THE BEATLES: “Rain”
If we weren’t there at the time, we can’t even imagine it.
It was 1966. Pop music was at a creative zenith, while still retaining its identity as pop music. The Beach Boys released Pet Sounds, arguably the single greatest album of all time. The Kinks released Face To Face. The Rolling Stones released Aftermath. The # 1 spots on the U.S. pop chart were occupied by a series of mostly rock-solid singles; for every forgettable # 1 in ’66, for every “Winchester Cathedral” or “Ballad Of The Green Beret,” there was counterforce and then some, courtesy of The Young Rascals, The Mamas and the Papas, The Four Tops, The Lovin’ Spoonful, ? and the Mysterians, and a new made-for-TV group, The Monkees. Below the top spot, there was a wealth of pop treasures, from Otis Redding, The Hollies, and The Temptations through The Byrds, The Standells, and Paul Revere and the Raiders. It was a great, great year for music.
And a B-side was the greatest side of all.
It had already been two years since The Beatles’ initial conquest of America. The Beatles still ruled the pop world in ’66, with more hit singles and two–two!–of the greatest albums in pop history, Rubber Soul and Revolver. The Beatles were # 1. The Beatles were unstoppable. The Beatles were…
…The Beatles were tired.
Tired of fame? Maybe. Tired of touring? Definitely. Tired of the endless parade of rushing and waiting, and waiting, and waiting? Tired of square questions about their hair and how much longer they expected to last? Tired of people freaking out because John Lennon had pointed out that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ? Yes, yes, and goddammit yes. I was six years old at the time; I don’t remember my Dad banning The Beatles in our house. I don’t remember the controversy and public distortions and contortions. Looking back, decades later, I can only observe the sort of people who were burning Beatles records, and declare that if The Ku Klux Klan hates you, you’re probably on the right side of history.
In this pressure cooker, The Beatles kept right on creating and excelling. They were focused more on albums than singles, but there was still one non-album Beatles single released at the end of May: “Paperback Writer.” It was a glorious burst of pop-art pop-rock, telling a cartoonish story of a punter who just wants to write paperback novels, a song delivered with all the shimmering, swooping pop pizazz one would expect from The Beatles at the top of their game. Another # 1 hit for The Fab Four!
An album of The Beatles’ B-sides would put most acts’ A-sides to shame. “I Saw Her Standing There” was a B-side. “I’m Down” and “Day Tripper” were B-sides. They weren’t the only act putting top-shelf material on their flip sides–there’s some choice stuff backing some of those Beach Boys and Rolling Stones hits, too–but The Beatles were so prolific and (nearly) peerless that they could afford to just throw away songs any other band would have killed to release themselves.
And now: imagine.
It’s 1966. You’ve bought your Capitol Records 45 of “Paperback Writer,” and of course you love it. It’s the freaking Beatles, for cryin’ out loud! And then, your thirst for pop already slaked, you turn the record over, just to see what the lads have plopped on the flip. And you hear “Rain” for the very first time.
Stop. You can’t imagine it. You can’t. I can’t either. If we weren’t there, right there at that precise right time, we can’t conceive of hearing “Rain” in 1966.
But what must it have been like? Did it seem like a new world of pop music opening instantly within the ears and mind, or was it brushed off as just another pop record? How could it be? Nothing had ever sounded like this before. It had no antecedents, no roots other than the common experience of everything from The Crickets to The Who, and sounding like nothing else but The Beatles. Once you had heard it for the first time, it always existed, retroactively. One could no longer conjure a memory of a world that didn’t include this song.
I’ve often said that 1965 was pop music’s best year ever. I think it’s difficult to dispute, given the sheer mass of terrific records that connected with a vast audience in ’65. There was likewise a slew of wonderful records in 1966, but its case is hampered by those few regrettable clunkers that also hit the top of the charts; the # 1 spot in ’65 was never sullied by crap like “The Ballad Of The Green Berets.”
But still: 1966 gave us Pet Sounds. It gave us The Rolling Stones’ best album, one of The Kinks’ best albums, the debut of The Monkees, and so much more. It gave us Rubber Soul. It gave us Revolver. That’s a solid resume for any year. Nonetheless, the crowning achievement of pop music in 1966 was a B-side, an indispensable throwaway that just might tower over any other record, before or since. Shine! The weather’s fine.
You can become a patron of Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) at Patreon: Fund me awready!