Rain (The Beatles song)
US single sleeve
|Single by The Beatles|
|Released||30 May 1966 (US)
10 June 1966 (UK)
|Recorded||14 and 16 April 1966
EMI Studios, London
|The Beatles UK singles chronology|
"Rain" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles, credited to Lennon–McCartney and first released in June 1966 as the B-side of the "Paperback Writer" single. Both songs were recorded during the sessions for the album Revolver though neither appears on that album.
Written by John Lennon, "Rain" has been called the Beatles' finest B-side, noted for its slowed-down rhythm track and backwards vocals, both of which were a hint of things to come on Revolver, released two months later.
Three promotional films were made for the song "Rain". These videos, along with other Beatles videos at the time, sparked George Harrison to say during the Beatles Anthology, "So I suppose, in a way, we invented MTV."
Music and lyrics
The inspiration for "Rain" is agreed on by Neil Aspinall, the Beatles' roadie, and John Lennon. They both described the band's arrival in Melbourne, Australia, marked by rain and poor weather. Lennon said, "I've never seen rain as hard as that, except in Tahiti", and later explained that "Rain" was "about people moaning about the weather all the time". Another interpretation is that the song's "rain" and "sun" are phenomena experienced during a benign LSD trip.
While technologically elaborate, "Rain" has a simple musical structure. Set in the key of G major (the final mix pitches it about a quarter of a semitone below this, while the backing track was taped in G sharp), it begins with what Alan W. Pollack calls, "a ra-ta-tat half-measure's fanfare of solo snare drums", followed by a guitar intro of the first chord. The verses are nine measures long, and the song is in 4/4 time. Each verse is based on the G, C, and D chords (I, IV, and V). The refrain contains only I and IV chords, and is twelve measures long (the repetition of a six-measure pattern). The first two measures are the G chord. The third and fourth measures are the C chord. The third measure has the C chord in the so-called 6/4 (second) inversion. The fifth and sixth measures return to the G chord. Pollack says the refrain seems slower than the verse, though it is at the same tempo, an illusion achieved by "the change of beat for the first four measures from its erstwhile bounce to something more plodding and regular". After four verses and two refrains, a short solo for guitar and drums is played, with complete silence for one beat. What is heard next is what Pollack calls "historically significant" reverse lyrics. The Beatles pioneered the fade-out fade-in coda that was later used on "Strawberry Fields Forever" and Led Zeppelin's "Thank You".
Recording began on 14 April 1966, in the same session as "Paperback Writer", and concluded on 16 April, with a series of overdubs before mixing on the same day. At that time, The Beatles were enthusiastic about experimenting in the studio to achieve new sounds and effects. These experiments were showcased in their influential seventh album, Revolver. Geoff Emerick, who was the engineer for both sessions, described one technique he used to alter the sonic texture of the track by recording the backing track "faster than normal." When played back, slightly slower than the usual speed, "the music had a radically different tonal quality. The opposite technique was used to alter the tone of Lennon's lead vocal: it was recorded with the tape machine slowed down, making Lennon's voice sound higher when played back.
The last verse of "Rain" includes backwards vocals, one of the first uses of this technique on a record. The backwards vocals are Lennon singing the lyrics of the song: "When the sun shines," "Rain," and "If the rain comes, they run and hide their heads." Both Lennon and producer George Martin have claimed credit for the idea; Lennon said:
|“||After we'd done the session on that particular song—it ended at about four or five in the morning—I went home with a tape to see what else you could do with it. And I was sort of very tired, you know, not knowing what I was doing, and I just happened to put it on my own tape recorder and it came out backwards. And I liked it better. So that's how it happened.||”|
Emerick confirms Lennon's creative accident, but Martin remembers it differently:
|“||I was always playing around with tapes and I thought it might be fun to do something extra with John's voice. So I lifted a bit of his main vocal off the four-track, put it on another spool, turned it around and then slid it back and forth until it fitted. John was out at the time but when he came back he was amazed.||”|
Later, in 1980, John claimed:
|“||I got home from the studio and I was stoned out of my mind on marijuana and, as I usually do, I listened to what I'd recorded that day. Somehow I got it on backwards and I sat there, transfixed, with the earphones on, with a big hash joint. I ran in the next day and said, 'I know what to do with it, I know... Listen to this!' So I made them all play it backwards. The fade is me actually singing backwards with the guitars going backwards. [Singing backwards] Sharethsmnowthsmeaness... [Laughter] That one was the gift of God, of Jah, actually, the god of marijuana, right? So Jah gave me that one.||”|
The "Paperback Writer"/"Rain" single was the first release to use a new device invented by the maintenance department at Abbey Road called "ATOC" for "Automatic Transient Overload Control". The new device allowed the record to be cut at a louder volume, louder than any other single up to that time. On the final mix of the single, Lennon played a 1965 Gretsch Nashville, Paul McCartney a 1964 Rickenbacker 4001S bass, Harrison a 1964 Gibson SG, and Ringo Starr used Ludwig drums. Both McCartney and Starr have been praised for their performances on their instruments in this song. Starr particularly liked his drumming effort.
