"Fire and Rain" is a song written and performed by American singer-songwriter
James Taylor, released in August 1970 by
Warner Bros. Records as the second single from Taylor's second studio album, Sweet Baby James. The song follows Taylor's reaction to the suicide of Suzanne Schnerr, 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.
Background and composition
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. 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
In 2005, during an interview on
NPR, Taylor explained to host
Scott Simon that the song was written in three parts:
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
Peter Asher, and
Carole King played piano on the song. Drummer
Russ Kunkel used brushes rather than sticks on his drum kit, and Bobby West played double bass in place of a bass guitar to "underscore the melancholy on the song".
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."
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."
He also refers to the song in another composition, "Money Machine" (a cynical take on the financial aspects of the recording industry): "When I began the game, see me singing ‘bout Fire and Rain; Lemme just sing it again — I've seen fives and I’ve seen tens."
R. B. Greaves,
Johnny Rivers and
Georgie Fame first released singles of "Fire and Rain" in 1970, impelling Warner Brothers to release Taylor's original as a single later that year, in August 1970. Greaves' and Rivers' versions peaked at numbers 82 and 94 on the Billboard Hot 100, respectively.
Marcia Hines covered "Fire and Rain" on her 1975 debut LP, Marcia Shines. Her version reached No. 17 in Australia. At the 1975 Australian Record Awards, the song won Hines Female Vocal Single of the Year.
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.