Welcome to the Beatles Rarity of the Week. Sessions for The Beatles’ Revolver album began on April 6, 1966 and continued through June 21, 1966 just two days before the band left for their tour of Germany and Japan. During these sessions they began to experiment with many new recording techniques such as fuzz boxes, tape loops, heavy echo and even putting voices through the oscillating effect of Leslie speakers. John Lennon’s composition “Rain,” which would not end up on Revolver but as the b-side to the “Paperback Writer” single, was to add a few more recording innovations.
To begin with, during the recording of the song’s backing track on April 14th, the tape speed was increased. John wanted “Rain” to have an exaggerated slow and heavy sound. So by having the tape run faster during recording and then played back at normal speed, the desired effect of a plodding and lethargic rhythm was achieved. The backing track included drums and guitars on one channel of the tape and Paul McCartney’s bass in the other. An opposite technique with tape speed was used on John’s lead vocal. The tape was slowed during recording and then the playback speed increased for use on the master, making his voice sound a little faster there.
For this week’s BROW, I thought it would be interesting to hear the backing track of “Rain” before John added his lead vocal and played back at the original speed that it was recorded. Note that this will sound somewhat faster than the speed we are accustomed to hearing on the finalized mix. Some of the backing vocals are in place here as well but more would be added on April 16th, along with Ringo Starr’s tambourine and another interesting change mentioned in the “Extra info” section below the photo.
John took a rough mix of “Rain” home with him in the evening after the session and being somewhat stoned at the time he prepared to play it, accidentally threaded the tape backwards. He became fascinated with the sound of his reversed vocals. A couple of days later with they returned to the studio to finish up the song with more vocals and tambourine, John spoke with producer George Martin about how intrigued he was with the song played backwards. By copying some of John’s lead vocal track onto a second reel, turning it around and overdubbing it, George effectively reversed the first line of the song and the words “sun shines” and “rain” from the second verse and placed it on the end of the song. As a surprise George presented John with his final modification later that day and he was thrilled with the final outcome. The backwards vocals can be heard in the fade out of “Rain” on the currently available Past Masters CD set. This is the earliest known usage of backwards recording or “backmasking” in the music industry.
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 I got it on backwards and I sat there, transfixed, with the earphones on, with a big hash joint. I ran in the next day and said, ‘I know what to do with it, I know… Listen to this!’ So I made them all play it backwards. The fade is me actually singing backwards with the guitars going backwards. (Singing backwards) Sharethsmnowthsmeaness… (laughing). That one was the gift of God…of “Jah,” actually – the god of marijuana, right? So “Jah” gave me that one.
John Lennon, 1980
Here are some Amazon links to read more on, or purchase, some music related to this post:
1) Past Masters 2009 remastered 2-CD set of all of The Beatles non-album tracks, including finalized stereo mix of “Rain” originally released in mono as the b-side of the “Paperback Writer” single.