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Ringo's Greatest Hit

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April 14th is a day to celebrate for Beatlemaniacs everywhere. On this date in 1966, Ringo Starr recorded “Rain” with his backing band (that would be the Beatles). It’s the greatest thing he ever played, and one of the all-time high points of rock & roll drumming. “’Rain’ blows me away,” Ringo said in 1984. “It’s out of left field. I know me and I know my playing, and then there’s ‘Rain.’”

It came just 10 days after he recorded his OTHER history-making performance, “Tomorrow Never Knows.” What exactly was Ringo eating in April 1966? When the drum outtakes from this session came out on the second volume of Anthology in 1996, a drug-crazed friend from London told me, “Ringo invented acid house!” And maybe he did.

The Beatles began recording John Lennon’s “Rain” on a Thursday night, April 14th, a half hour after they finished “Paperback Writer.” (They moved fast in those days.) According to Mark Lewisohn’s “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions,” they did the rhythm track that night over the next five hours, in their usual Studio Three at London’s EMI Studios. On Saturday the 16th, they spent 11 straight hours finishing “Rain” with guitar, vocals and tambourine. They slowed down the tape a little (from 50 cycles per second to 42) to give it more punch, adding John’s famous backwards-vocal tag. Over the next week, the lads also cut “Dr. Robert,” “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “Taxman.” Whew.

One secret of Ringo’s April hot streak was George Martin’s new 20-year-old assistant Geoff Emerick, who gave the bass drum more boom by (1) miking it closer, and (2) stuffing a wool sweater in it. As Emerick said, “I stuffed that inside the drum, to deaden the sound. Then we put the sound through Fairchild 600 valve limiters and compressors. It became the sound of Revolver and Pepper really. Drums had never been heard like that before.”

Ringo’s astonishing break at the 2:24 point (“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”) topped it off. People still underrate Ringo as a musician, but “Rain” remains the foundation of his drumming-is-my-madness legend. (I actually think “Drive My Car” also has one of the most amazing drum tracks ever recorded, but nobody seems to agree.) Whenever this song plays, the weather’s fine.

Here's the video: Note that most other YouTube “Rain” clips have the wrong clip, the edited one from the “Anthology” documentary:


 

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Rob Sheffield

Rob Sheffield is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, where he writes about music, TV and pop culture. He is the author of two books, Talking To Girls About Duran Duran and Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time.

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