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"Fire and Rain" is a folk rock song written and performed by James Taylor. Released on Warner Bros. Records as a single from his second album, Sweet Baby James, in February 1970, 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 Canada Top Singles chart and at number three on the Billboard Hot 100.
Background and composition
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 committed 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 rehab.
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 Paul McCartney, Peter Asher, and Apple Records.
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."
^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.CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)