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Beatles Rarity Of The Week – “Rain” (backing track at recorded speed)

Posted by on February 11, 2013 at 6:00 am.

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.

The Beatles - Rain (backing track)

John Lennon with Epiphone Casino guitar at Revolver sessions, 1966

John Lennon with Epiphone Casino guitar at Revolver sessions, 1966


Extra info:

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.

2) More Amazon links for any of your favorite Beatles-related music: The Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

50 people think this is FAB!

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  • Anna says:

    Ringo’s drumming on this is so good! I believe he has cited it as his best performance.

  • Elliott Marx says:

    I find this version to be informative. Ringo’s drumming is indeed superb. Without the heaviness of the studio trickery, the track seems light and joyful. I am reminded of Words of Love by the jangly guitar part, in fact this sounds like music Buddy Holly could have been making himself if he had made it to 1965.

    How did this take manage to make it onto a bootleg? If it were recorded with the machine running fast, then the lower pitched version would be the only key in existence. Unless of course a tape engineer returned to the master tape and played it again at that faster speed to run of this copy. But why? Lennon would need a practice tape in the key he intended. This is not the key that Lennon chose. He was probably working everything out and kept his options open.

    In any case I love this song and it probably one of my 4 – 5 go to songs when I jam with strangers. Harmonically predictable with lots of room for soloing. Always fun.

    • Happy Nat says:

      Thanks EM. I know what you mean by the light and jangly “Buddy Holly” (or “Byrds”) sound to the guitar. I hear the same sound in a BROW I posted back in 2010 of an alternate take of “And Your Bird Can Sing.” You may remember that one too Elliott as I see you have a comment or two on that one (it’s located here).

      There is a nice collection of Revolver session tapes that circulates in collector’s circles that this is a part of. I mentioned it in the comments of the previously linked post as well.

  • Lennonista says:

    Absolutely fab. I love this song fast, slow, any which way. It’s interesting, though, that John was often looking to slow things down. Anyway, thanks be to Jah for this and many other Beatles gems! ;-)

  • YouKnowMyNameLookUpThe# says:

    I think the term “backmasking” was coined not to indicate reversed recordings, but when people were deliberately hiding messages in their songs through means or recording backwards. I know many who take life too seriously have decided to attack rock and roll as a whole and accuse them all of hiding satanic things in recordings. Apparently they think your brain can reverse those sounds and then you will obey these messages as they are meant to be heard – or something. lol In some cases John was hiding little things backwards. But guitar licks and cymbals being reversed don’t count in my book as hidden meaning. Even a dub to the whole accusation of hiding things was done on Free as Bird at the end of the song.

    All I know is I have a friend who can sing the theme from Mr. Ed backwards and when you play it backwards, it comes out perfectly forwards. So much for hidden meaning! lol I have threatened years ago to get him on Letterman doing stupid human tricks but I just haven’t done it.

    • Happy Nat says:

      Very amusing…. Mr. Ed backwards, huh? Yeah, that’s great!

      • YouKnowMyNameLookUpThe# says:

        Yeah, well he’s rather amazing. Blind at birth he knows like 7 languages, self-taught pianist/singer, graduated from St. Joe’s University then again from Rutgers with a Law degree! So, singing backwards is the least of his talents. lol He told me he decided against the guitar because he didn’t want the calluses which would prevent him from reading braille.

        In school he had a recorder which used standard cassettes but it used 4 separate tracks but it would change directions with each track. So a normal tape would playback with one track going forward one going backwards. He could also change speeds. Anyway, he sang it for me one day backwards at Rutgers and I told him he had to record it and play it back backwards to see how it sounded. Nothing short of perfect! It was hilarious!! I threatened him with Stupid Human Tricks on Letterman but by the time I got around to it, Letterman was switching networks and the stupid human tricks have hardly ever appeared since. Maybe I should talk to Fallon? lol

  • I might have missed it up there in the text, but another innovation on the track Rain was using a second bass cabinet as a transducer/microphone to record the bass…the cabinet being placed face to face with the actual bass cabinet..so the air from the latter moved the speaker of the former to get that huge bass sound…think they also used that trick on Paperback Writer.

  • Clare says:

    Nat, you mention the fade is audible in Past Masters, but is it not also audible in any mono copy of the song? I assume you just mean it’s readily available in regular stores by getting the Past Masters reissue.

    Thanks for a cool bit of history here.

  • rpclennon says:

    Just BRILLIANT!!!

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