Fire and Rain (song)

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For the TV movie about the crash of Delta Air Lines Flight 191, see Fire and Rain (film)
For the disco duo, see Fire and Rain (band).
"Fire and Rain"
Single by James Taylor
from the album Sweet Baby James
B-side "Anywhere Like Heaven" (US)
"Sunny Skies" (UK)
Released February 1970
Format 7-inch vinyl single
Recorded December, 1969
Sunset Sound
Genre Soft rock, folk rock
Length 3:20
Label Warner Bros.
Writer(s) James Taylor
Producer(s) Peter Asher
James Taylor singles chronology
"Sweet Baby James"
"Fire and Rain"
"Carolina in My Mind"

"Fire and Rain" is a folk rock song written and performed by James Taylor. Released on Warner Bros. Records as a single from his second album, Sweet Baby James, in February 1970, the song follows Taylor's reaction to the suicide of Suzanne Schnerr, a childhood friend, and his experiences with drug addiction and fame. After its release, "Fire and Rain" peaked at number two on RPM's Canada Top Singles chart and at number three on the Billboard Hot 100.[1]

Background and composition[edit]

On the VH1 series Story Tellers, Taylor said the song was about several incidents during his early recording career. The second line "Suzanne the plans they made put an end to you" refers to Suzanne Schnerr, a childhood friend of his who committed suicide while he was in London, England, recording his first album.[2] In that same account, Taylor said he had been in a deep depression after the failure of his new band The Flying Machine to coalesce (the lyric "Sweet dreams and Flying Machines in pieces on the ground"; the reference is to the name of the band rather than a fatal plane crash, as was long rumored).

In 2005, during an interview on NPR, Taylor explained to host Scott Simon that the song was written in three parts:[3]

  • The first part was about Taylor's friend Suzanne, who died while Taylor was in London working on his first album after being signed to Apple Records. Friends at home, concerned that it might distract Taylor from his big break, kept the tragic news from him and he found out six months later.
  • The second part details Taylor's struggle to overcome drug addiction and depression.
  • The third part deals with coming to grips with fame and fortune, looking back at the road that got him there. It includes a reference to James Taylor and The Flying Machine, a band he briefly worked with before his big break with Paul McCartney, Peter Asher, and Apple Records.

Carole King played piano on the song.[4] Drummer Russ Kunkel used brushes rather than sticks on his drum kit,[5] and Bobby West played double bass[6] in place of a bass guitar to "underscore the melancholy on the song".[7]

King has stated that her song "You've Got a Friend," that Taylor covered, was a response to the line in the refrain that "I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend."[8][9]


Broadcast Music, Inc. ranked "Fire and Rain" at number 82 on their "Top 100 Songs of the Century" list,[10] while voters for the National Endowment for the Arts and Recording Industry Association of America's Songs of the Century list, which comprises 365 songs of "historical significance" recorded from 1900–2000,[11] placed "Fire and Rain" at number 85.[12] In April 2011, the song was named at number 227 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of 500 greatest songs of all time.[13]

Updated versions[edit]

In 2015, Taylor appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and told host Stephen Colbert that he had updated the song:

"The thing is, I wrote that song in 1970, I just hadn't seen that much back then, mostly fire and rain. So that's why I keep saying it over and over again since then." Taylor explained that, over the ensuing decades, he's updated the song to include all the things he's encountered, such as skinny jeans, Fifty Shades of Grey, Snakes on a Plane and especially calzones.[14]

Taylor and Colbert then performed "Fire and Rain and Calzones", packed with post-1970 pop-cultural references.

Chart performance[edit]

Year-end charts[edit]

James Taylor
Chart (1970) Rank
Australia [27] 87
Canada [28] 26
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 [29] 67
U.S. Cash Box [30] 85


  1. ^ a b "James Taylor – Chart history" Billboard Hot 100 for James Taylor. Retrieved June 5, 2015.
  2. ^ White, Timothy, and Mitchell Glazer. Long Ago and Far Away: James Taylor — His Life and Music. New York: Omnibus Press, 5th edition 2011, p. 141.
  3. ^ White, Timothy (2001). Long Ago and Far Away: James Taylor — His Life and Music. London: Omnibus. p. 5. ISBN 0-7119-8803-X. 
  4. ^ "Songs that shaped Rock and Roll: "Fire and Rain"". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Retrieved June 4, 2015. 
  5. ^ Mattingly, Rick (2003). "Brush Playing". In John Shepherd, David Horn, Dave Laing, Paul Oliver, Peter Wicke. Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World. 2. A&C Black. p. 120. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ Browne, David (2012). Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Bittersweet Story Of 1970. Da Capo Press. p. 116. 
  8. ^ "James Taylor: My Life in 15 Songs". Rolling Stone Magazine. August 13, 2015. pp. 23–25. 
  9. ^ White, T. (August 4, 2015). "James Taylor Looks Back on His Classics". Easy 93.1 FM. Retrieved 2015-08-10. 
  10. ^ "BMI Announces Top 100 Songs of the Century". Broadcast Music, Inc. December 13, 1999. 
  11. ^ "RIAA, NEA Announce 'Songs of the Century'". Recording Industry Association of America. Archived from the original on June 4, 2011. Retrieved June 6, 2015. 
  12. ^ "Top 365 Songs". Quad-City Times. Lee Enterprises. AP. March 8, 2001. Archived from the original on June 6, 2015. 
  13. ^ "500 Greatest Songs of All Time: 227: James Taylor, 'Fire and Rain'". Rolling Stone. Wenner Media, LLC. Retrieved June 6, 2015. 
  14. ^ Kreps, Daniel (November 19, 2015). "Watch James Taylor Sing 'Fire and Rain and Calzones' With Stephen Colbert". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2015-11-21. 
  15. ^ "R.B. Greaves – Chart history" Billboard Adult Contemporary for R.B. Greaves. Retrieved June 6, 2015.
  16. ^ "R.B. Greaves – Chart history" Billboard Hot 100 for R.B. Greaves. Retrieved June 6, 2015.
  17. ^ Downey, Albert, and Hoffmann, p. 145
  18. ^ "Billboard Hot 100". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. 82 (37): 67. September 12, 1970. ISSN 0006-2510. 
  19. ^ Downey, Albert, and Hoffmann, p. 289
  20. ^ David Kent's "Australian Chart Book 1970-1992"
  21. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 3718." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. November 21, 1970.
  22. ^ "James Taylor: Artist Chart History" Official Charts Company. Retrieved June 5, 2015.
  23. ^ "James Taylor – Chart history" Billboard Adult Contemporary for James Taylor. Retrieved June 5, 2015.
  24. ^ Downey, Albert, and Hoffmann, p. 343
  25. ^ "Top RPM Country Tracks: Issue 4080." RPM. Library and Archives Canada.
  26. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2005). Joel Whitburn's Top Country Songs: 1944–2005. Record Research. p. 267. 
  27. ^ David Kent's "Australian Chart Book 1970-1992"
  28. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". 
  29. ^
  30. ^


  • Downey, Pat; Albert, George; Hoffmann, Frank W (1994). Cash Box pop singles charts, 1950–1993. Libraries Unlimited. ISBN 978-1-56308-316-7. 

External links[edit]