Is “Rain” the Perfect Beatles Song?: A New Video Explores the Radical Innovations of the 1966 B‑Side

“That one was the gift of God… of Ja actually—the god of mar­i­jua­na, right? So Ja gave me that one.”

The Bea­t­les 1966 Revolver, a mini-mas­ter­piece, con­tains all the ele­ments that would inform the band’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary late-60s sound on Sgt. Pepper’s, Abbey Road, The White Album, and Let it Be. The album’s first track, “Tax­man,” announced “a sweep­ing shift in the essen­tial nature of the Bea­t­les’ sound,” writes music his­to­ri­an Ken­neth Wom­ack. Its ulti­mate track, “Tomor­row Nev­er Knows,” was “the great­est leap into the future” up to that point in their career, argues pop cul­ture writer Robert Rodriguez, who lit­er­al­ly wrote the book, or a book, on the sea change that was Revolver.

Crit­i­cal to dis­cus­sion of this peri­od, how­ev­er, is a sin­gle that appeared at the same time, and proved just as impor­tant to the Bea­t­les’, and thus pop music’s, evo­lu­tion. Though not espe­cial­ly inno­v­a­tive musi­cal­ly or lyri­cal­ly, “Paper­back Writer” was the first Bea­t­les’ record­ing to bring Paul McCartney’s bass for­ward in the mix, show­cas­ing the utter­ly dis­tinc­tive play­ing that would lat­er form the back­bone of songs like “Come Togeth­er.” The record’s B‑side, “Rain,” more­over, is the first Bea­t­les song to use back­wards tape, a sta­ple of psy­che­del­ic music there­after.

In fact,  “Rain” was “the first back­wards tape on any record any­where. Before Hen­drix, before The Who, before any f*cker,” John Lennon bragged. (He con­ced­ed that the nov­el­ty hit “They’re Com­ing to Take Me Away, Ha Haaa!” got there a lit­tle ear­li­er, “but it’s not the same thing.”). Lennon claimed the song as his, although McCart­ney lat­er claimed co-author­ship. But Lennon gave cred­it for the back­wards voic­es and gui­tars to “Ja,” telling Play­boy in 1980:

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 it got on back­wards and I sat there, trans­fixed, with the ear­phones on, with a big hash joint.

There’s much more to the sto­ry of “Rain,” as you’ll hear in the You Can’t Unhear This video above. The track came out of “what would arguably be the most rev­o­lu­tion­ary week of their record­ing career… work­ing close­ly with their beloved pro­duc­er George Mar­tin and an eager young EMI engi­neer named Geoff Emer­ick.” In “Rain,” specif­i­cal­ly, they took full advan­tage of a dis­cov­ery made on “Tomor­row Nev­er Knows” — the impact of slow­ing down record­ings.

The band “played the rhythm track real­ly fast,” dur­ing record­ing, “so that when the tape was played back at nor­mal speed every­thing would be so much slow­er, chang­ing the tex­ture,” remem­bered Emer­ick. This led to what McCart­ney would call a “big omi­nous noise”:

The drums became a giant drum kit. If you slow down a foot­step it becomes a giant’s foot­step, it adds a few tones to the weight of the per­son. So we got a big, pon­der­ous, thun­der­ous back­ing and then we worked on top of that as nor­mal. 

Ringo called it the great­est per­for­mance of his musi­cal career: “I think I just played amaz­ing… 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.”

Con­trar­i­ans love takes about icon­ic artists like the Bea­t­les that over­state the impor­tance of deep cuts and minor record­ings. But in the case of “Rain” — the B‑side of a 1966 sin­gle that didn’t appear on the album that changed rock and roll and the coun­ter­cul­ture that same year– believe the hype. The Bea­t­les them­selves sin­gle out the song as sem­i­nal­ly impor­tant to their musi­cal devel­op­ment for good rea­son. Or as Sir Paul recalls, “It was nice, I real­ly enjoyed that one.”

