Among Beatles fans, one question has remained unsolved: which member of the band wrote 1965’s “In My Life”? Multiple Beatles take credit for the song, and it formerly seemed no answer would ever be found. Enter mathematics professor Jason Brown, who believes he’s mathematically deduced which Beatle is truly responsible for the hit.
In a 1980 interview with Playboy, John Lennon took credit for the song, saying it was “the first song I wrote that was consciously about my life,” though he also gave Paul McCartney some credit for a bit of the “middle eight.”
“‘Nowhere Man’ came, words and music, the whole damn thing. The same with ‘In My Life’. I’d struggled for days and hours, trying to write clever lyrics. Then I gave up, and ‘In My Life’ came to me – letting it go is the whole game.” – John. Listen: https://t.co/s3Kkk3wE40 pic.twitter.com/URM9Ooa6Kp
— The Beatles (@thebeatles) August 8, 2018
In 1984, Paul also sat down with Playboy and offered a different account of the song:
I think I wrote the tune to that; that’s the one we slightly dispute. John either forgot or didn’t think I wrote the tune. I remember he had the words, like a poem–sort of about faces he remember. . . . I recall going off for half an hour and sitting with a Mellotron he had, writing the tune. Which was Miracles inspired, as I remember. In fact, a lot of stuff was then.
If you don’t get emotional when you hear In My Life by the Beatles, you are officially dead inside.
— Some Kimberly (@SomeKimberly) July 16, 2018
Jason Brown, a mathematician and massive Beatles fan, came forward more than ten years ago with a scientific explanation of The Chord (the famously mysterious chord at the beginning of “Hard Days Night”). He then turned his attention to the true composer of “In My Life” and—with the help of Harvard mathematicians Mark Glickman and Ryan Song—finally managed to discover the truth.
The group presented their findings where almost all Beatles revelations find their start: the Joint Statistical Meetings conference in Canada. They called the presentation “Assessing Authorship of Beatles Songs from Musical Content: Bayesian Classification Modeling from Bags-Of-Words Representations,” which everyone agreed was a great title befitting a formal scientific analysis.
At the conference, Brown and company dropped their big news: they believe John Lennon wrote “In My Life.”
Stanford mathematician Keith Devlin explained on Mashable how the researchers used a technique known as “bag-of-words”:
“It actually goes back to the 1950s. [The term is] used by the computer scientists who created spam filters,” Devlin said. A bag-of-words representation, he explained, takes a piece of text and strips away all the grammar and word order.”
“You just regard it as a collection of words. And once you’ve done that, you can counter the frequencies of the different words in the bag of words.”
— bambu (@aavig) August 13, 2018
By applying this procedure to Beatles songs, Brown created a “word cloud” of words and chords, and could connect which Beatles used them more frequently in songs they wrote. By connecting each Beatle to their preferred composing style, finding out who wrote “In My Life” was just a matter of counting.
They found there were 149 very distinct transitions between notes and chords that are present in all Beatles songs. And those transitions will be unique to one person or the other person.
This is fascinating…
— Joann marsili (@joannmarsili) August 11, 2018
According to Devlin, all the research indicates John Lennon was the man behind the song:
When you do the math by counting the little bits that are unique to the people, the probability that McCartney wrote it was .018 — that’s essentially zero.
Devlin indicates the data is so foolproof that he’d believe it even over personal memories from people who were there, “especially given they collaborated writing it in the ’60s with an incredibly altered mental state due to all the stuff they were ingesting.”
Who in the world thought McCartney wrote this? It's got Lennon all over it.
— The Conversational Intellectual (@TalkButNotFight) August 12, 2018
McCartney may have mis-remembered the extent of his contribution to the song, but he’s still got “Hey, Jude,” which I think we can all agree is the superior single.