dr. Glickman said. “Think of decomposing a color into its constituent components of red, green and blue with different weights attached. ... The probability that ‘In My Life’ was written by McCartney is .018,” he concluded. “Which basically means it’s pretty convincingly a Lennon song. McCartney misremembers.”
This assessment is in line with how Lennon remembered writing the song, with some assistance from McCartney, but not nearly as much as McCartney recalls.
“Now, Paul helped write the middle-eight melody,” Lennon told writer David Scheff. “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.”
The middle eight in “In My Life” includes producer George Martin’s piano solo, which many mistake for a harpsichord.
McCartney has offered no response to the study’s findings. He is preparing for the release of his new album, Egypt Station, on Sept. 7, and a tour in support of the record.