Taylor wrote this in 1968 at three different times. He started it in London, where he auditioned for The Beatles' Apple Records. He later worked on it in a Manhattan Hospital, and finished it while in drug rehab at The Austin Riggs Center in Massachusetts. In a 1972 Rolling Stone interview, Taylor explained: "The first verse is about my reactions to the death of a friend (that would be Suzanne - explained below). The second verse is about my arrival in this country with a monkey on my back, and there 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. And the third verse of that song refers to my recuperation in Austin Riggs which lasted about five months."
This song is about the high and low points of Taylor's life. He was only 20 when he wrote it in 1968, but was battling depression and drug addiction.
This was the song that took Taylor from little-known troubadour to star of the '70s singer-songwriter movement. His first label deal was with Apple Records, the label owned by The Beatles. He recorded that album in London in the same studio where The Beatles were recording The White Album. And although it produced some Taylor classics like "Carolina in My Mind" and "Something In The Way She Moves," it sold poorly due to a combination of Taylor's heroin addiction (he had to seek treatment and couldn't promote the album) and Apple's implosion as the label fell apart.
Taylor was dropped from Apple and picked up by Warner Bros. Records, where he released his second album, Sweet Baby James. The "title track" was issued as the first single but failed to chart. Taylor, however, was on the road promoting the album, and when "Fire and Rain" was released as the second single, it took off.
The stark lyrics about Taylor's depression stand out on Sweet Baby James, which contains mostly lighter, uplifting songs. Taylor was surprised that such a deeply personal song would appeal to listeners, as he didn't think people were interested in his life.
The line, "Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground" is a reference to a band Taylor was in called The Flying Machine, which he formed with Danny Kortchmar in 1966. The band recorded some songs and released one single, but split up without issuing an album. Taylor went to England, where his demo got the attention of Beatles associate Peter Asher, who arranged an audition with Paul McCartney and George Harrison. They liked what they heard, and signed Taylor to their label, Apple Records. By 1971, Taylor was on a new label and "Fire and Rain" was a hit. The enterprising (some would say exploitative) folks at the label that controlled The Flying Machine's recordings suddenly became interested in the band, and cobbled together an album from those recordings which they released in 1971 as James Taylor and the Original Flying Machine.
The lyrics, "Just yesterday morning, they let me know you were gone. Suzanne, the plans they made put an end to you" have been the subject of a great deal of speculation, with rumors that Suzanne was Taylor's girlfriend who died in a place crash. In a 1971 interview with Petticoat, Taylor explained: "It concerned a girl called Susanne I knew who they put into an isolation cell and she couldn't take it and committed suicide."
Her name was Susie Schnerr, and Taylor also explained that it was months before he found out about her death, as his friends withheld the news so it wouldn't distract Taylor from his burgeoning music career.
In a 1972 Rolling Stone interview, Taylor added: "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."
This was one of the first big singer-songwriter hits of the early '70s. Before this, most hits were either written by one person and performed by another, or written and performed by a group like The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. Artists like Carly Simon, Billy Joel and Elton John followed the trend of writing and performing their own songs.
In his interview with Petticoat Taylor said that he stole the chord sequence from something his brother Alexander wrote. Alexander, who was the oldest of the four Taylor siblings, was also a musician. He died in 1993.
Sweet Baby James was produced by Peter Asher, who was looking for a stripped-down sound to showcase Taylor's songs. That sound was established on this track when he called in the musicians Danny Kortchmar (guitar), Russ Kunkel (drums) and Carole King (piano) to rehearse the song in his living room. Kunkel was a rock drummer, but Asher asked him to play with brushes during the rehearsal so as not to disturb the neighbors. When he played with brushes instead of sticks, it brought out a new dimension in the song and established the sound they were looking for. Kunkel and Kortchmar became part of Taylor's touring band and went on to play on classic '70s albums by Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, and Carole King, who soon established herself as a solo artist.
A session musician named Bobby West played the upright bowed bass on this track, which is sometimes mistaken for a viola or cello. In a Songfacts interview with Peter Asher, he told the story: "We didn't have a bass on the track and it was James' idea to try bowed upright bass to create the drone of the bottom note. So, we asked the studio for a player because I was not familiar with most of the LA musicians. I'd put together a little rhythm section already, which was Carole King, who I'd got to know and loved her piano playing, and a drummer called Russ Kunkel, who I had found. But at that point, we had not found the perfect bass player, so we used different bass players on different songs.
