Thursday, April 12, 2007

"Rain" / The Beatles

It's pouring, simply pouring rain here, with a battering chill wind. If it were a monsoon, at least it'd be warm. Nasty stuff -- so I'm staying inside and listening to the Beatles. "Rain," of course -- an obvious choice, maybe, but maybe not. This song often falls between the cracks, since it was never on a regular album (released in June 1966 as the flip side of "Paperback Writer," it was included on the singles compilation Hey Jude, and is on CD on Past Masters Vol. II). People always seem to forget about "Rain," but once it's on my mental mix tape, it's so luscious, I don't want to turn it off.

This early trip into psychedelia features lots of discordant harmonies and a counterpointing guitar line that adorns the song almost like embroidery -- or like a spatter of raindrops against a windowpane. Everything sounds a little draggy, disoriented, out of sorts (sorta like how I feel today). Notice how ponderous those splashy drumbeats are, and how far back in the mix John's vocal is, as if muted by a curtain of rainfall. Dig those woozy shifting harmonies on the extended "rain" and "shine" in the bridges, sung over grating metallic guitar strums. It feels like we're underwater, or in some altered state of mind -- pretty radical stuff for 1966, but hey, it was only a B-side, they could afford to experiment, testing the waters before blowing everybody's mind with Revolver later in the year.

Though we're not yet into the surrealistic imagery of "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds," the lyrics are allusive and cryptic: "When the rain comes / They run and hide their heads / They might as well be dead / When the rain comes . . . " It's standard Beatles veiled contempt for establishment squares: "When the sun shines / They slip into the shade / And sip their lemonade" (I can't help but think here of "I Am the Walrus -- "Sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun / If the sun don't come they get a tan from standing in the English rain.")

And what about us? Lennon pulls us into his privileged inner circle: "I can show you / That when it starts to rain / That everything looks the same / I can show you, I can show you." That's definite pusher talk -- turn me on, dead man. It's John Lennon in his Mind Expander for the Hip mode; never mind that millions of people will buy this record, not everybody will be able to read the code. "Can you hear me / That when it rains or shines / It's just a state of mind / Can you hear me?" (Did The Who steal this for "Tommy, can you hear me?" Probably. Pete Townsend had a great ear for riffs to crib.) And then, at the end, the first snatch of backwards-played tape on any Beatle record; once they started messing with that particular technique, they were hooked on it, of course. It's a muddled fragment of incomprehensible babble -- heavy indeed.

I got none of this, of course, when the record first came out. To tell the truth, I don't think I ever really listened to this song until I bought Hey Jude, by which time Sgt. Pepper's and the White Album had trained us all in the ways of psychedelia. But listening to it today, I'm feeling afresh what an inspired bit of music this is. Recently I heard a DJ on Sirius say this was her favorite Beatle track of all time. I wouldn't go that far (the idea of picking one favorite Beatle track short-circuits my brain), but it's certainly a great track.

But then, aren't they all?


IƱaki said...

Nice review, I agree about everything you said about this song, but I hadn't "read the code". Now I will. :)

Stephen Connolly said...

i was a 9 year-old kid living in Scotland when this single came out. We moved to Canada in September '66. The Beatles used to appear on Top Of The Pops regularly to play their new hits. This is the first time I remember them submitting a video instead. They may have just quit touring and I suppose were getting too stoned to be reliable on TV.

Holly A Hughes said...

To give the Beatles credit, they were starting to use so many studio effects, it would be hard to reproduce these songs in a live setting -- and strange to just stand up with their guitars and lip-synch to a track that was obviously so much more complex. But yes, I suspect their being stoned was also a factor!

What you saw was in fact the first Beatles video (they also made one for the A-side, "Paperback Writer"). Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who'd later direct Let It Be, directed the two promos, which were at least partly inspired by A Hard Day's Night. Their old artist pal from Hamburg, Klaus Voorman, came over from Germany to help. At any rate that's what the Beatles bio I'm reading now says!

YouTube has two clips posted -- one is just a performance, the other is a video. Which one did you see, Stephen? Here are the links:

Mark L. said...

If I recall correctly, Ringo once said that his work could be divided into Rain and everything else. He considered it that superior.