Fire and Rain (song)

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"Fire and Rain"
Fire and Rain James Taylor.jpg
Single by James Taylor
from the album Sweet Baby James
ReleasedAugust 1970[1]
RecordedDecember 1969
Sunset Sound
GenreSoft rock, folk rock
LabelWarner Bros.
Songwriter(s)James Taylor
Producer(s)Peter Asher
James Taylor singles chronology
"Sweet Baby James"
"Fire and Rain"
"Carolina in My Mind"

"Fire and Rain" is a folk rock song written and performed by James Taylor and released on Warner Bros. Records as a single from his second album, Sweet Baby James, in August 1970. The song follows Taylor's reaction to the suicide of Suzanne Schnare,[2] a childhood friend, and his experiences with drug addiction and fame. After its release, "Fire and Rain" peaked at number two on RPM's Canada Top Singles chart and at number three on the Billboard Hot 100.[3]

Background and composition[edit]

On the VH1 series Storytellers, Taylor said the song was about several incidents during his early recording career. The second line "Suzanne, the plans they made put an end to you" refers to Suzanne Schnerr, a childhood friend of his who died by suicide while he was in London, England, recording his first album.[4] In that same account, Taylor said he had been in a deep depression after the failure of his new band the Flying Machine to coalesce (the lyric "Sweet dreams and Flying Machines in pieces on the ground"; the reference is to the name of the band rather than a fatal plane crash, as was long rumored). Taylor completed writing the song while in rehab.[5]

In 2005, during an interview on NPR, Taylor explained to host Scott Simon that the song was written in three parts:[6]

  • The first part was about Taylor's friend Suzanne, who died while Taylor was in London working on his first album after being signed to Apple Records. Friends at home, concerned that it might distract Taylor from his big break, kept the tragic news from him, and he found out six months later.
  • The second part details Taylor's struggle to overcome drug addiction and depression.
  • The third part deals with coming to grips with fame and fortune, looking back at the road that got him there. It includes a reference to James Taylor and The Flying Machine, a band he briefly worked with before his big break with Paul McCartney, Peter Asher, and Apple Records.

Carole King played piano on the song.[7] Drummer Russ Kunkel used brushes rather than sticks on his drum kit,[8] and Bobby West played double bass[9] in place of a bass guitar to "underscore the melancholy on the song".[10]

King has stated that her song "You've Got a Friend," which Taylor recorded, was a response to the line in the refrain that "I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend."[11][12]

Taylor references the song in another of his compositions, "That's Why I'm Here," title track from his 1985 album, in which he writes, "Fortune and fame's such a curious game. Perfect strangers can call you by name. Pay good money to hear 'Fire and Rain' again and again and again."


Broadcast Music, Inc. ranked "Fire and Rain" at number 82 on its "Top 100 Songs of the Century" list,[13] while voters for the National Endowment for the Arts and Recording Industry Association of America's Songs of the Century list, which comprises 365 songs of "historical significance" recorded from 1900 to 2000,[14] placed "Fire and Rain" at number 85.[15] In April 2011, the song was named at number 227 on Rolling Stone's list of 500 greatest songs of all time.[16]

Cover versions[edit]

Marcia Hines covered "Fire and Rain" on her 1975 debut LP, Marcia Shines. Her version reached #17 in Australia.[17]


Taylor performs the song on The Simpsons in the episode "Deep Space Homer." While singing the song for a group of astronauts (including Homer Simpson and Buzz Aldrin), he changes the lyric "Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground" to "Sweet dreams and flying machines, flying safely through the air" when he realizes the space shuttle may crash.[18]

In 2015, Taylor appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, where he sang a version including numerous references to post-1970 popular culture.[19]

Chart performance[edit]

Year-end charts[edit]

James Taylor
Chart (1970) Rank
Australia [27] 87
Canada [34] 26
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 [35] 67
U.S. Cash Box [36] 85


Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[37] Silver 200,000double-dagger

double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ Billboard magazine August 29, 1970, page 7
  2. ^ "Susan M. Schnare (1947-1971) - Find a Grave".
  3. ^ a b "James Taylor Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved June 5, 2015.
  4. ^ White, Timothy, and Mitchell Glazer. Long Ago and Far Away: James Taylor — His Life and Music. New York: Omnibus Press, 5th edition 2011, p. 141.
  5. ^ NPR: All Things Considered. "Fire and Rain." June 6, 2000
  6. ^ White, Timothy (2001). Long Ago and Far Away: James Taylor — His Life and Music. London: Omnibus. p. 5. ISBN 0-7119-8803-X.
  7. ^ "Songs that shaped Rock and Roll: "Fire and Rain"". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  8. ^ Mattingly, Rick (2003). "Brush Playing". In John Shepherd; David Horn; Dave Laing; Paul Oliver; Peter Wicke (eds.). Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World. 2. A&C Black. p. 120. ISBN 9781847144720.
  9. ^ "Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: 'Fire and Rain'". Archived from the original on 2015-09-09. Retrieved 2015-06-04.
  10. ^ Browne, David (2012). Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Bittersweet Story Of 1970. Da Capo Press. p. 116. ISBN 9780306822131.
  11. ^ "James Taylor: My Life in 15 Songs". Rolling Stone. August 13, 2015. pp. 23–25.
  12. ^ White, T. (August 4, 2015). "James Taylor Looks Back on His Classics". Easy 93.1 FM. Archived from the original on September 23, 2015. Retrieved 2015-08-10.
  13. ^ "BMI Announces Top 100 Songs of the Century". Broadcast Music, Inc. December 13, 1999.
  14. ^ "RIAA, NEA Announce 'Songs of the Century'". Recording Industry Association of America. Archived from the original on June 4, 2011. Retrieved June 6, 2015.
  15. ^ "Top 365 Songs". Quad-City Times. Lee Enterprises. AP. March 8, 2001. Archived from the original on September 11, 2016.
  16. ^ "500 Greatest Songs of All Time: 227: James Taylor, 'Fire and Rain'". Rolling Stone. Wenner Media, LLC. 11 December 2003. Retrieved June 6, 2015.
  17. ^ a b Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970-1992. St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  18. ^ "Favorite Moments with The Simpsons Writers: David Mirkin".
  19. ^ [1]
  20. ^ "R.B. Greaves Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard. Retrieved June 6, 2015.
  21. ^ "R.B. Greaves Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved June 6, 2015.
  22. ^ Downey, Albert, and Hoffmann, p. 145
  23. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 129. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  24. ^ "RPM Top 100 Singles - May 16, 1970" (PDF).
  25. ^ "Billboard Hot 100". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. 82 (37): 67. September 12, 1970. ISSN 0006-2510.
  26. ^ Downey, Albert, and Hoffmann, p. 289
  27. ^ a b "Australian Chart Book". Archived from the original on 2016-03-05. Retrieved 2016-10-03.
  28. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 3718." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. November 21, 1970.
  29. ^ "James Taylor: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company. Retrieved June 5, 2015.
  30. ^ "James Taylor Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard. Retrieved June 5, 2015.
  31. ^ Downey, Albert, and Hoffmann, p. 343
  32. ^ "Top RPM Country Tracks: Issue 4080." RPM. Library and Archives Canada.
  33. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2005). Joel Whitburn's Top Country Songs: 1944–2005. Record Research. p. 267.
  34. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". 17 July 2013.
  35. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1970/Top 100 Songs of 1970". Retrieved 2016-10-03.
  36. ^ "Cash Box YE Pop Singles - 1970". 1970-12-26. Archived from the original on 2019-07-22. Retrieved 2016-10-03.
  37. ^ "British single certifications – James Taylor – Fire and Rain". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved May 1, 2020.


External links[edit]