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notes on ...

Notes on "Run For Your Life"

 





Notes on ... Series #89 (RFYL)
  by Alan W. Pollack
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       Key: D Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse / Refrain | Verse / Refrain |
                  | Break (instrumental) | Verse / Refrain |
                  | Verse / Refrain | Outro (fade-out)
        CD: "Rubber Soul", Track 14 (Parlophone CDP7 46440-2)
  Recorded: 12th October 1965, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 3rd December 1965 (LP "Rubber Soul")
US-release: 6th December 1965 (LP "Rubber Soul")
 
1

General Points of Interest

 

Style and Form

  Next note Everybody, including John himself, has apologized or made excuses for this song somewhere along the line. You'd think that this one must be one of the more obvious last-minute fillers hastily thrown together before the "Rubber Soul" drop-deadline. When you go to check Lewisohn's recording diary, though, you're surprised to find out that it was one of the first tracks recorded for the new album!
  Next note Furthermore, 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.
  Next note It's a shame since musically at least, even if it's not top-drawer Beatles' music circa late 1965, it's not really such a bad song, per se. The style is that hard-to-categorize mix of blues (dig that lead guitar riff), pop-rock (the old cliché I -» vi chord progression), and even a touch of the folksy (if you'll note the use of the acoustic rhythm guitar) so characteristic of the middle-period Boys.
  Next note The form is distinguished by a primary section that combines elements of both verse and refrain (compare this with "Wait" ), a twelve-bar blues frame for the instrumental "break", and an overall repeat pattern that doesn't quite match any of our more typical one or two bridge models.
 

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The I -» vi cliché (and here, I'm talking about just I -» vi, and not the case where it continues to IV -» V) was a veritable staple of the early Beatles' vocabulary, especially John's, whether in "From Me To You", "All I've Got To Do", "It Won't Be Long", and "Not A Second Time". With the exception of this song and the somewhat older "It's Only Love" the device would seem to more or less disappear during the middle period.
  Next note In this specific instance, the I -» vi gesture adds more than local color to the chord progressions; in fact, the song has a rather skewed harmonic center of gravity, to the extent that in spite of a clear home key of D Major, all the verse sections veer straight off toward a cadence in the relative minor key of b. Even the tune, taken without any of the chords to provide you with any external hints, suggests the key of b minor much more so than D Major.
  Next note The lead guitar sets a bluesy tone right off the bat that is picked up only partially by the vocalists. The opening guitar riff makes prominent use of both flat third and seventh degrees, whereas the tune makes passing use of the flat third, and otherwise eschews the flat seventh in favor the of the "naturally occurring" Major one.
 

Arrangement

  Next note The final mix has an almost Wilburys-like richness that is ironic considering the relatively spare forces at play; three guitars (one each: acoustic, electric, and bass), lightly exercised drum kit, and tambourine.
  Next note The vocal parts are fussily both arranged and recorded. John sings the verse sections single tracked and close to trembling, exposed as he is at the high end of his comfort zone, all the way up to F# and G; compare this with "Baby's In Black". In the refrains, John sounds double tracked with each of his vocals split to a different channel, and he his joined by George and Paul for a spot of harmonizing. Note how they sort of trail off at the end of each section (right after the hard D in "end-ahh") leaving John exposed (well almost) yet again.
  Next note Paired repetitions of the opening guitar riff recur throughout the song (with the exception of immediately before and after the break) as a kind of connective tissue between sections. Most recently, we had seen this same device in a song of a rather different color, "In My Life".
2

Section-by-Section Walkthrough

 

Intro

  Next note The song provides, still, yet another layered opening. The vamping acoustic guitar leads off, joined next by the lead guitar, bass guitar, and tambourine, followed by the lead vocal and drum kit at the start of the first verse, with the backing vocals added for the refrain.
  Next note The intro itself is six measures long and based on just one chord. The acoustic guitar starts off just before the first downbeat, though the way the part is accented, it's not entirely clear where the beat is until the other's join in; compare this with the very opening of "Drive My Car".
 

