Fire and Rain (song)

Last updated
"Fire and Rain"
Fire and Rain James Taylor.jpg
Single by James Taylor
from the album Sweet Baby James
B-side
ReleasedFebruary 1970
Format 7-inch vinyl single
RecordedDecember 1969
Sunset Sound
Genre Soft rock, folk rock
Length3:20
Label Warner Bros.
Songwriter(s) James Taylor
Producer(s) Peter Asher
James Taylor singles chronology
"Sweet Baby James"
(1970)
"Fire and Rain"
(1970)
"Carolina in My Mind"
(1970)

"Fire and Rain" is a folk rock song written and performed by James Taylor. Released on Warner Bros. Records as a single from his second album, Sweet Baby James , in February 1970, the song follows Taylor's reaction to the suicide of Suzanne Schnerr, a childhood friend, and his experiences with drug addiction and fame. After its release, "Fire and Rain" peaked at number two on RPM 's Canada Top Singles chart and at number three on the Billboard Hot 100. [1]

Contents

Background and composition

On the VH1 series Storytellers , Taylor said the song was about several incidents during his early recording career. The second line "Suzanne the plans they made put an end to you" refers to Suzanne Schnerr, a childhood friend of his who died by suicide while he was in London, England, recording his first album. [2] In that same account, Taylor said he had been in a deep depression after the failure of his new band The Flying Machine to coalesce (the lyric "Sweet dreams and Flying Machines in pieces on the ground"; the reference is to the name of the band rather than a fatal plane crash, as was long rumored). Taylor completed writing the song while in rehab. [3]

In 2005, during an interview on NPR, Taylor explained to host Scott Simon that the song was written in three parts: [4]

Carole King played piano on the song. [5] Drummer Russ Kunkel used brushes rather than sticks on his drum kit, [6] and Bobby West played double bass [7] in place of a bass guitar to "underscore the melancholy on the song". [8]

King has stated that her song "You've Got a Friend," which Taylor recorded, was a response to the line in the refrain that "I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend." [9] [10]

Taylor references the song in another of his compositions, "That's Why I'm Here," title track from his 1985 album, in which he writes, "Fortune and fame's such a curious game. Perfect strangers can call you by name. Pay good money to hear 'Fire and Rain' again and again and again."

Reception

Broadcast Music, Inc. ranked "Fire and Rain" at number 82 on its "Top 100 Songs of the Century" list, [11] while voters for the National Endowment for the Arts and Recording Industry Association of America's Songs of the Century list, which comprises 365 songs of "historical significance" recorded from 1900 to 2000, [12] placed "Fire and Rain" at number 85. [13] In April 2011, the song was named at number 227 on Rolling Stone 's list of 500 greatest songs of all time. [14]

Cover versions

Early charting versions of the song were recorded by R. B. Greaves and Johnny Rivers.

Marcia Hines covered "Fire and Rain" on her 1975 debut LP, Marcia Shines . Her version reached #17 in Australia. [15]

Willie Nelson recorded a rendition in 1976 which became a Country hit in the U.S. and Canada.

Parodies

Taylor performs the song on The Simpsons in the episode "Deep Space Homer." While singing the song for a group of astronauts (including Homer Simpson and Buzz Aldrin), he changes the lyric "Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground" to "Sweet dreams and flying machines, flying safely through the air" when he realizes the space shuttle may crash. [16]

In 2015, Taylor appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert , where he sang a version including numerous references to post-1970 popular culture. [17]

Chart performance

Year-end charts

James Taylor
Chart (1970)Rank
Australia [23] 87
Canada [31] 26
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 [32] 67
U.S. Cash Box [33] 85

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