And, on that one, James' idea was to use a bowed upright bass, so we asked around and they recommended this guy called Bobby West. Bobby 'Wild Wild' West, we discovered he was known, which clinched it for us. We thought that was such a cool name. So, we hired him and put the bass on and then I doubled the bass to give it that weird, slightly flangey effect, playing the exact same notes. And, those are the only strings on that whole album, I think."
The Isley Brothers recorded this on their album Givin' It Back, which contained all cover songs.
When Taylor performed this in 2015 on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, he and Colbert had some fun, with Taylor explaining that he was still working on it. "I wrote that song in 1970, and I just hadn't seen that much back then - mostly fire and rain, so that's why I keep saying it over and over again in the song," he said.
Taylor then explained that he had never seen a calzone at the time, but if he had, he would have definitely added it to the lyric. Taylor and Colbert then performed an updated version of the song with new lyrics. A sample:
"I've seen man buns, Myspace and the Baha Men, but I never thought I'd see a new Star Wars again"
"I've seen grandmas reading 50 Shades of Grey"
"Quidditch teams and skinny jeans cutting blood off from my thighs"
Taylor guest starred in The Simpsons episode "Deep Space Homer" where he performs for a space shuttle that Homer is aboard from NASA's mission control. He plays this, but after singing the line "Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground," he gasps, due to the irony of that line relating to the mission, and sings it with the revised lyrics: "Sweet dreams and flying machines flying safely through the air."
I think that the idea of the lyrics of the song came from two songs. One was the song called 'Sunny' written and sung by Bobby Hebb in 1966. The other was the song called 'Light My Fire' written and sung by The Doors in 1967. Because first of all, it is told that 'Sunny' was very famous song written for President John F Kennedy who was assassinated and for his brother who was killed 1963. I think James liked this song very much and knew the facts of the song's background. So he wanted to write a song like this and he tried to write but it didn't work. In 1967, there was a big hit called 'Light My Fire' by the rock band called 'The Doors'. I think James got some ideas when he heard that song. So he tried to write a song 'Fire And Rain' and he didi. Let's take a look at the lyrics of the song 'Fire And Rain'. You can see that there are some common words among songs,'Sunny, Rain, Fire' things like that. Also there was a big hit in 1969, too. It was called 'Rain Drops Keep Falin' from My Head' and he thought it was time to write a song by using the word ’Rain'. And hi did ! I don't know if there was a woman named 'Susan' actually existed at that time. And the rest is history.
Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn February 17th 1971, James Taylor performed "Fire and Rain" on the ABC-TV program 'The Johnny Cash Show'... Five months earlier on September 6th, 1970 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #83; and on October 25 it peaked at #3 (for 3 weeks) and spent 16 weeks on the Top 100... It reached #2 on the Canadian RPM Top Singles chart and #7 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Tracks chart... Interestingly; two covered versions entered the Top 100 before Mr. Taylor's version; R.B. Greaves on April 19th, 1970 at #90 and Johnny Rivers entered one week before Mr. Taylor's... R.B Greaves' version reached #82 and Johnny Rivers topped out at #94... Mr. Taylor will celebrate his 66th birthday next month on March 12th (2014).
Kimberly from Landing, NjSeeing our days are the answer. I believe we will all meet up again. Don't know how, but I believe it.
Esskayess from Dallas, TxI know the song was about a friend dying, but I always thought it also worked as a song of heartbreak for when someone you love walks out on you.
Deethewriter from Saint Petersburg, Russia FederationPeter Asher[part of the popular '60s Merseybeat duo Peter & Gordon. He went on to work A & R for Apple, with the Beatles where he discovered James Taylor. He has been awarded 37 Gold albums, 22 Platinum albums, and the 1989 Grammy for Producer of the Year.]: "Everything's autobiographical in one sense. 'Fire And Rain' is the one obviously everyone assumes is autobiographical, and it is. They (The Flying Machine) never had a hit, not the band James was in. They had one record out which had some of James' songs on it. I don’'t think it was the same band, because if they'd had a hit they might have survived. But a lot of the songs you see people James' people subscribe all sorts of meanings to them, like 'Suite For 20-G', and 'Fire And Rain' : There's whole story out there on the internet how it's about he loses his girlfriend in a plane crash or something like that, or about a girl who kills herself — 'Suzanne the plans we made,' 'I always thought I'd see you again," that kind of stuff. But “sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground," it's not a plane crash; it's the band breaking up. So because people didn't know about the Flying Machine Band, they go, “oh yeah she died in a plane crash."
