The Beatles were all pretty big potheads by 1966. Although that year would become more notorious thanks to their dalliances with LSD, cannabis was still a major draw for all four members of the band. John Lennon was using the drug extensively, and its effects would help inspire some of the more experimental elements to the band’s single, ‘Rain’.
“I don’t think he brought the original idea; just when we sat down to write, he kicked it off,” Paul McCartney recalled in the book Many Years From Now. “Songs have traditionally treated rain as a bad thing, and what we got on to was that it’s no bad thing. There’s no greater feeling than the rain dripping down your back. The most interesting thing about it wasn’t the writing, which was tilted 70-30 to John, but the recording of it.”
“The drums became a giant drum kit,” McCartney recalled. “We got a big, ponderous, thunderous backing, and then we worked on top of that as normal so that it didn’t sound like a slowed-down thing; it just had a big ominous noise to it. It was nice; I really enjoyed that one”.
Ringo Starr agreed, calling it some of his best drumming on record. “I feel as though that was someone else playing – I was possessed!” Starr later recalled. “I think I just played amazing. I was into the snare and the hi-hat. I think it was the first time I used this trick of starting a break by hitting the hi-hat first instead of going directly to a drum off the hi-hat.”
As for the song’s notorious backwards vocals, Lennon claimed that he first discovered the technique while returning home from the studio. Lennon wanted to play back the rough tape the band had made, but thanks to a bit of help from weed, Lennon put the tape on backwards and discovered something incredible.
“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,” Lennon remembered. “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… [Laughter] That one was the gift of God, of Ja, actually, the god of marijuana, right? So Ja gave me that one.”
Of course, George Martin would later claim that he was the one who discovered the backwards tape technique. Martin was as straight as they came, appreciating a nice scotch over any king of illicit substances, so maybe Ja wasn’t quite as involved as Lennon might have thought. Either way, ‘Rain’ probably wouldn’t have existed if The Beatles weren’t smoking some funny things in the mid-1960s.