James Taylor, an iconic American folk-rock artist and five-time Grammy award winner, released emotional track “Fire and Rain” in 1970 from his second album “Sweet Baby James”. However, despite the success of the track, the song is extremely emotional and very personal to Taylor.
In an interview in 2007 with Snopes.com, Taylor spoke to David Mikkelson about “Fire and Rain” and the true meaning and story behind the track: “Fire and Rain” has three verses. The first verse is about my reactions to the death of a friend. The second verse is about my arrival in this country with a monkey on my back, and [Won’t you look down upon me,] Jesus is an expression of my desperation in trying to get through the time when my body was aching and the time was at hand when I had to do it. The third verse of that song refers to my recuperation [beating the heroin addiction] in Austen Riggs which lasted about five months.”
In terms of the “death of a friend” this verse of the track refers to Suzanne Schnerr – a friend Taylor met while he was performing with his old band “The Flying Machine” in New York in 1967. In Taylors biography written by Tim White, Taylor discusses Schnerr’s tragic death: “[Suzanne] committed suicide sometime later while I was over in London. At the time I was living with friends, and all three of them were really close to Susie Schnerr. But Richard and Joel and Margaret were excited for me having this record deal and making this album, and when Susie killed herself they decided not to tell me about it until later because they didn’t want to shake me up. I didn’t find out until some six months after it happened. That’s why the ‘They let me know you were gone’ line came up. And I always felt rather bad about the line, ‘The plans they made put an end to you,’ because ‘they’ only meant ‘ye gods,’ or basically ‘the Fates.’ I never knew her folks but I always wondered whether her folks would hear that and wonder whether it was about them.”
There is no official music video for the track, however a user by the name of “DavidFarAndWide”, uploaded a video on YouTube of Taylor performing the track in 1970 live on stage. Since its upload in October 2008, the video has over 13.2 million views.
Release Date: 1st February 1970
Songwriter/s: James Taylor
Producer/s: Peter Asher
Label/s: Warner Bros
Chart Rankings & Accolades: In its year of release, “Fire and Rain” reached #3 on the US Billboard Hot 100, #2 in the Canada Top Singles chart, #6 in the Australian charts, and #42 in the UK charts. The track has been placed on many lists, such as Broadcast Music Inc’s “Top 100. Songs of the Century”, where “Fire and Rain” was placed at #82. The National Endowment for the Arts as well as the Recording Industry Association of America, created a “Songs of the Century” list, which was made up of 365 songs that had “historical significance” from the years 1900 to 2000. “Fire and Rain” was placed at #85 on that list. Infamous music publication Rolling Stone also included “Fire and Rain” on their “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list at #227.