Mike from Santa Barbara, CaThis is one of the most moving songs about loss and depression I've heard.
Onetoke from Memphis,tn, United KingdomThere was no plane crash. "Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground" refers to James's band The Flying Machine which had broken up.
Barry from Sauquoit, NyBesides Taylor's original, it charted two other times in 1970; R.B. Greaves took it to No. 82 and Mr. Cover himself, Johnny Rivers, peaked at No. 94!!!
Jim from Long Beach, CaI love this song. I first heard it in grade school in the early 70's.Even back then I knew this was a powerful song plus it can bring a tear to my eye always...
Beth from Fl, FlFire & Rain will always be my favorite song of all time. The line that has stuck with me as I think about old friends throughout my life is - "I always thought I'd see you again". Some I have, some I haven't.
J.d. from South Orange, NjTaylor was also at Mclean Hospital. As was Ray Charles and several others. In Susanna Kaison's autobiography Girl Interupted this is mentioned allthough I can't recall what page or chapter.
Thomas from Somerville, AlOne of the best damn songs ever written. If this man could write songs like this when he was a junkie, just imagine what he would have done if he had been straight. On second thought he might not have been as good. At least the dope didn't kill him, it just made him bald.
Lester from New York City, NyMcKendree Spring covered this nicely on their 1970 album 'Second Thoughts'.
Brad from Hickory, NcThe song reminds me of parting from a life in New York for 3 years some time ago. When leaving I asked a friend of mine, Ann "Annie" S., if there was a song that reminded her of me so I coulc recall our friendship in the future. I had made her a CD of songs that made me think of her you see. She picked this James Taylor song. I have been a fan of the song and Mr. Taylor since 1970 and it was an honor to be associated to the fine lyrics & stylings of the work.
Paul from Greenwich, CtFrom,"Girls Like Us," Susan Schnerr was abeautiful brunette from Long Island who had a brief romance with James when both were psychiatric patients suffering from depression. She had killed herself by overdose. Changing Susan to Suzanne for rhythm, Jame's struggle to stay straight and his cry for help, "look down upon me, Jesus, you gotta help me make a stand." James had originally written "Maggie" not "Jesus" but Paul McCartney had told hin he couldn't have two girls' names in one song.
Johnnyrotten from San Diego, CaThe first verse is about a friend, Suzanne, who committed suicide. His friends kept the news from him while he worked on his first album. verses two and three are about his battles with depression and heroin addiction. Sorry no airplane. Flying Machine was his first band.
Audrey from Laurel, MdThis is a beautiful song, look it up on soundflavor.com, and there is a great tribute video to River Phoenix played to Fire and Rain.
Kevin from Bisbane, AustraliaThey don't come much better than this.Brings back memories of a time when my life was less complicated
Charles from Charlotte, NcSome of these comments are ridiculous. There was no plane crash. Flying Machine was JT's first real band. It fell apart after a year or so. Hence the line about sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.
Meredith from Wauwatosa, WiWonderful song! Clay Aiken did a montage of James Taylor songs at his 04 concert in Milwaukee and this was one of the songs covered.
Tello from Nyc, Nywhen my dad was in high school he wrote a short story based on this song. his teacher liked it so much he read it out to the class. at the end of the story my dad saw that the girl next to him was crying. at that moment he realized the power of words and decided to become a writer.
James from Gettysburg, PaMy mother's name is Suzanne, so I always think of her when I hear this. She was a nun back when this came out, but she loved it too.
Bob from Canyon, CaBlood, Sweat, & Tears covered Fire and Rain. They did a good job with it, and I always thought James Taylor imitated the BS&T version... A check of the credits on my BS&T vinyl record label propelled me to Songfacts to learn more. I did! Based on the lyrics alone, I thought the song was about a plane crash. Fire and Rain is a great song regardless of the story behind it.
