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

by | Permalink | Comments (10) |

Support Open Culture

We’re hoping to rely on our loyal readers rather than erratic ads. To support Open Culture’s educational mission, please consider making a donation. We accept PayPal, Venmo (@openculture), Patreon and Crypto! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (10)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • 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…

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.