John Lennon had a habit of putting down his previous material in his later years. Never one to be overly nostalgic or terribly fond in his recollections, Lennon had no problems calling ‘It’s Only Love’ “abysmal” or labelling ‘Mean Mr. Mustard’ “a piece of garbage.” Even acclaimed songs like ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Let It Be’ weren’t immune to Lennon’s scorn, but he usually saved the harshest critiques for himself. That includes Rubber Soul album closer ‘Run For Your Life’.
“I never liked ‘Run For Your Life’, because it was a song I just knocked off,” Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970. “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.”
The Beatles had an untenable working schedule at the time, and so the members would often bring half-formed or derivative ideas to the band with the hopes that they could be ironed out or changed to fit within the band’s context. The recording of Rubber Soul was especially exhausting, and the band’s change to a folkier direction still included some holdovers from their basic rock and roll past. ‘Run For Your Life’ would be one of them.
“John was always on the run, running for his life,” McCartney would recall in the book Many Years From Now. “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.”
Lennon would later claim to have “always hated” the song, even going so far as to label it as his “least favourite Beatles song”. So how did it end up on Rubber Soul? Two reasons: the band were approaching their deadline and needed to meet a certain run time (that’s how Help! holdover ‘Wait’ ended up on the album as well), and George Harrison expressed an admiration of the track.
When talking to author David Sheff, called ‘Run For Your Life’ something of a “sort of throwaway song of mine that I never thought much of, but it was always a favourite of George’s.” It’s hard to say why Harrison was apparently so fond of the track. His guitar work isn’t anything special, and although he was as much of an Elvis fan as the other Beatles’, he favoured Carl Perkins on the whole. Harrison doesn’t appear to have commented on the song during his lifetime, so we’ll just have to trust Lennon when he says it was a Harrison favourite.