John Lennon is responsible for some of the greatest songs of the 20th century, and while he put his heart and soul into his work, the singer also suggested that often the material simply arrived at him, that they “flowed through” him and onto the page. Of the many songs that The Beatles put down on record, there is only one that Ringo Starr believes to be his best work with the band, and it just so happens to be a song that John Lennon perfected by accident; ‘Rain’.
The song would be released as the B-side to ‘Paperback Writer’ and recorded during the sessions for the band’s seminal 1966 record Revolver. Often seen as the moment that The Beatles did away with their clean-cut image, it is also the time when John Lennon began to experiment with drugs and music in equal measure. With that, it remains difficult to ignore the liberation in his creative construction.
Long gone were the days when Lennon would pick up his guitar, write a catchy song about a pretty girl and call it a day, clocking out for the evening before heading down to the pub. As Beatlemania began to subside – at least the screaming fangirl part of it – Lennon turned inward and began using his songs to reflect his own personal issues. He had now become an artist rather than a pop star.
However, he wasn’t just using his lyrics to express himself; Lennon also pursued the art of experimental studio recording, playing around with different effects that sometimes achieved accident perfection: “After we’d done the session on that particular song – it ended at about four or five in the morning – I went home with a tape to see what else you could do with it,” Lennon once explained. “And I was sort of very tired, you know, not knowing what I was doing, and I just happened to put it on my own tape recorder and it came out backwards. And I liked it better. So that’s how it happened.”
Unwittingly, Lennon had put the first piece of backward tape on record, and it all happened because he was stoned. Speaking to Playboy in 1980, Lennon confessed: “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 it got on backwards and I sat there, transfixed, with the earphones on, with a big hash joint.”
Adding: “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. (sings) ‘Sharethsmnowthsmeanss!’ That one was the gift of God… of Ja actually—the God of marijuana, right? So Ja gave me that one.”
While it may have been an accidental classic born out of getting ludicrously high and playing the tape backwards, but that didn’t stop it from showcasing Ringo Starr as the stylish drummer he was. It’s something he remembered in 1984 as his favourite moment with The Beatles: “My favourite piece of me is what I did on ‘Rain.’ I think I just played amazing. I was into the snare and hi-hat,” he said.
“I think it was the first time I used the trick of starting a break by hitting the hi-hat first instead of going directly to a drum off the hi-hat. I think it’s the best out of all the records I’ve ever made. ‘Rain’ blows me away. It’s out in left field. I know me and I know my playing… and then there’s ‘Rain.'” It’s a Beatles song that has always had a special place in Ringo Starr’s heart, no matter whether Lennon knew wit or not.
Listen to John Lennon’s accidental classic and the song which Ringo does his best work on below.