Run For Your Life

Rubber Soul album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 12 October 1965
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith

Released: 3 December 1965 (UK), 6 December 1965 (US)

John Lennon: vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar
Paul McCartney: harmony vocals, bass
George Harrison: harmony vocals, lead guitar
Ringo Starr: drums, tambourine

Available on:
Rubber Soul

The song with which The Beatles began the Rubber Soul sessions, John Lennon’s Run For Your Life was based around a line from an Elvis Presley song.

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Baby, Let’s Play House, recorded by Presley in 1955, had been written the previous year by a 28-year-old songwriter called Arthur Gunter. It was loosely based upon I Want To Play House With You, a 1951 country and western hit for Eddy Arnold, written by Cy Coben.

Now listen to me baby
Try to understand
I’d rather see you dead, little girl
Than to be with another man
Now baby

Come back, baby, come
Come back, baby come
Come back, baby
I wanna play house with you

Baby, Let’s Play House
Arthur Gunter

Gunter’s song was a fairly straightforward statement of desire. Lennon, meanwhile, took the words and turned them into a menacing threat full of possessiveness and jealousy.

I never liked Run For Your Life, because it was a song I just knocked off. It was inspired from – this is a very vague connection – from Baby Let’s Play House. There was a line on it – I used to like specific lines from songs – ‘I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man’ – so I wrote it around that but I didn’t think it was that important.
John Lennon
Rolling Stone, 1970

Lennon later expressed his dislike of the song, saying he “always hated” Run For Your Life. In 1973 he described it as his “least favourite Beatles song”, although he did claim that it was one of George Harrison’s favourites.

Just a sort of throwaway song of mine that I never thought much of, but it was always a favourite of George’s.

It has a line from an old Presley song: “I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man” is a line from an old blues song that Presley did once.

John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

The lyrics recall Lennon’s previous excursions into misogyny, I’ll Cry Instead and You Can’t Do That, both from A Hard Day’s Night.

John was always on the run, running for his life. He was married; whereas none of my songs would have ‘catch you with another man’. It was never a concern of mine, at all, because I had a girlfriend and I would go with other girls; it was a perfectly open relationship so I wasn’t as worried about that as John was. A bit of a macho song.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

In the studio

Run For Your Life was recorded on 12 October 1965, the first session for the Rubber Soul album. After four incomplete attempts they recorded the backing track on the fifth take.

Onto this they overdubbed tambourine, acoustic guitar, electric guitars and backing vocals. The session took four and a half hours from start to finish.

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33 Responses to “Run For Your Life”

  1. SD

    Basic Track:
    1) acoustic guitar (John), electric guitar (George), bass (Paul),
    snare drum and tambourine (Ringo)

    Overdubs:
    2) lead vocal by John, harmony vocals by Paul and George
    3) additional backing vocals by John, Paul and George
    4) electric guitars (George, lead for breaks and first ending; John, rhythm; both play on the duet and coda)

    Reply
    • Matt Montelione

      Hey, I don’t think you’re totally correct here. John didn’t play any electric guitar. They did a straight take with John on the acoustic, and George did all of the overdubs.

      Also, did Ringo just hit the snare? I find that hard to believe that he wasn’t on the high-hat or bass drum at all. The drums are just so low in the mix that it sounds only like the snare is being played.

      Reply
    • Eli Rosen

      The content of this song may be pretty nasty, but it’s pretty well recorded and features some great guitar work and vocals. Interestingly, George has the high harmony and falsetto.

      Reply
  2. Elsewhere Man

    For once, I agree with John’s criticism of his own work. If not for this song, “Rubber Soul” would be a perfect album. The previous song, “Wait,” which (IMO) was the second weakest song on the album, is twice as good as this song…

    Reply
    • Stephen Free

      I agree. Not of my favorites either. I tolerate. Such an odd song at the tail of such a groundbreaking album. I guess what “Run For Your Life” does is kind of lighten up a rather introspective album. It’s there, we’re Beatles fans, and we just learn to live with it! =)

      Reply
  3. StarrTime

    I feel like once in a while John would just come up with a song to see what he could get away with…and his voice is so good on this song that they definately get away with the rather malicious lyrics. Is this a weak song? Absolutely not, but compared with the rest of Rubber Soul? I guess it’s not the worst thing to be the “worst” song on the tightest sounding album of all time.

