This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #164: Fire and Rain by James Taylor.
“Fire and Rain” is from an album by James Taylor called, “Sweet Baby James”. The song was one of the first songs to capture public attention for Taylor, in a career that has seen him become one of Music’s all-time biggest-selling artists, with record sales topping the 100 million mark worldwide. James Taylor has had a string of hits such as “You’ve Got a Friend”, “Something in the Way She Moves”, “Carolina on my Mind”, “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You”, “Handy Man”, “Your Smiling Face”, “Up on the Roof”, “Her Town, Too” and many more that have helped define an era in modern music known as “The Birth of the Singer-Songwriter”. As you know, back in the 1950s and 60s, it was standard practise for singers to have their songs written for them by songwriters who were hired specifically to write songs for others to sing. It wasn’t until The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan came along that singers and bands began writing and then, singing their own songs. When James Taylor began enjoying success, he was part of the next wave of singer-songwriters. In his personal and professional circle swam talented artists like Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Jackson Browne, Crosby/Stills and Nash, Neil Young, Billy Joel and Elton John, just to name a few.
However, achieving success as an artist was not an easy journey for James Taylor. Despite his calm, smooth, soulful musical demeanour, James Taylor has lived a life marked by periods of forced idleness caused by Mental illness, as well as, by drug abuse. He has spent time, on numerous occasions, in Psychiatric hospitals, as well as, in Drug Rehabilitation centres. It was because of these episodes of instability that James Taylor came to have the inspiration for a song like “Fire and Rain”.
First things first……like many young performers, James Taylor first began his career by playing in small bands with his friends. One of the most serious projects of that sort for him was a band called, “Flying Machines”. This band never made much headway in launching a musical career for any of the band members but, they did accrue a collection of songs written by Taylor that he began to shop around. HIs work came to the attention of a man associated with The Beatles named Peter Asher. Asher offered to become James Taylor’s manager and, in that capacity, he took Taylor’s demo tape of songs and played it for Paul McCartney and George Harrison, who were looking to sign acts for their new record company, Apple Records. They were impressed enough to sign James Taylor to a contract, making him the first non-English resident to be signed by Apple Records. One of the songs on the demo tape was the raw outline of a song that would go on to become, “Something in the Way She Moves” which ended up serving as the inspiration for George Harrison to write the great Beatles hit, “Something”.
In any case, while James Taylor was busy starting his recording career in the UK, a friend of his named Suzanne Schnerr, committed suicide while residing in the same Psychiatric Hospital that she was in when she met James Taylor. The two became close friends while under the care of others. Schnerr’s suicide happened after a prolonged stay in the isolation ward of the hospital. Her death was kept from Taylor for six whole months so as not to disturb his recording career which, at the time, seemed to be on track and stabilized. However, when he did eventually find out about his friend, he eulogized her in song.
“Fire and Rain” is a song that contains three distinct parts. The entire first verse was dedicated by James Taylor to his friend, Suzanne Schnerr. The middle verse is focussed on his battles with drugs and mental illess. The final verse is all about the depression he lapsed into as a result of the break-up of his band, “Flying Machines”. Overall, Taylor has been quoted as saying that “Fire and Rain” is very autobiographical but, that he felt it was important to be honest about what he had been through to get to that point in his career and to give the public an accurate sense of who he really was. To Taylor, “Fire and Rain” is an accounting of his life to date and a promise of better days to come.
Sometimes, the way a song sounds can fool you. James Taylor is such a silky smooth singer that, even a song so filled with grief as “Fire and Rain” can still sound pleasant to listen to when played by someone like him. So, without further delay, it is time for you to listen to this song that helped launch the amazing career of James Taylor. Here is “Fire and Rain”. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor, can be found here.
The link to the official website for James Taylor, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.
2 thoughts on “The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #164: Fire and Rain by James Taylor (RS)”
I had no idea that this was such a personal song for him. As you say his voice was so chill.
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I think it is amazing that a song such as this that is so filled with tragedy and anguish sounds so breezy and pleasant.