The Truth Behind John Lennon’s “In My Life”

The Truth Behind John Lennon’s “In My Life” | I Love Classic Rock Videos

John Lennon live in 1969 - BeatlesAndSolo / Youtube

There’s a good chance you know all the words to this song. This is one of the songs that is universally loved, even the band members themselves loved this song.

Although it was short – only clocking at barely two minutes and a half – “In My Life” encapsulates the life of a 24-year-old John Lennon, who looked back to all the things he missed and loved.

While Lennon did not pinpoint specific places or individuals in Liverpool, Lennon’s subdued vocal delivery and the track’s evocative arrangement instantly engage the audience and take them to the songwriter’s past. 

Marked by a melodious introduction that immediately captures the listener’s focus, “In My Life” signifies a shift from the Beatles’ earlier carefree repertoire to their later, more introspective compositions. 

Despite attaining modest chart success—reaching No. 23 on the US Billboard Hot 100—the song’s influence on songwriters and lyricists spanning generations remains deeply profound.

Meaning behind the song

“In My Life”  was an “intensely reflective” track off Rubber Soul, The Beatles’ sixth studio album released in December 1965. Though it was credited under the Lennon-McCartney partnership, the song was primarily a creation of Lennon, with record producer George Martin contributing to the piano solo bridge.

Lennon told Playboy in 1980 that “Paul helped with the middle eight.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Rock n’ Ribs (@rocknribsmx)

The song was a reflective tapestry interwoven with relationships, recollections, and a yearning for days of yore. At its core, Lennon, the emotive force behind the lyrics, often likened the song to a contemplative expedition into his personal history, encapsulating the essence of bygone companions and family.

Since it was the first time he wrote about his life, Lennon often referred to the song as his “first real major piece of work”.

Lennon recounted in the Playboy interview that the spark for “In My Life” stemmed from a thought-provoking exchange with journalist Kenneth Allsop in March 1964.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by John Lennon (@johnlennon)

“It was sparked by a comment a journalist in England made after In His Own Write came out,” Lennon said. “He said to me ‘Why don’t you put some of the way you write in the book in the songs?’ or ‘Why don’t you put something about your childhood into the songs?’”

Inspired by this, Lennon started working on the introspective song. “I wrote the lyrics first and then sang it. That was usually the case with things like “In My Life” and “Across The Universe” and some of the ones that stand out a bit.”

The song initially took the shape of a lengthy poem in 1964; the initial lyrics found their inspiration in a bus route he frequented in Liverpool, referencing various landmarks along the way, such as Penny Lane and Strawberry Field. But Lennon hated the original lyrics.

In John Lennon: The Life and Legend (The Sunday Times: A Special Tribute 1980), forgot about the song for a while and he wrote it again one year later in 1965, with the following lyrics.

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 tramsheds with no trams / On the 5 bus into town

Past the Dutch and St. Columbus / To the Dockers Umbrella that they pilled down

Lennon regarded this initial composition as lacking in substance, dismissing it as “ridiculous” and “the most boring sort of ‘What I Did on My Holidays Bus Trip’ song”. He embarked on a revision process, reshaping the verses by removing specific recollections and imbuing the song with a more universal reflection on his past. Only a handful of lines from the initial version endured in the final composition.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by John Lennon (@johnlennon)

According to Peter Shotton, a friend and biographer of Lennon’s, the lines “Some are dead and some are living / In my life I’ve loved them all” held a poignant significance, as it referred to his friend and founding Beatle Stuart Sutcliffe and Shotton himself who also played with Lennon in The Quarrymen.

McCartney eventually lent his touch to “In My Life” and helped breathe life into the song, harmoniously fusing Lennon’s evocative verses with his own melodic brilliance. The song’s lyrics exude a delicate tinge of melancholy, akin to someone reminiscing about life’s many transformations:

There are places I’ll remember / All my life, though some have changed

Some forever, not for better / Some have gone, and some remain.

With eloquent craftsmanship and heartfelt sentiment, these verses illuminate the depths of “In My Life,” rendering it an intimate contemplation of love, memory, and the inevitable transitions that define life.

Impact of “In My Life”

Frequently mentioned in the elite roster of the finest Beatles compositions, this single’s widespread popularity played a pivotal role in solidifying Rubber Soul‘s lofty status as a multi-platinum album and a pioneering compilation of tracks.

“In My Life” took a different meaning and achieved renewed significance in the wake of Lennon’s tragic passing on December 8, 1980. The song, which John Robertson, the author of The Complete Guide to The Music of The Beatles, described as “a heartfelt tribute to friends and companions,” swiftly transformed into a poignant anthem of both nostalgia and sorrow. 


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by John Lennon (@johnlennon)

The song and its meaning resonated across the globe, dominating airwaves and sparking conversations about Lennon’s musical legacy and its enduring imprint on society and popular culture.

It achieved differing ranks in many “greatest songs” lists, particularly in Mojo’s 2000 list, where it became number one. The panelists for the magazine’s list included influential names such as McCartney, Brian Wilson, Lamont Dozier, and Carole King.

“In My Life” was also covered extensively by other well-known artists such as Judy Collins, Ozzy Osbourne and Johnny Cash, Rod Stewart, Bette Midler, Diana Krall, and Boyz II Men. George Martin’s 1998 album called In My Life, featuring guest vocalists performing various Beatles songs, had actor Sean Connery singing “In My Life”.

The song has always been featured at significant times in history, one poignant example was during the funeral of grunge icon Kurt Cobain. The legendary frontman has always cited Lennon as his idol, and The Beatles as an early and important influence.