    Reply
    • Shunts

      Oh but that is the pure beauty of their music. They, especially John, would just throw whatever they could out in the studio. Prime examples; Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/ The End – Wild Honey Pie – Benefit of Mr. Kite – Dig It – there’s too many to name.

      I find myself playing some of their songs to realize they aren’t really even “songs” in the traditional sense.

      They had something really special that no one else has ever been able to replicate, and why would you?

      Reply
  4. Mbook

    Such a creepy song. The lyrics always make me think of old blues songs, but even more overt and aggressive.

    Reply
  5. Gregory

    I heard a rumor at a record fair that this song and Norwegian Wood were part of a group of 5 or 6 songs in the same vein that were either never recorded or just not released. They all got cut except Run for Your Life and Norwegian Wood, which made it onto Rubber Soul. People were saying it was a whole weird series of songs by John that had really possessive lyrics, mostly about his wife. Also, supposedly John didn’t want these songs on Rubber Soul, but George really pushed for them, because he really liked the way they turned out. Does anyone have any more info on this, like song titles, or where I could find copies of these songs or any information at all? I love Norwegian Wood and Run for Your Life and would like to hear more like them. Thanks!!!

    Reply
    • Gregory

      For anyone that’s interested, I found part of an answer. On the German import of the Live at the BBC recordings the songs ‘Set Free’ and ‘The Good Doctor’ are two of the songs that were supposedly to be on the unreleased album that was scrapped. They’re listed as ‘previously unreleased,’ along with ‘I Got to Find my Baby’ and ‘Honey Don’t.’ I’m dying to hear these songs, but the record is a little out of my price range. Does anyone know where I can LEGALLY download this BBC import version as mp3s? I’m not interested in any shady websites, but I don’t see them listed on iTunes. Help! Otherwise, I’ll just keep searching record fairs and Ebay.

      Reply
  6. mr. Sun king coming together

    Horrible song. I tolerated it until I realised that Lennon probably would have done this to Cynthia if she cheated

    Reply
  7. brian

    People often cite “Tomorrow Never Knows” as the song that The Beatles used to fully cut ties with their ‘jelly babies’ songs of Beatlemania and it was just that. But just as that was the last track of ‘Revolver’ and left listeners in awe, “Run For Your Life” served up the same level of shock to fans eight months earlier. If you juxtapose songs like “All My Loving”, “And I Love Her”, or “I Should Have Known Better” against this song – the difference is clearly night and day. 1963 – “Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you” 1965 – “Baby I’m determined and I’d rather see you dead” Equally as jaw-dropping at the time as the final piano chord of “A Day In The Life” many months later.

    Reply
    • Charlie Reinhart

      I agree with Matt. An underrated song. I lot of people dislike it because John, in one of his passive moods, said he hated it. He liked it well enough at one point to deliver one of his finest vocals. Many rock songs have the same sentiment. You never hear anyone complain about “Hey Joe” where the guy actually killed the girl. If you asked John at another time he probably would have said it was his favorite song on Rubber Soul.

      Reply
  8. Ignacio

    The music is great and the lyrics are awesome. I don´t want to be misogyn, but sometimes women hurt us so much, and it was John´s case and my case too, so I don´t understand why you hate the song. Very underrated in my opinion

    Reply
  9. crueboy

    I’m trying to think about if listening to this song in the wake of my 2.5 years relationship ending and her now dating someone 13 years younger than her is cathartic or am I tapping into something that I shouldn’t be messing with? I listen to it over and over in my truck, turning it up each time. When I was a little boy, I LOVED this song for the beat and the vocals. Now, that I’m heartbroken that she is choosing not to marry me and take up with a Brazilian guy, I’m hurting. Let’s just say that. John you were wrong, this is a great song.

    Reply
  10. Galeans

    I’m amazed at the amount of people disliking the song (or even hating it) for its lyrical subject.

    I think it’s a great song, the lyrics perfectly match the mind of a jealous man (and I well know this).