John from Lethbridge, CanadaPowerful song. I become emotional whenever I hear it. Awesome lyrics. I love it.
J.r. from Columbia, ScThis song is actually about James Taylor's battle with depression. It has nothing to do with drug addiction.
Werner from Detroit, MiOr so i've heard.
Werner from Detroit, MiThis is a very sad song. When Taylor was in rehab for herion addiction, he met a girl and they became very close. They helped eachother get clean. They had plans to see eachother after rehab but after James left rehab, she killed herself.
Matthew from Hawthorne, NjThis song is used in the film "Running on Empty" with River Phoenix. What a great song and what a great movie.
Brad from Kingsport, TnAccording to an old interview with James: plane crash is bogus. suzanne was a friend of his who killed herself in a psychiatric hospital he had been at in the U.S.. his friends didn't want to burden him with the news while he was in london recording his 1968 album for apple records, so they didn't tell him til he came back to the states. ("just yesterday morning, they let me know you were gone")... Also taylor was the FIRST musician signed to apple records, where he recorded his self-titled debut in 1968 which included a version of "something in the way she moves"... a short time later the line was copied by george harrison in the beatles song "something"
Hugh from Cairns, AustraliaMy understanding of this song - was that Taylor either met or knew this girl - but she was hospitalised and eventually lobotomized -
"The plans they made put an end to you"
this was when lobotomy was in its final stages of acceptance by the psychiatric community. It was seen as a convenient treatment for manic or terminally depressed people - and by destroying their frontal lobes - destroyed their persona. Many died.
can someone check with James Taylor!!
Eric from Rangiora, New ZealandBought 'Sweet Baby James' on vinyl in 1970 - still got that copy and play it regurarly. James Taylor has a way of expressing a lyric like no other artis I've ever heard, so truly wonderful. Heard his sing it at a concert in Boston in the early 90's and again at Tatton Park in 1998 and, unlike some artists who feel they have to 'add to' or embelish older songs, he just performed it as if it was the first time he'd ever sung it - then he stuck around shaking hands and signing autographs for about an hour. A true professional and a nice guy.
Joel from Anchorage, AkWell, I love this song. It doesn't matter where it was written, it's still beautiful.
Joe Public from Anytown, AlThis song can be interpreted to be about the September 11th terrorist attacks, which is kind of eerie. Obviously it wasn't written about them, considering that it was written in the '60s, but it's just weird how well even the throwaway lines match up. Of course, if Mr. Taylor himself hadn't realized that, he probably wouldn't have sang this song at the 9/11 Benefit Concert in New York.
Katy from Tri Cities, WaI can't remember if I heard this from when I went to his concert a while back or if my dad or sister told me this.. we're all big James Taylor fans... but what I heard was that during his stay at a rehab clinic for his drugs and his depression problem, he met a lady named Suzanne who also had major depression problems and they became really close- I don't think they were ever romantically involved, but they were definitely really close- and he went to sleep one night and the next morning he found out that she had committed suicide. He was so upset by it that he wrote this song about her... and about how expectations killed her and now that shes gone, he doesn't know how to cope with his own depression. The flying machines part is talking about his old band, "Flying Machines"...
Ray from Stockton, NjThis song is one of my favorite songs. I'm not sure what it means and i don't care, it's a good song. People say it shouldnt count as a song because he wrote in rehab, he's a drug addict. At least he went to rehab. Most bands or artists just die of drugs(Hendrix).
Mitch from Pittsburgh, PaThe verse about "Sweet Dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground" actually refers to a band that he was in before he started with his solo performances. It failed, and it's name was "The Flying Machines".
Tom from Dallas, TxI have read in 2 different sources including a web site similar to this one that Suzanne is Susie Schnerr a friend from JT´s Greenwich Village days. She committed suicide while he was in London recording his debut album but his friends didn´t want to bring him down during his big break, so they kept it from him until later. The phrase "another day" here and in the song of the same name both refer to recovery from addiction. The Flying Machine was the name of JT´s first band, which broke up when he left for England and his eventual solo debut. Stories claiming the line refers to an actual plane crash are just urban legends.
