It was the 1960s, all right. On April 14, 1966, the American Armed Forces publication “Stars And Stripes” reported “VC Hit Saigon AB, 7 killed,155 hurt” and the UK singles charts reported that the number two song in Britain was called “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.”
There was a lot of doom, a reasonable amount of gloom but there was also The Beatles.
On that same date the chemically enhanced Beatles began recording their soporific, transcendent masterpiece “Rain.” This was one of John Lennon’s early mega-triumphs, in a time when the group could seemingly do nothing but triumph.
It is amazing to think that in April, 1964, just two years prior, the group was still a lovable eight-armed critter, frolicking hairfully about on the set of “A Hard Day’s Night.”
At that time, growth was measured in minutes for the band. A year later, in April, 1965, the group had made another breakthrough, with John’s “Help.” It was obvious these were not your older sister’s mop-tops any more.
1965’s “Help” was a purposeful attempt by John to “grow” his writing. But by 1966, John’s (and Paul’s, and George’s) writing was soaring of its own accord. They could apparently write about anything, and it was profound and laden with meaning – at least to the kids.
Although it may seem today that “Rain” is filled with psychedelic aphorisms – a warning shot across the bow of the mid-60’s generation gap, if you will – John no longer needed to set his sights so high. He no longer needed to set his sights on anything, in fact. He could write about crappy weather and create art.
If the truth be told, the wonderful, heady song “Rain” is actually about – well, it’s actually about errr… rain.
The inspiration for “Rain” was no more than a bad hair day in Melbourne, Australia, when the Beatles arrived for a concert amidst a tropical storm in June, 1964. John looked at the sky, listened to his entourage griping and bellyaching about all the bad weather on the tour, and then in 1966 revisited the tableau in his mind, to write a song about “people moaning about the weather all the time.”
Did you know that obsessive Beatle-followers Oasis were originally called “The Rain?”
This is yet another example of the otherworldly genius of The Beatles. They were so far ahead of their time that they were able to rip off the entire catalog of Oasis, have the same haircuts and wear the same suits on one B-Side decades before the Brothers Gallagher had thought to pick up a guitar.
“Rain” was in every way the flip side to Paul’s “Paperback Writer,” in the finest tradition of the Beatles’ “double A side” releases, not unlike “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” a year later.
The recording itself was a breakthrough. We hear one of the earliest examples of proto-metal guitar while John’s slightly distant sounding voice just makes this trip all too real sounding. It was one of the first times Vari-Speed was used as an effect; the track was recorded fast and then slowed down to create a submerged tension awash with twisted and laborious guitar lines and open bass notes that rumbled your rib cage and rattled the brain case;
It was, along with Paperback Writer, the first time Paul played his new Rickenbacker bass on a release, using new miking techniques for the low end, and so the bass simply BOOMS out of both songs. This is mainly due to Geoff Emerick, their 19 year old engineer, reverse wiring a loudspeaker so it could be used as a microphone.
Ringo’s drumming is a tour de force that conjures up a drunk stumbling energetically down a street in a rainstorm, off-balanced and about to teeter – but always righting himself right before the collapse into chaos. Ringo knew he had done something amazing, later claiming that “My favorite piece of me is what I did on ‘Rain’”.
Then there is the iconic backwards vocal miasma at the end – the glorious, Indian sounding backwards vocal snake that John unleashed over the outro of the song. John later claimed he came home from the April 14 session and, exhausted and having had a vegetarian cigarette or three, accidentally put the day’s work on his reel-to-reel and listened for a full minute before he realized that it was the tape that was playing backwards, not his head. He claimed he wanted to play the whole song backwards and George Martin convinced him only to tack on some backwards vocals at the end. George Martin claims that he came up with the whole idea.
Does it matter? There it is.
In May, 1966, the Beatles recorded a promo clip for “Rain” in the blazingly beautiful sunshine at Chiswick House, in London.
As George modestly (and accurately) put it thirty years later, “In a way, you could say . . . we invented MTV.”
It hardly mattered that a song about rain was being presented in the sun; the Beatles were never constrained with such niceties as consistency – in “Penny Lane,” for example, the fireman rushes in from the “pouring rain” at the same time that the pretty nurse is selling poppies “beneath the blue suburban skies.” Consistency is for the rest of us. Simply because The Beatles wrote it, it made sense. Or not. But it always did.
It either made sense to us, or it changed our sensibilities, until it did. But either way — the weather’s fine.
The ukulele version came to us via 80s pop icons Wang Chung.
Singer and guitarist Jack Hues claims that the first time he played ukulele was on this recording. This is either a monstrous lie or he really is very good at doing music. The ukulele is a very easy instrument to get a tune out of but it is fiendishly difficult to play well. Check out how his ukulele lines mirror falling intertwined rain drops. It really is an amazing performance. The transposition from an electric slurry of sonic nuggets to a simple folk song about the rain reveals the song’s pure pop song nature.
You may note at the end of the ukulele version that the backwards vocal is exactly the same as Lennon’s original. Jack took the original recording turned it backwards, learned the part and re-sang it perfectly.
Sdaeh rieht edih dna nur yeht semoc niar eht fI. Niar, Enihsnus.
You can’t say fairer than that.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Wang Chung came out of the post-punk, New Wave scene in the UK going on to achieve global success selling millions of records. Throughout their 30 year career they have released 5 albums and 2 Greatest Hits compilations. They have had 6 US Top 40 hits including a number 1.
In the process of all of this (and somewhat unintentionally), Wang Chung became part of the contemporary culture of North America.
Their huge smash ‘Everybody Have Fun Tonight’, with its now famous line ‘Everybody Wang Chung Tonight’ saw the invention of a new US verb; ‘to Wang Chung’. Icons such as Homer Simpson and Frasier Crane name-checked the band on TV and ‘Wang Chung’ even achieved punch-line status in the ‘The Spy Who Shagged Me’.
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