"’Rain’ blows me away"

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ED PARK • Devin’s post about the drumming on “Dear Prudence” spurred me to look up Ringo’s comments about his work on “Rain” (reprinted in William J. Dowlding’s Beatlesongs):

“My favorite piece of me is what I did on ‘Rain.’ I think I just played amazing. I was into the snare and high-hat. I think it was the first time I used this trick of starting a break by hitting the hi-hat first instead of going directly to a drum off the hi-hat . . . . I think it’s the best out of all the records I ever made. ‘Rain’ blows me away. It’s out of left field. I know me and I know my playing, and then there’s ‘Rain.’”

And this was a B-SIDE, remember.
The best musical analysis of “Rain” that I’ve found is in Tim Riley’s Tell Me Why. Here’s what he says about Ringo’s drumming on “Rain”:

“Ringo’s five pert raps on his snare drum (two plus three) coil the understated allure of the track into a commanding opening gesture . . . . During the second verse, Ringo’s drumming swells into inspired flourishes of rhythm, from the cunning reversals (high-hat preceding snare) to the way he plays right through a downbeat (on the repeat of the line ‘when the sun shines’), throwing the meter completely off. He hooks back up with the others just before the refrain.”

It’s this kind of analysis, that explains in accessible terms the technique behind the musical effects, that I appreciate most in Tell Me Why. Now I can explain, albeit with borrowed phrases, why I think “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” are the high-water mark in what a rock rhythm section has achieved. 

That’s not to detract from Lennon and Harrison — their work is obviously crucial to both songs, and Lennon wrote “Rain.” George Martin and Geoff Emerick set up and captured it all. But what Starr and McCartney do on these tracks is simply astonishing.

Here’s an rare film promo of “Rain.”

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  1. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    Having grown up in the U.S.A. with the Capitol Beatle releases, I first heard “Rain” on the “Hey Jude” album, along with “Old Brown Shoe” and “Don’t Let Me Down” and since these songs were heavy, and the cover photo had them in their fabulous furry freak brothers phase, I’d always assumed “Rain” was a later track. It wasn’t until years later when I saw the video that I understood “Rain” was from their “moptop” phase (although their later moptop phase… moptops wearing tea shades)

    Even though I’ve always prided myself on my encyclopedic knowledge of the fab four, I admit there are gaps in my understanding. For example: I didn’t know until recently that Norman Smith was Hurricane Smith. I didn’t know the line “But why on earth should I moan” from hard day’s night (I always mumbled that part when I sang it to myself) and I didn’t know that most of what I imagined was true about John&Yoko’s love story of the century was pure PR.

  2. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    Thanks for the post, Nancy. However, being the music novice that I am, (in playing and reading music) I don’t really understand what that author is saying in his eloquently worded paragraph describing Ringo’s drumming on ‘Rain’. To me, that whole paragraph equals = Ringo played awesome on this track and made the song even better!! And really, that’s all I care to know about the ins and outs of drumming.
    A few years into my Beatles obsession, I went to see “Love” in Vegas (which is AWESOME btw) and casually picked up Past Masters 2 after the show in the gift shop. Henceforth I became obsessed with this track. It is simply marvelous, and the drumming is certainly magical. I am a huge fan of ‘Rain’ and I kinda feel like its almost a lost Beatles masterpiece, if that’s possible. You don’t really hear it much (in another post or thread we should discuss the positives and the evil that is classic rock radio; because they only play a certain few select songs from each group, on every station, in every city) and I’m fairly certain many people are not familiar with this wonderful tune.

    Ahh yes, mr. Anon. The John/Yoko myth. It’s a cute story that I feel is almost completely false, with bits of truth thrown in to make it seem believable.


  3. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    And Paul’s bass playing on Rain is absolutely sublime. What a track.

    — Drew

  4. Avatar Nancy wrote:

    I know what you mean about being a music novice, Craig. I can get enough out of Riley’s explanation of the drumming on this track to better understand what I’d been hearing — especially the way the meter changes on the repeat of “when the sun shines.” Now I know it’s Ringo playing through a downbeat deliberately.

    Riley says a lot more about “Rain,” and I recommend the whole book to anyone interested in intelligent, relatively nontechnical commentary on the Beatles’ music.

    Here’s what he says about McCartney’s playing towards the end of the song: he “simply takes off, filling up the second refrain with triplets instead of the steady one-note lead he played the first time around, adding extra pull to the already ebbing tug. After the fourth and final verse, the motion stops for an out-and-out bass solo with drums. It’s not elaborate or virtuosic (the way his playing on the rest of the song is), but it highlights the role the bass can play in creating a rhythmic and melodic undertow . . . . His bass turns into an independent part of their ensemble, and the Beatle’s command of textures grows geometrically.”

