‘Rainclouds’ was the b-side of ‘Ebony And Ivory’, Paul McCartney’s duet with Stevie Wonder.
The song was co-written by McCartney and Denny Laine, both of whom sang and played 12-string acoustic guitars on the recording.
Wings rehearsed ‘Rainclouds’ in October 1980, at a time when it was not fully written. It was revived by McCartney in December 1980 during the Tug Of War sessions.
‘Rainclouds’ was recorded on 8 December 1980, the day that John Lennon was murdered in New York City. An overdub session the following day took place just hours after McCartney heard the news about his former bandmate.
The day that John was killed will always stay with me. We were working in London and as soon as I heard the news that morning I rang Paul and asked him if he wanted to stay at home. Of course, he wanted to get away, and he came into the studio and we talked about John endlessly. It was so difficult to believe that our friend had been assassinated by a deranged fan.
Tug Of War deluxe edition, 2015
The session had been booked for a uilleann pipes overdub, played by Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains, who flew from Dublin to AIR Studios in London.
I was listening to the BBC World Service and had heard on the news about John at 5am, at home in Dublin. I called early in the morning to ask whether I should still come over or not. The studio said come on over, so I got on a plane to London. I got there about 1 or 2pm near Oxford Circus. Paul and me talked a bit, but he didn’t say too much about what happened. I hadn’t heard ‘Rainclouds’ before I got to the studio; I came up with a couple of ideas and Paul said, ‘Go on, play that.’ I played what would be the bridge of the song… I felt very emotional while I was playing ‘Rainclouds’, putting more into it than I usually did. A little lift from heaven, perhaps.
Tug Of War deluxe edition, 2015
By the time I arrived at AIR, the building was surrounded by hordes of screaming reporters and television crews. After a while a grim George Martin arrived. ‘What a tragedy’ was all he could bring himself to say. Beneath his veneer of British reserve, I could sense that he was shaken to the core. A short while later Paul himself walked in, subdued, pensive and deep in thought. For a few moments, the three of us stood there numbly, reminiscing about the impact John Winston Ono Lennon had had on our lives.
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After the session McCartney left AIR and was besieged by reporters. McCartney, still numb with grief, made the comment “It’s a drag, isn’t it? OK, cheers, bye” – words for which he later expressed remorse.
I was probably more shattered than most people when John died. And I had plenty of sort of personal grief. But I’m not very good at kind of public grief. So someone thrust a microphone into my face the day it happened and said, ‘What’s your comment?’ Now all the other pundits came out with great comments: ‘Well, John will be sorely missed,’ and so and so. They summed it up. All I could muster was, ‘It’s a drag.’ And it was like, I couldn’t say anything else but that. I just couldn’t. Nor could George, nor could Ringo. Nobody came out with any big comments because he was too dear to us. It was just too much of a shock. But of course then that got reprinted: ‘McCartney, when asked what he thought of Lennon’s death, said, “It’s a drag”.’ And it comes out like that. So you’ve just got to be so careful about all that stuff.
Good Morning Britain
The 7″ single had ‘Rainclouds’ on the b-side. Initial copies of the single erroneously credited the song to McCartney alone, rather than McCartney-Laine.
‘Ebony And Ivory’ topped the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks, and became the fourth biggest hit in the USA in 1982.
The single was McCartney’s longest spell at number one in the USA as a solo artist, and the second-longest behind ‘Hey Jude’ including his Beatles work. It was also Stevie Wonder’s longest chart-topper, and enabled him to become the first solo artist to top the US chart in three consecutive decades.
It also topped the singles charts in Canada, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Norway, Spain, the UK, and Zimbabwe. It was a top 10 hit in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, South Africa, Sweden, and Switzerland.