- John Lennon – lead vocal, rhythm guitar, backing vocals
- Paul McCartney – backing vocal, bass
- George Harrison – backing vocal, lead guitar
- Ringo Starr – drums, tambourine
First released as a B-side to "Paperback Writer" in the United States (Capitol 5651) on 30 May 1966 and in the UK on 10 June 1966 (Parlophone R5452), the single was later released part of a Record Store Day reissue in 2010. It later appeared on the compilations Hey Jude in the US and Rarities in the UK. It also appeared on the Past Masters CD (Parlophone CDP 7 90044 2).
The Beatles created three promotional films for "Rain" which are considered among the early precursors of music videos. The films were directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg who worked with them earlier on the pop 1960 television programme Ready Steady Go! One features the Beatles walking and singing in a garden and a greenhouse (filmed 20 May 1966 at Chiswick House in London). The other two feature the band performing on a soundstage (filmed 19 May 1966, one in colour for Ed Sullivan and the other in black and white for the UK). McCartney was injured in a moped accident on 26 December 1965, six months prior to the filming of "Rain" and closeups in the film reveal a scarred lip and a chipped tooth. McCartney's appearance in the film played a role in the "Paul is dead" rumours from 1969.
The Beatles' Anthology documentary video includes a re-edit of two of these three clips, full of rhythmic fast cuts and several shots that went unused in the original videos. This creates an impression that the videos were more technically complex, fast-paced, and innovative than was the case. For example, the backwards film effects shown here are 1990s creations. Such effects were actually first deployed in the "Strawberry Fields Forever" promotional film of January 1967.
The song's highest chart position in the US was number 23 (11 June 1966). The "Paperback Writer" single reached number one in the UK (for two weeks starting on 23 June 1966). "Rain" is one of the Beatles' most critically acclaimed songs, appearing on best-of lists, including Rolling Stone magazine's The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (#463). AcclaimedMusic.net, ranks "Rain" at #1066 on the Top 3000 Songs, the 31st highest-rated Beatle song on the site. The song was ranked as the 382nd best song of all time by Q104.3
Notable in "Rain" is Ringo Starr's drumming, which Starr rates as his best recorded performance. Critics agreed: both Ian MacDonald and Rolling Stone said his drumming was "superb" and Richie Unterberger of Allmusic praised his "creative drum breaks". In 1984, Starr assessed his performance stating, "I think it's the best out of all the records I've ever made. 'Rain' blows me away...I know me and I know my playing...and then there's 'Rain'".
Covers, samples, and media references
"Rain" cover versions include Petula Clark, Ibex, Bongwater, Humble Pie, The Jam, Shonen Knife, The Punkles, Galaxie 500, Hard Meat, Polyrock, Gregg Allman and Wang Chung. The Grateful Dead performed the song throughout the 1990s, often as an encore. U2 has played the song in whole or in part throughout many of their tours, usually during outdoor concerts when it has started to rain. Pearl Jam improvised the song into their song Jeremy during their 1992 Pinkpop Festival show and played it in full at the Isle of Wight Festival in 2012. Kula Shaker covered the song live at Reading Festival in 1996 as did Fairport Convention, featuring Dan Ar Braz, at the Cropredy Festival in 1997. Todd Rundgren has also covered the song, as has the late Dan Fogelberg, who reprised it as part of his own cover of "Rhythm of the Rain".
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