THE BEATLES, PAST MASTERS, 2009
I know I'm not in any way unique in claiming "Rain" as one of my favorite Beatles tunes, but sometimes hipster geek music critics are absolutely right.
I first heard "Rain" when I was twelve or thirteen on the 1970 compilation album "Hey Jude" released after the breakup to keep people interested. I liked it, but I really fell in love with the tune in 2004 while learning to play it as an encore in the Rich Price and the Foundation set. Since then, I really can't get enough of it.
This track (Ringo's favorite of his drum performances) is just spectacular in all its stoned, raggedy glory. Try this first-- put the song on and listen to it, and then immediately start it over. Go ahead. I'll wait. Can you believe how much they slowed down from the beginning to the end? That will never happen again-- with Pro Tools and the click track, bands keep the beat perfect. I haven't recorded in analogue since 2003, and it really is so much faster to record to a click digitally-- you can edit together performances, choose little moments here and there, and record an album in probably 1/5 of the time. If I were a new artist, it's how I would record. You do lose, however, the organic feel of a band ebbing and flowing with the beat. I rarely prefer it when a band decides to use a click and backing tracks live. Bands that do give up the spontaneity of the moment, and "Rain" is all about that. This track inhales (quite a bit before they start playing, it appears) and exhales. Ringo's fills and McCartney's bass here are one organism, and there's no attempt to hold it together cleanly. It's supposed to feel like 3am, and I find the overall affect hypnotic. I've now listened to this song seven or eight times in a row while writing, and I'm eager to hit replay every time.
It's not just that powerful rhythm section; the guitar here is wonderfully chiming and psychedelic, and the picked guitar figure is a great complement to McCartney's thick, notey bass. The lyrics are classic Lennon sixtiesbabble, but who cares? It's perfect. And when the backing vocals kick in with "When the sun shines down," as Liz Lemon would say, you want to go to there.
"Rain" was the b-side to "Paperback Writer" in 1966, and doesn't appear on a proper album. (That might be the greatest two bass performances of McCartney's career back to back right there-- what a week in the studio for him!). You can get it on Past Masters, but that's only the stereo version. I prefer this mono version which is only available in the crazily expensive mono box set, sadly. Hopefully they'll rectify the situation soon.
I'd like to close by saying that I compared the new remasters, stereo and mono, to the Purple Chick and Dr. Ebbetts versions of the Beatles catalog that I had painstakingly tracked down, and EMI finally got it right. (Purple Chick and Dr. Ebbetts were bootleg labels that did "needle-drop" captures of original, pristine vinyl Beatles albums and remastered them for CD. They were so much better than the original CDs that it was embarrassing. The official Abbey Road was, until this year, one of the the worst sounding major label CD I owned, unacceptable when you're talking about the most important catalog in recorded music.) I always think the big labels are going to get it all wrong, but in this case, they really did a magnificant job. If you want to hear The Beatles as nature intended, then you need go no further anymore. Finally, these songs sound as great as they are.
Today's question: what's the worst song about weather ever recorded? (My first nomination off the top of my head: Storm Front, Billy Joel).