James Taylor's 1970 hit single, and the album that spawned it, Sweet Baby James, helped launch the singer/songwriter boom of the early 70s. "Fire And Rain" reflected the movement's best qualities: limpid acoustic guitars, soulful double bass and Carole King's rippling piano are the backdrop for a sorrowful lament for a "lost" friend. More folk than rock, the song nevertheless boasts a deceptively tough edge, thanks to Russ Kunkel's popping drums and Taylor's in-your-face misery. The singer/songwriter era was often criticized as a self-indulgent, whiny time, but the best efforts, such as "Fire And Rain," could be as compelling as the blues. Though just 22 when he achieved fame, Taylor already had many reasons to sing the blues.
The offspring of an affluent family with roots in both Boston and North Carolina, he'd been in and out of mental institutions and struggled with hard drugs. His first serious foray into music came with friend Danny Kortchmar in the group Flying Machine, mentioned in "Fire And Rain." His self-titled solo debut, on the Beatles' Apple label, included the classic "Carolina In My Mind," but flopped anyway. "Fire And Rain" changed all that, bringing this retiring troubadour more fame than he ever dreamed of or probably wanted.