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

How “Straw­ber­ry Fields For­ev­er” Con­tains “the Cra­zi­est Edit” in Bea­t­les His­to­ry

Hear the Beau­ti­ful Iso­lat­ed Vocal Har­monies from the Bea­t­les’ “Some­thing”

Lennon or McCart­ney? Sci­en­tists Use Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence to Fig­ure Out Who Wrote Icon­ic Bea­t­les Songs

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (10)
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  • Jerry says:

    If any­thing, the a‑side, Paper­back Writer, is more if a per­fect Bea­t­les song.

  • Tom says:

    So says the fool.Rain was the begin­ning of the most amaz­ing music of it’s time. Rev­o­lu­tion­ary tech­nol­o­gy!

  • Tom says:

    “Rain” is one of my favorite bea­t­les tunes qhich fore­sha­doed straw­ber­ry fields, I’m only sleep­ing.

  • Lewis Brown says:

    Thanks for this look at my 2nd favorite Bea­t­les song (It’s All Too Much being num­ber 1) I rec­og­nized its genius when I first heard it. I fell in love with the lyrics simul­ta­ne­ous­ly with John’s vocals, instru­men­ta­tion and the hip­pie-dip­pie vibe. I would rather hear this song than most of their “hits.”
    I would love to hear your break­down of It’s All Too Much.

  • Andrew says:

    Very thought­ful, insight­ful exam­i­na­tion of the Bea­t­les. I was born in Man­hat­tan in 1952. I lived through this. I have every album… In mono as well as stereo, CD… remas­tered good­ies. So, yes, I was a fan and played their music in my younger days. They were far more musi­cal­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed than peo­ple real­ize. That cou­pled with stu­dio inno­va­tion defined them and an entire gen­er­a­tion.

    Take for exam­ple the open­ing cord of Help…it has been the sub­ject of debate. The key changes such as in And I Love Her as well as there over­all song struc­ture.

    If I Fell, an inter­est­ing song, a first balled, in which John sings the intro but Paul sings the lead because it is not in John’s range. John sings the har­mo­ny which though seem­ing­ly sim­ple, is actu­al­ly more com­plex than one might think. Try and tease it out and sing it for your­self.. back in the day when I did such things, it took me awhile. In the stu­dio, it was dou­ble miked. They did all sorts of stuff with overdubbing…like doing it to accen­tu­ate an instru­ment or voice.

    Cred­it must also be giv­en to George Mar­tin and Geoff Emer­ick who made impor­tant con­tri­bu­tions.

    Let us not for­get that Phil Spec­tor pro­duced Let It Be as well as some of the Bea­t­les mate­r­i­al when they went solo.

    Inci­den­ly, many peo­ple don’t know that Spec­tor was not only a pro­duc­er, he was a musi­cal genius who played a num­ber of instru­ments.

    I was lucky to have lived two blocks from John and Yoko’s Bank Street apart­ment when I was in col­lege. We would run into him from time to time. He loved NY because nobody both­ered him. I often won­dered had they not had the Bank street apart­ment robbed, they would not have moved to the Dako­ta and he might still be with us.

  • Jimmy Horrocks says:

    Revolver was not a mini masterpiece…it was the Bea­t­les mas­ter­piece. It set the stage for what was to come…IMO!

  • Justina Obregon-Lopez says:

    Was born in 1954. I have always loved the Bea­t­les and Rain has always been my favorite song, then and now.



  • Andy says:

    “Revolver” showed me that The Bea­t­les were more than a pop group. Only then did I go out and look for their work. “Rain”, I agree may be the quin­tes­sen­tial Bea­t­les song, I was fas­ci­nat­ed by it. Still am.

  • Giles Sanger says:

    I recall hear­ing Rain for the first time. I had just bought that odd com­pi­la­tion album Hey Jude and heard it there. I was fas­ci­nat­ed by the sound of the track. I love singing along to it…

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