Annabelle from Eugene, OrWhen James Taylor starred on "The Simpsons", it is worth noting that Homer Simpson refers to him as "Former President James Taylor". Homer is mistaken due to the fact that he has forgotten that James Taylor is a singer/songwriter, and he has james confused with former United States President Zachary Taylor!
Zoey from Athens , AlThis song is so meaningful. More than suicide, more than rehab ... it's everything that life is about when you're confused and feeling alone. Sometimes drugs feels like the only way out only no one can understand that unless they've been there. And only people that have been there, where James Taylor has been, can understand. To me, this is the best song that's ever been written and to know that he did this at only 20 years old makes me know what a musical genius he is. Todays music, although peppy and fun, just doesn't really get to you like this.It's hardly meaninful and it doesn't really speak to you. Todays music is all about how the singers look and it doesn't matter if they have talent. It's about dance and hip hop ... music isn't the same. And in a way, thats the saddest part of where our music is going.
Pete from Nowra, Australiathis guys voice is sooooooo smoothe, similar to Willie Nelsons ...layed back and relaxing , what a singer....... his life story would make a great movie
Nathan from Defiance, OhThe perfect song to mark end the of pschydelic acid rock era; slow, relaxing and introspective.
Gerry from Downpatrick, IrelandI have heard that the "Holy host of others standing around" him,actually referred to the Beatles.He was one of the first artistes to record on Apple.
Josh from Reading, Pa"Fire And Rain" hs grown on me over 35 years from its release. I vaguely recall that initially it seemed "a song of the era" especially with its ballad-folk song style in minor key. That... was not the end of it. Over the years I would hear it from random scources from time to time so that it remained in my mind. Each time a bit more strongly. Finally, about 5 years ago I again heard it on the radio and started talking about it with a friend at work. He lent me a cd with Taylor songs including "Fire And Rain" which I then took home and played several times. I was more impressed than ever.The song had started to "make its way into me" I thought about it many times and..... I heard it about a week ago on a MUZAK Type Tape at a drugstore and that did it,I was knocked for a loop.That song is so powerful its scary!
JOSH LANTZ Reading,Pa
Justin from Pittsgrove, NjThis song is about Taylor's stint in rehab where he received both Electroshock Therapy (FIRE) and Water and Bathtub Therapy (RAIN)... in response to his heroin addiction.
Kelly from Levittown, PaAfter reading this I have no idea what I believe now, LOL. Maybe we should request Mr. Taylor do a behind the music and clarify this for us all.
Aubrey from Chicago, IlI just saw this song performed live tonight in Milwaukee, and during the first few strums of guitar I started to bawl. This song is so powerful and applicable to situations throughout life. Taylor is an awesome guy.
Josh from Farmington, Utthis is one of the best songs ever written
Thomas from St. Charles, MoI've always taken it as a song about life.
Suzanne symbolises all the freinds, family, and loved ones we put aside, telling ourselves there will be time for them later. then, one day, there is no later. We get so caught up in our plans, in our insecuriteis and trouble, that we miss out on the people who are important to us.
It's a warning and a prayer that we won't make those mistakes.
Jessa from Brampton, On, Canadagreat, great song. This song was used in an episode of Dawson's Creek when Dawson's father died. ohhh I love James Taylor lol
Daniel from Perth, Australiaa great song about Taylors life maybe we can relate it our own in some way
Jeff from Philly Area, PaIt was not a plane crash. The line would have read, "Suzanne the PLANES they made put an end to you." Hehe. Suzanne was in an institution with James. They started hanging out a lot and higher ups in the facility agreed that an emotional committment on any level between the two would ultimately turn unhealthy. She was moved to another location, where she hung herself. James checked himself in, and thus could check himself out. "Walked out this morning, and wrote down this song." refers to him leaving the hospital, and "the plans they made" were those involving her transfer.
Deana from Indianapolis, InI can't quite remember, but Suzanne either died of an overdose, or committed sucide. Flying Machines is a direct reference to hid band before he went to rehab
Patrick from St Petersburg, FlThe story I have heard behind this song is this.
When Taylor was in rehab, he met Suzanne and they became the closest friends. Both helped each other come clean and when she left, they used to spend many hours on the phone then finally she was flying out to see him and the plane crash, hence "hours of time on the telephone line, talking bout things to come, sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground."
Makes sense. He loved her and she died and so did his dreams of life with her.