Rain (Beatles song)
US picture sleeve (reverse)
|Single by the Beatles|
|Released||30 May 1966|
|Recorded||14 & 16 April 1966|
|The Beatles UK singles chronology|
|The Beatles US singles chronology|
"Rain" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles that was released on 30 May 1966 as the B-side of their "Paperback Writer" single. Both songs were recorded during the sessions for Revolver, although neither appear on that album. "Rain" was written by John Lennon and credited to the Lennon–McCartney partnership. He described its meaning as "about people moaning about the weather all the time".
The song's recording contains a slowed-down rhythm track, a droning bass line and backwards vocals. Its release marked the first time that reversed sounds appeared in a pop song, although the Beatles used the same technique on the Revolver track "Tomorrow Never Knows", recorded days earlier. Ringo Starr considered "Rain" his best recorded drum performance. Three promotional films were created for the song that are considered among the early precursors of music videos.
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 Sydney, 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.
"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. Following this, the music returns accompanied by what Pollack terms "historically significant" reverse lyrics. Musicologist Walter Everett cites this closing section as an example of how the Beatles pioneered the "fade-out–fade-in coda", a device used again by them on "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Helter Skelter", and by Led Zeppelin on "Thank You".
Allan Kozinn describes McCartney's bass as "an ingenious counterpoint that takes him all over the fretboard ... while Lennon and McCartney harmonize in fourths on a melody with a slightly Middle Eastern tinge, McCartney first points up the song's droning character by hammering on a high G (approached with a quick slide from the F natural just below it), playing it steadily on the beat for twenty successive beats."
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 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, the first use of this technique on a record. (The hit novelty song "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa! ", where side B is side A played backwards, was released later that year of 1966). 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 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 stoned and 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 confirmed Lennon's creative accident, but Martin remembered 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, Lennon 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.
Regardless of who is credited for the technique, "from that point on," Emerick wrote, "almost every overdub we did on Revolver had to be tried backwards as well as forwards."
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.
Release and reception
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, 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.
In the United States, the song peaked at number 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 on 9 July 1966, and remained in that position the following week. The "Paperback Writer" single reached number 1 in the UK (for two weeks starting on 23 June). Rolling Stone magazine ranks "Rain" 463rd in its list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". On a similar list compiled by the New York radio station Q104.3, the song appeared at number 382.
"Rain" is notable for Ringo Starr's drumming, which Starr rates as his best recorded performance. Both Ian MacDonald and Rolling Stone described his drumming on the track as "superb", while Richie Unterberger of AllMusic praised his "creative drum breaks". In 1984, Starr said: "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'."
Music critic Jim DeRogatis describes it as "the Beatles' first great psychedelic rock song". It has been noted for its slowed-down rhythm track and backwards vocals, anticipating the studio experimentation of "Tomorrow Never Knows" and other songs on Revolver, which was released two months later.
The Beatles created three promotional films for "Rain" which are considered among the early precursors of music videos. 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."
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 sound stage (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.
Covers, samples, and media references
Polyrock covered the song on their second album Changing Hearts (1981). 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". Shonen Knife covered the song on their 1991 album 712. Aloe Blacc sings it as Boris the Frog in the eponymous Beat Bugs episode 3b.
XTC's 1980 song "Towers of London" is based musically on "Rain". The night after Lennon was killed, the band played a gig at Liverpool, where they performed both "Towers of London" and "Rain" in tribute to the Beatle. U2 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. The Grateful Dead played it twenty times throughout the early 1990s. Shoegaze band Chapterhouse covered the song for their 1990 Sunburst EP.
- John Lennon – lead and backing vocals, rhythm guitar
- Paul McCartney – backing vocals, bass
- George Harrison – backing vocals, lead guitar
- Ringo Starr – drums, tambourine
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