Behind The Songs – Blog 2

Fire and Rain – James Taylor

“Fire and Rain” is one of the most harrowing songs to make a impact on the American charts. It appears on Taylor’s second album “Sweet Baby James” released in 1970. The song chronicles a series of devastating events that Taylor faced when he moved from his native North Carolina to New York to pursue a career in the music industry. It was there that he was noticed playing folk music in various New York coffee clubs. He was invited to join ‘The Flying Machine’ , a loosely arranged group of fellow folk singers and the band set out to become the east coasts answer to the LA  super group Crosby, Stills and Nash. After a year of endless gigging the group had gotten nowhere and Taylor was physically and emotionally spent. Suffering from serious depression over the episode (as referenced in the lyric (“sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground”)  he voluntarily booked himself into a psychiatric institution. After nine months he discharged himself and went to live in London with girlfriend Suzanne Schnerr. He auditioned for several companies and was eventually signed by Peter Asher , brother of Paul McCartney’s girlfriend Jane Asher and ended up as the first act signed by the Beatles embryionic record company Apple records. His girlfriend headed back to New York while Taylor cut his debut album “James Taylor” released in 1968. While Taylor was recording the album his girlfriend, who had also battled depression like Taylor, took her own life after her family committed her to a mental aslyum. His manager and his friends kept this information from Taylor while he completed the album, fearing it would severely affect his chances of succeeding while he was completing his “big break”. After the last session was completed Asher informed him of the tragedy which led to the songs opening lyrics “Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone/Suzanne the plans they made put an end to you”. When Taylor returned to New York he had developed drug problems , particularly with heroin. He slipped back into deep depression and once again admitted himself into a psychiatric clinic. It was this experience in hospital that bought about the lyrics to the chorus of the song (“I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain/I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end/I’ve seen lonely days where I could not find a friend/but I always thought that I’d see you again”). When ‘Sweet Baby James” was released his manager was keen to release ‘Fire and Rain” as the first single but Taylor protested saying he thought it was too personal to be a mainstream hit. However, the song peaked at number 3 on the American billboard charts and to this day remains possibly the most well known song in James Taylor’s long career.

 

 

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