The second installment of the new GuitarSong series profiles The Beatles and their wonderful song Rain from 1966. Rain was a milestone recording for the band and the development of music as it was the first instance of anything recorded backwards, (John Lennon’s vocals) beating the B-side of the novelty tune single They’re Coming To Take Me Away Haa Haa by two months. While Rain certainly isn’t as long and involved as the first GuitarSong, Dogs, it is cool song to explore. Unfortunately, the only online version currently is this too fast 45 rpm video. Hopefully, you have a legal copy somewhere to listen to.
Known through history as The Beatles finest b-side, (the a-side was Paperback Writer) Rain was written and recorded in early April of 1966. Recording for the Revolver album had just commenced at the same time with Tomorrow Never Knows (the first song to be recorded for the album) getting basic tracking on April 6 and 7. Rain was recorded a week later on the 14th and 16th. While it has always been taken as a given that Rain was mostly the brainchild of John Lennon (with Paperback Writer being more a McCartney composition), Paul doesn’t agree with that assessment:
I don’t think he brought the original idea, just when we sat down to write, he kicked it off. Songs have traditionally treated rain as a bad thing and what we got on to was that it’s no bad thing. There’s no greater feeling than the rain dripping down your back. The most interesting thing about it wasn’t the writing, which was tilted 70-30 to John, but the recording of it.
Paul McCartney — Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
That last little cryptic mention of the “recording” of it is very interesting and is going to come into play further down the post with regards to who played what on this very controversial track.
While conventional wisdom would say that George Harrison was the lead or main guitarist on this song, that cannot be taken as a given. Lennon, McCartney and Harrison all played the lead or main guitar on songs throughout the Beatles’ career. It was Lennon who came up with and played the riff to the 1964 hit I Feel Fine, it was McCartney who played the screaming lead on Harrison’s song Taxman that kicks off the Revolver album and, of course, George played lead guitar on many songs. He and Paul doubled the very intricate lines of Lennon’s And Your Bird Can Sing that is also on the Revolver album. According to most sources, Harrison and Lennon play the guitars on this song, but there is an alternative possibility that I think is very interesting given the McCartney quote about how the song was recorded.
The song was originally recorded faster than what is heard on the disc and then it was slowed down. This changed the texture of the song and gave it a very druggy (rainy) kind of sound. There are many (including Ringo himself) who believe this is one of Starr’s best performances as a drummer and McCartney’s bass is also very prominent in the mix because he is playing a Rickenbacker instead of the usual Hofner and it was boosted further “by using a loudspeaker as a microphone” (Lewisohn, p.88). While it is usually listed that Lennon played his 1965 Gretsch Nashville and Harrison played a Gibson SG, Galeazzo Frudua, the man behind The Beatles Vocal Harmony YouTube channel, references the book Recording the Beatles and says that not only was Paul McCartney the lead guitar player, he was also the creative drive behind the whole sound of the song! This claim is also made in the comment thread for Rain at the Beatles Bible site.
There are two guitars — detuned; Lennon’s guitar strings are dropped a whole step and McCartney’s tuned to a G drone of GDGGBD. Lennon played A-D-E shapes and since the guitar was detuned it sounds a G pitch, which is the key of the song (although it is a bit off pitch because of the sped up/slowed down basic tracks). While John strums a classic rhythm pulse for the song, Paul plays more of a droning and picking part that complements not only Lennon’s guitar, but also what Paul plays on bass.
Did George Harrison play on this tune? I don’t have the book referenced by Mr. Frudua and he doesn’t say whether George played or not. I think that maybe there is a 3rd guitar in the mix at times, but in the video referenced below it looks possible to cover everything with the two guitars. But if that’s true I’m not sure why George is listed in many places as playing an SG? It could be that he did play with the rest of the band on the original takes (when they played it faster) and then after the tapes were slowed down, McCartney overdubbed the drone G guitar. It would make more sense that Paul would’ve played bass on basic tracks with Ringo rather than overdubbing, especially given the bass/drum break near the end of the song. So possibly there is a Harrison guitar leftover from the basic takes on there somewhere. The very famous Mark Lewisohn book, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions makes no mention of him not being at the session, so I imagine he played something. The session entry for April 16th 1966 is that eleven hours was spent completing Rain, including “doing a tape-to-tape reduction to add more overdubs” That might mean that the real idea to transform the song came after the basics had already been laid down. How many actual guitar parts are on the track though is still a bit of a mystery.
Here is the only link you will need if you want to learn how to play Rain correctly on guitar. The Beatles Vocal Harmony YouTube channel is a one stop source for everything Beatles — singing or playing many of their classic songs. Here is the link for singing Rain‘s vocal parts.
For general info, it is always fun to check out The Beatles Bible. Not only do they cover all of the band’s songs, but there are articles on Beatles’ history that never fail to interest and entertain.
Another of my favorite forum sites to peruse is Steve Hoffman Music Forums. Here is the search list devoted to Rain/Revolver.
I’ve referenced this period in Beatles’ history before, most recently with the post on Eastern music. Rain certainly has elements of that kind of exotic sound in the guitars, the drums, the slurry feel of the vocals in the “choruses” and Lennon’s reversed vocals at the end sound almost like an Indian Shehnai. Rain is one of the few Beatles tunes with a guitar in an open tuning (here is a discussion on Beatles’ tunings/capoes) and while it certainly isn’t a difficult song to play, it is an interesting study in using the guitar and some very fevered imagination to create a pop masterpiece. When one considers that Paperback Writer, with it’s awesome guitar riff (also played by Paul), driving rhythm and trippy vocals was the A-side of this single, and was clearly a McCartney creation, we have a really definitive 1966 guitar record from Sir Paul! Paperback Writer was recorded on April 13 and 14 of 1966, so in the space of 3 days the band had recorded both sides of one of the best double singles ever. Pretty impressive and they don’t make ’em like this anymore!