Rain - Reviews

Reviewed by Ian MacDonald, in Revolution in the Head:

Generally agreed to be The Beatles' finest B-side, Lennon's RAIN expresses the vibrant lucidity of a benign LSD experience. However, the weather imagery would be banal were it solely metaphorical. What alters this is the track's sheer sonic presence - an attempt to convey the lustrous weight of the world as it can appear to those under the drug's influence. Lennon's 'rain' and 'sun' are physical phenomena experienced in a condition of heightened consciousness, the record portraying a state of mind in which one is peacefully at home in an integrated universe (as distinct from those who see only disparate elements to be manipulated or feared). As such, RAIN is the first pop song to draw an 'us and them' line between the children of Leary's psychedelic revolution and the supposedly unknowing materialism of the parental culture. Here, the post-war 'generation gap' acquires a philosophical significance which would soon seize the imagination of Western youth.

A spiritual revolt against the constraints of cultural form and social formality, the hippie movement had been proclaimed at the Trips Festival in San Francisco three months before The Beatles went into Abbey Road to begin Revolver. The hippies, as psychedelic descendants of the free-speech/anti-racist/anti-nuclear movements of the early Sixties, rejected straight society in favour of a communal utopia in which sex was free, the intellect ('the head') distrusted, and peaceful self-determination valued above all. LSD-inspired, the movement's underlying ideal was a return to Eden: a regaining of the unprejudiced vision of the child. While a similar vision is displayed in RAIN, what redeems it (and Lennon's later child's-eye-view songs) is its acerbic quality. There is nothing innocent here, the observing eye is critical, and the song's chanting phrases verge on a sneer ('Can you hear me?').

The Beatles created the sense of weight and depth they achieved in RAIN by recording the basic track at a faster tempo and then slowing it down (probably by a tone) so as to alter the frequencies of their instruments. The result of sixteen hours of careful bouncing down and overdubbing, this clangorously saturated texture resonates around McCartney's bass, mixed large and played high in the style he had begun to explore in the final tracks for Rubber Soul [1]. Above this, varispeeded and multitracked vocals clash symbolically as the guitars ring out C major against an unyielding G, a variation of the similar effect in IF I NEEDED SOMEONE. (The drone-like pull of G throughout the track shows the growing influence of the Indian classical style in The Beatles' music of 1966, confirmed by exotic melismas in the bass part and chorus vocals.)[2]

Instrumentally, the twin focuses of RAIN are Starr's superb soloistic drumming (which he reckons his best recorded performance), and McCartney's high-register bass, sometimes so inventive that it threatens to overwhelm the track. With its density of sound and intuitive playing, RAIN is a cross between the clipped discipline of pop and the heavily-amplified, improvisatory sound of 'rock' - a genre which, in step with the acid counterculture, emerged in 1967-8. More significant for The Beatles' own style was an effect used in the fade-out, where the opening lines of the song are spooled backwards, a device discovered while playing with the loops made for TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS.[3] Suiting the sense of RAIN by echoing the lyric's mystic indifference to the phenomenal world, this backwards effect was for a while, like the Leslie rotary speaker, applied to almost everything the group recorded.


  1. Compare PAPERBACK WRITER. While difficult to do, some of these high bass-lines (not the one for RAIN) may have been played with a capo. Photos of McCartney during the Rubber Soul sessions show him with bis Rickenbacker capoed at the third fret. Asked about this (Bass Player, July/August 1995), he replied that, in that period, he was continually experimenting: "I'd try anything!" One possibility is that, having written a song using a capo, he only knew it in that key and, rather than adapt, chose to capo bis bass. Alternatively, he might have done this to obtain a higher pitch or a different sound. (He would occasionally tune the Rickenbacker down a whole tone for similar reasons.)
  2. Bootlegs of RAIN without the vocal track reveal a resemblance between its opening chords (I-IV- V) and those of Dylan's 'Visions of Johanna'. (The way Lennon - or perhaps Harrison? - picks this sequence mirrors the second phrase of Dylan's melody, e.g., ' ... to play tricks when you're trying to be so quiet'. Thereafter the sequences diverge and the melodic echoes cease.) While songwriters often 'borrow' in this way to get started, it would seem that this particular case is coincidental. Written by mid-December 1965 when Dylan is thought to have played an electric version at a gig in California, 'Visions Of Johanna' was taped in Nashville on 14th February 1966, two months before RAIN was recorded in London. Yet, unless someone sent Lennon a tape of the track, he couldn't have heard it before Dylan's tour arrived in Europe in late April. (It's conceivable that Dylan himself sent Lennon a tape - he played McCartney acetates of Blonde On Blonde in London on 2nd May - but the possibility seems remote.)
  3. Lennon claimed to have chanced on this effect at home by threading the tape of a rough mix back- to-front. George Martin insists that he created the effect in the studio, playing it to Lennon when he arrived. (The latter was apparently so excited by this that he wanted the whole track to be released in reverse.)

Posted: 2 jul 2017