“Run for Your Life” is the last track on The Beatles’ Revolver. The lyrics surprise me every time I hear it.
The album was released toward the end of 1965. I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I think of that time period, and The Beatles in particular, I think of a carefree naiveté. Certainly the passage of time can give us a nostalgic feeling that paints an unrealistic picture of a time or an event. However, it would be difficult to argue that the mid-60s were the same as today. You can also take into account that I wasn’t even alive when Revolver came out.
This feeling makes “Run for Your Life” such a surprise because of the story the song tells. The chorus is:
You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That’s the end little girl
Even worse are the opening two lines:
Well I’d rather see you dead, little girl
Than to be with another man
Nowhere do the lyrics explicitly state that the guy will kill her if he finds her with another man, but it’s not a difficult conclusion to make. This kind of song from The Beatles? Like I said, it surprises me every time.
According to the Wikipedia entry on the song, Lennon said in a 1973 interview that it’s his least favourite Beatles song, and the one he most regrets writing. Interestingly, Lennon lifted the opening two lines from Elvis Presley’s song, “Baby, Let’s Play House.”
I wondered what people thought of the song at the time. As I said, I wasn’t around at the time, so I went to the InterWebTubes to see what I could find.
Musicologist Alan W. Pollack has analyzed the entire Beatles catalogue, song by song. He addressed my question directly in his write-up of “Run for Your Life.”
…we now live in a time where we’ve been sensitized and dismayed by a rising tide of ubiquitous domestic violence to the point where the words of this song seem in plain bad taste. Personally, I can vouch that even way back at the time of its initial release, people thought that the Jealous-Guy-Posturing heard here was at least a tad over-stated, especially for supposedly good clean fun.
“A tad over-stated” doesn’t begin to describe the outcry the song would cause if it were released today by a popular band.