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Credit: Alamy

Music

Listen to the isolated vocals for The Beatles song 'Rain'

@TylerGolsen

The Beatles were just beginning to explore the possibilities of the studio when they entered Abbey Road in April of 1966. Rubber Soul had caught the band in transition as their more traditional pop-rock sound began to be fleshed out with experimental instrumentation, like George Harrison’s sitar on ‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’ or George Martin’s sped up piano solo on ‘In My Life’. Still, techniques like tape manipulation and varispeed had yet to fully integrate themselves into The Beatles’ working habits.

With Paul McCartney’s vibrant rocker ‘Paperback Writer’ already slotted as the band’s next single, John Lennon brought in his own contender for their next hit: ‘Rain’. In its originally recorded form, ‘Rain’ featured some of Ringo Starr’s best drumming put to record, but otherwise was a fairly standard rock song for a band that was pushing the boundaries of sound and style. ‘Paperback Writer’ was immediately infectious, but ‘Rain’ still needed something to give it an edge.

Just a few days before, the band recorded what would be the final track for their next album, Revolver. A highly experimental number that combined driving rock and roll, experimental tape loops, noise, and extreme amounts of echo, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ signalled that the band were moving in a significantly more psychedelic direction as opposed to the mellow folk of Revolver. Lennon’s experiences with LSD informed much of the recording, and the results found the band using elements of the studio to enhance the song. 

It was with these ideas in mind that the band took ‘Rain’ and began tweaking it. The first order of business was to slow down the frantic backing track, giving the song a slightly more languid and otherworldly feeling to it. To contrast the instrumentation, Lennon sped up his lead vocal to make it appear higher. The precision that it required to get all of these experimental techniques to line up with the same tonality is a testament to the work of Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick, who were innovating along with the band as they worked.

After Lennon’s vocal was finished, either Martin or Lennon took a portion of the tape and played it backwards. Lennon claims he took the tapes home and accidentally played them backwards while stoned, while Martin claims that his own experimental tendencies with tape loops lead to the discovery. Whoever is the originator of the idea, a portion of the vocals played backwards filled out the song’s coda, adding another surreal layer that made ‘Rain’ more than just another pop song.

Check out the iconic isolated vocals for ‘Rain’ down below.