Verse / Refrain

  Next note This compound section is sixteen measures in length. The verse is in a 4 + 4 AA pattern, and the refrain is in a 2 + 2 + 4 BBB' pattern:
 
       --------------- 2X ----------------
      |D       |-       |b       |-       |
   D:  I                 vi

      |b       |E       |b       |E       |
       vi       V-of-V   vi       V-of-V

      |b       |e   F#  |b       |-       |
       vi      ii
           b:  iv   V    i

   [Figure 89.1]
  Next note The inner form of the refrain is nicely supported by the harmony. The vi chord moves twice in a row to V-of-V (E-Major), only to fool you the third time around by going to ii (e-minor, in the 6/3 inversion, no less!) instead, and then it veers off sharply to the key of b minor. It's a ready/set/surprise kind of setup.
  Next note The repetition of V-of-V (which raises your expectation of the V, itself, arriving) in a context where V is actually deferred for quite a while, as well as the contrasting alternation between V-of-V and ii (with its concomitant G#/G-natural cross-relation) is a favorite Beatles' device going way back; the similarity between our example of it here with "Eight Days A Week" is particularly striking.
  Next note The modulation to b minor is, of course, quite short-lived, with a rising chromatic bassline lick taking the music straight back home to D.
 

Break

  Next note This instrumental break is in true-blue twelve-bar form. It's a trick to which the Boys would resort from time to time, seemingly on those occasions when they couldn't think of anything else. The only deviation here from the absolutely classic mold is the repeat of the V chord in measures 9 and 10 instead of having V move to IV. This, by the way, is the only place that V appears in the entire song!
  Next note The guitar solo grows so smoothly out of the recurring rifflet you've heard throughout that you barely notice that the song has gone off on a bit of a formalistic tangent at this point.
  Next note The rising chromatic bass lick is conspicuously not heard as we come out of the break because we're already in the home key of D at this point and there's no need to transition back from b minor in this instance.
 

Outro

  Next note The outro begins as though they were cycling back still one more time for another verse, but after the rising chromatic riff and the vamping lead hook we proceed to get a repeat, seemingly ad-infinitum, of the guitar hook alternating with John's scat singing of fragments of what sound like variations on the chromatic riff.
3

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note One of my private pet compositional hunches about the Beatles is that they preferred the complete ending over the fade-out more strongly than the average band of their period. Unfortunately I don't have at my fingertips the actuarially global statistics needed to prove such a point; it remains a gut feeling for me. Indeed, if the "Rubber Soul" album itself were any indication one way or the other, its fifty-fifty showing in this department would seem equivocal.
  Next note There's a much more easily calculable statistic related to the above that's intriguing to consider — the complete-versus-fade-out status of songs which close Beatles' albums. If you look at the canonical British lineup of the first six albums, ("Please Please Me" through "Rubber Soul"), you'll discover the score as four to two in favor of complete endings for the final tracks. Most interesting of all is that all four of the albums with the complete endings close with a cover song! The two fade-outs are "I'll Be Back" on "A Hard Day's Night" and our song, here.
  Next note Plotting this idea much beyond "Rubber Soul" gets into some tricky areas. For example, how to parse "Magical Mystery Tour"; the EP ended with "Blue Jay Way" (complete), but the expanded album ends with "All You Need is Love" (fade-out). Similarly, does the "Yellow Submarine" album end with "All You Need is Love", or the second side's worth of George Martin instrumental fantasies? Even better, with respect to "Revolver", does "Tomorrow Never Knows" feature a complete ending or a fade-out; even better than better, what about "A Day In The Life"? :-) Let's stay with my simplifying assumption about the first six albums for now.
  Next note Granted, this might be a complete coincidence devoid of any forethought. Even if it were intentional, I'm not sure if one could easily prove which factor (the choice of covers, of the choice of a complete ending) was the cause versus the effect in this circumstance. Even so, it's a detail hard to not ponder once you've noticed it.
  Regards,
  Alan (112893#89)
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Copyright © 1993 by Alan W. Pollack. All Rights Reserved. This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains intact and in place.