    To which I say, “Yeah, it’s great!”

  5. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    What do y’all make of the (mini) controversy regarding the backwards vocals?

    To summarize: John claims credit for the reverse vocals at the end of the song. He said he was at Kenwood, high, and accidentally fed the tape in backwards, yet he liked the sound this produced and so it was put on the record for release. George Martin however says that he thought it might sound good to reverse the lyrics so he did just that and showed it to John, who approved.

    Personally, I’d love to believe John, wouldn’t all of us? Yet he was a notorious truth bender and I don’t really see a reason for Martin to lie about this. He’s always seemed very honest and straightforward to me. I know John in later years was somewhat dismissive of Martin, and this I believe adds credence to Martin being the originator of the idea.


  6. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    Interesting thoughts, Craig. I also tend to believe Martin on this one. We all know John said what he wanted to say and he’s an amazingly unreliable source. Yes, good question here. I can see it has generated much debate.

  7. Avatar Nancy wrote:

    Craig, I do think it is an interesting question, but I was trying not to be a blog hog.

    I’m inclined to believe Lennon here. His story about being stoned and doing it by accident sounds perfectly believable. Maybe he mentioned something about it in the studio and George Martin said “that sounds interesting.”

    But that’s just my gut reaction — I don’t think we can know for sure.

  8. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    Haha, thanks for indulging me Nancy. I was just playing around, seeing if anyone was out there. You do make a good point – why would John make up the story about being stoned and accidentally feeding the tape in backwards? Then again, why would Martin make up his story that he thought of it first? Hmm, we shall never know.
    On another note, I just finished Fred Seaman’s book. It’s really quite good, very personal, you really get a sense of John in his last two years. Fred comes off sounding like an all around great guy (unsurprisingly considering he wrote the book) and I wonder if all the negative things written/said about him elsewhere are true. The one thing I keep asking myself over and over, is why the hell did John stay with Yoko?! It’s so frustrating, she made him miserable, was an awful mother and wasted his money constantly, and oh-by-the-way totally ruined Double Fantasy by insisting it be a duel album. Ugh


  9. Avatar Nancy wrote:

    Even if Lennon suggested it, using the backwards sounds on “Rain” demonstrates Martin’s willingness to pick up on fresh ideas and follow the Beatles into new territory, so he deserves credit as well. They couldn’t have achieved what they did without him.

    About the Yoko/John relationship: if you haven’t read Michael’s “Life After Death . . .” yet, I recommend it (and not because we’re blogmates). I think he gets at some of the underlying dynamics of that relationship (fictionalized) in a way that’s both smart and sympathetic.

  10. Thanks, Nancy. Craig, I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I think Life After Death for Beginners might help you reconcile a lot of the stuff you bring up. And I think, knowing what you know, it would make you laugh a lot.

    I’m going to try to paste in an Amazon link…This is the print version; there’s also an ebook in whatever format you need.


  11. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    Wow. I’m embarrassed to say I wasn’t aware of your book and it’s subject(s). I shall ebook it for ipad….now. Thanks for the suggestion, guys.

    Thinking about JohnandYoko in strictly musical terms, it’s truly a shame that she got so involved in Double Fantasy. I think it could have been a very good album had she stayed away. John initially wanted a reggae feel throughout the album and I think that would have been interesting. I’m a big fan of ‘Borrowed Time’, though it is overproduced a bit, and that song didn’t even make it on DF. Nobody Told Me is almost certainly better then all songs on DF with possible exception of Wheels. (by the way, anyone else a HUGE fan of the acoustic Wheels? Love that version) Serve Yourself in finished form could have been a great song. Anyways, it’s just a bummer he had to go out with such a downer of an album. It didn’t have to be that way, despite his insecurities, I think he could still have crafted something special for his swan song.


  12. Avatar Anonymous wrote:


    Just bought and downloaded your book on the kindle iPad app.

    I can’t wait to start reading ‘Life After Death For Beginners’ tomorrow. The reviews are tremendous.

    Hey, since I bought your book, (and by the way all you Dullbloggers: Michael priced this book extremely fairly, almost too fair!) how about I get to ask you a Beatles related question and you have to answer it? Ha, just a thought. Thanks for the suggestion Nancy.


  13. Sure, Craig. As any readers of this site know, I’m happy to bloviate under any circumstances.

    Hope you enjoy the book. I think you will!

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