    Reply
  11. Kate

    It reminds me very much of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer in that you’re singing along to it and all of a sudden you listen to the words and you’re like, “Whaaaa..?” I don’t think it’s necessarily a malicious song — but I was thinking maybe it was written by someone like Johnny Cash and the Beatles reworked it into a an entirely different tempo/interpretation. Perhaps Johnny Cash did his own version?

    Reply
  12. william

    Am I the only one who hears a homosexual meaning in this song: “I would rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man….

    Reply
  13. Rita

    The songs don’t all have to be noble and elevated. This song is good because its honest. Although John, or the character whom John is speaking through in this song, would most likely NOT kill his love interest, the words are effective because it blatantly states whats going through his mind, rather than censoring it to be more reasonable.
    John captures the frantic, jealous, passion the speaker feels by giving an honest stream of consciousness.

    Reply
    • Bill

      I believe that John always kind of considered this song somewhat of a throwaway. I think that the reason why he said he “hated” it is because of 2 reasons; 1–He lifted a line from “Baby Let’s Play House” for the lyrics, and 2–The arrangement is very much in a rockabilly-type vein, which they were very well-versed in, being admirers if Carl Perkins. Not that that’s a bad thing, but the music was not a stretch for them circa late-1965, it was old hat by then, not too ground breaking. That being said, I’ve still always liked the song. I’ve always felt that it would’ve sounded more at home on “Beatles For Sale”.

      Reply
  14. Bill

    Kate… No, Johnny Cash never did a version of this song, although it would be right up his alley (I’m a huge Cash fan/collector also). Cash once stated that he always thought “I’m A Loser” sounded like a Johnny Cash song…

    Reply
  15. Andrew Jackson

    Agree. This song is insanely underrated. I’m not sure how someone couldn’t like this song. It’s definitely not the worst song on Rubber Soul, which is Michelle.

    Reply
    • D Charles

      Michelle is the worst song on Rubber Soul? You are entitled to your opinion, of course, but you may be very much alone in it. My guess is that you don’t speak French or play guitar. Or sing. Or love.

      Reply
  16. James Ferrell

    I think I agree with many of the seemingly incompatible opinions previously expressed:

    1. It is a bit creepy
    2. It seems retro compared to the rest of RS. More in tune with “You Can’t Do That” and “I’ll Cry Instead” both lyrically and musically.

    Yet I really like it. I like especially the line “that’s the end-duh” in the choruses.

    IMO RS is one of the Beatles’ very best albums and this song doesn’t spoil it for me. It’s sort of like being hit with a bucket full of cold water after a bunch of more comfortable stuff.

    Reply
  17. Paul Pearce

    I’d like to correct on the info regarding the writer of “Baby, Let’s Playhouse”. The writer of the song was Arthur Gunter not Richard Gunther. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Throwback girl

      James Farrell,are you sure that the line is “that’s the end-uh little girl? my brother and I have had dozens of discussions on this topic.after carefully listening numerous times,we are of the opinion that the line is actually “catch you with another man, that’s the end OF little girl”. we both love this songand place it on our unofficial list of stalker anthems, just above The Police’s ” Every Breath You Take”. It is also lots of fun to sing :-)

      Reply
  18. Wayne

    I’m in complete agreeement with John about “Run For Your Life”. It might be the least adventurous and most formulaic song that Lennon ever wrote. It’s pretty easy to see why George liked the song – it’s rock-a-billy Carl Perkins-style and George really liked that kind of stuff. But lyrically and musically, the song is very ordinary. A commenter above suggested that the song is better suited to the “Beatles For Sale” album. It might even have worked on “Help”. But on Rubber Soul, “Run For Your Life” is sorely out of place. It kinda reminds me of “Tight A$” from the Mind Games album too, which seemed as if Lennon and the session musicians had a lot of fun recording. I don’t get that impression of “Run For Your Life” at all, despite the many similarities between the two songs.

    Just one more little note…I used to write songs sometimes. My songs can’t even begin to compare with the Lennon/McCartney catalog, but I have written three or four that are fairly good. One of them, a song called “No Explanation” would have been a perfect fit on the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band record. But Lennon didn’t write it – I did. I’ve also written some very mediocre songs and a couple of really bad ones too. So I can appreciate John’s lack of pride in “RFYL”. It’s one of the weakest songs he ever wrote.

    Reply

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