Most Beatles fans know that Paul McCartney isn’t dead, but figuring out authorship of some Beatles songs is actually harder than simply taking the pulse of an aging bass player. In fact, deciding who really wrote the song “In My Life” requires more hardcore investigative tools. Specifically: math.
On August 1, at a conference called The Joint Statistical Meeting, Mathematics professor Jason Brown presented something called “Assessing Authorship of Beatles Songs from Musical Content: Bayesian Classification Modeling from Bags-Of-Words Representations.” Translated from academic speak and into plain English, this simply means: John Lennon (Probably) Wrote Most of “In My Life” Because, Math.
Speaking to both NPR and Inverse, Brown and his collaborator, Dr. Mark Glickman have essentially presented their theory like this: we all know that Paul McCartney and John Lennon wrote “In My Life” together, but what this statistical analysis presupposes is, maybe they didn’t?
According to Brown, songs by Lennon and McCartney have”149 very distinct transitions between notes and chords…And those transitions will be unique to one person or the other person.” What this allowed Brown and Glickman to do was determine that “the probability that McCartney wrote [‘In My Life’] was .018 — that’s essentially zero.”
One might wonder why you couldn’t just ask Paul McCartney since he’s still alive. Why all the coy math models? Even though McCartney has long-maintained he wrote most of it, Glick and Brown think that some of Paul’s recollections can’t actually be considered factual thanks to the “mind-altering substances” both musicians were ingesting around the time of the writing and recording.
Some songs credited to Lennon/McCartney are easier cases. Paul admits he didn’t have anything to with writing “Give Peace a Chance,” or “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” despite the copyright situation making it seem like he did. Does Paul McCartney or the spirit of John Lennon agree with this new statistical analysis? We’ll probably have to play “In My Life” backward for twenty years to know for sure.