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Music

The Beatles song John Lennon regretted writing

There are plenty of songs both within and outside of The Beatles’ famed canon of work that John Lennon has, on occasion, derided as terrible work or “throwaway” or even downright “abysmal”. It means that there is a huge subsection of his work which could be put under the heading of ‘regrettable’. However, looking back there seems to be only one song that one of the greatest songwriters the world has ever seen regrets writing.

But, before we dive into that track, it’s best we focus on some of the other songs that have felt the wrath of Lennon’s silver tongue. During his famous interview with David Sheff for Playboy in 1980, Lennon was quick to dismiss a huge chunk of The Beatles’ work, describing ‘Let It Be’ as having “nothing to do with The Beatles”, calling ‘When I’m Sixty Four’ granny music, then going on to call songs like ‘Birthday’ “abysmal” and later referencing ‘I Am The Walrus’, perhaps Lennon’s most sincere and defining anthem of psychedelia as not “a great piece”. However, there’s one song which sticks out, not because of the poor levels of expression but because of the brutal lyrics.

‘Run for Your Life’ isn’t a song you’re likely to hear in the top 50 of The Beatles’ greatest songs. While some devoted Beatles fans will claim the track to be imbued with the influence of Americana and rock and roll that the group would implant into most of their early work, the song contains a set of lyrics that, as Lennon grew older and wiser, he soon began to detest.

Primarily written by Lennon himself, without the aid of Paul McCartney, his chief co-creator, ‘Run for Your Life’ has been described as the Beatle’s least favourite song by the Fab Four and has always garnered mixed reviews from critics due to the nature of the lyrics. “‘Run for Your Life’, I always hated, you know,” Lennon told Rolling Stone back in 1970, shortly after the group had disbanded and left millions clutching their pillows in sadness. “I never liked ‘Run For Your Life’ because it was a song I just knocked off”.

This seems to be the crux of most of Lennon’s disliked Beatles songs. If those tracks were simply rattled off without much thought, the credibility of those songs was tarnished forever for Lennon. “I’m not interested in writing about people like that, I like to write about me, because I know me,” Lennon once said of the Beatles’ track ‘Lovely Rita’, and it rings true in almost everything he did with the group. A collection of the singer’s favourite songs from the band — ‘Help!’, ‘Strawberry Fields’ and more — are all rooted in his personal experience.

However, the reason ‘Run For Your Life’ sits at the bottom of this particularly brilliant pile of songs is the lyrics. Continuing to detail his issues with the song, Lennon added: “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 inspiration came from a song written for Elvis Presley, ‘Baby Let’s play House’ which was, in turn, inspired by a 1951 country and western hit for Eddie Arnold ‘I Want To Play House With You’. While those tracks are simple in their messaging and forthright in their desire, Lennon subverted these values to create a menacing prospect. It puts Lennon in the role of abuser, which is uncomfortable for some but still has its place in reality too, with Lennon widely regarded as a physically violent man for huge parts of his life.

The track, therefore, is marred in controversy, despite still finding its way onto the band’s Rubber Soul album. As ever, perhaps the most pertinent take on the track comes not from Lennon himself, but his friend and co-creator Paul McCartney. “John was always on the run, running for his life,” he told Barry Miles in 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.”