Warming Up

Warming Up

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Listening: Rain

It happens every time. Every time I hear this song I think to myself “This song is just unbelievably awesome.” Then I hear something new in the song. Something I’d never heard before even though I’ve heard this song hundreds of times before. “Rain” by The Beatles. It’s just so freaking good.

I played "Rain" this morning as I was packing the boys their school lunches. I can’t be in a bad mood “when the Rain comes.” I’m a Beatles freak and this tune is one of my all-time favorites. So why is it so good? There are just so many reasons. It’s a great song. Great song-writing. Great hooks, great transitions, great structure. And the recorded sound is just amazing. So up front and in your face.
According to engineer Geoff Emerick, the reason for this is that Rain (and it’s A-Side “Paperback Writer”) 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.” The guitars have a clangy, sitar-meets-harpischord-ish sound that was all new for the band at the time. Ringo’s drums sound like they are being played right in front of you. And Paul is also super high in the mix on his new Rickenbacker. And what Paul and Ringo play on this track is just some of their best playing ever on record. Paul’s lines are simply ridiculous. Listen to just the bass on this track. He’s rhythm. He’s melody and counter-melody. He’s accompaniment. He’s forward motion. He controls this track. Listen to what he plays coming out of the choruses. What?!?! And Ringo contributes his greatest work to this track, I think. Ringo plays some of the weirdest fills in Rock and Roll and this track features his weirdest. It’s like he doesn’t even know what he’s doing. Like he’s discovering the instrument for the very first time. And I mean that in the best possible way. (I tell my drum-playing 11 year old son, Julian, all the time to listen to Ringo's fills. Simple, but perfect in their own strange way)

Another thing that makes “Rain” so important is that, to me, it helps to mark the monumental transition from the pop, bubble gum Beatles into the mature, even experimental Beatles. This track was recorded in April 1966 and released a few months before Revolver came out. Sure it came out after “Rubber Soul” which was the truly the first Beatles album to have some studio experimentation. But “Rain” was truly experimental: slowed down and sped up tape tracks, the revolutionary use of the ATOC, the new up-front Rickenbacker bass, and perhaps the most important innovation, the backwards Lennon vocal. Lennon claims credit for the idea:

“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 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.”

Producer George Martin also claims credit:

“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”

I don’t know who’s idea it really was, but who cares? The fact is they made history with this little piece of genius. Regardless of your feelings and opinions of the Beatles, this was serious innovation in the recording studio.

“Rain” marks a pivotal moment in recorded music. Plus it’s just a superbad track. Oh, and they also made a music video for it. Another first of sorts. And this video should also prove that Ringo was the coolest Beatle. Good Gravy this song is good!

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