Song 192: Bobby Womack, “Fire and Rain” (1971)Posted: July 11, 2013
“You know everybody’s got their own way of doing anything. Like, take this particular song for instance. It’s been done by many, but I’ve gotta do it my way.”
That’s how Bobby Womack starts this version of James Taylor’s signature song, “Fire and Rain,” and he wasn’t kidding. It’s not a revision of the song, but Womack changes the melody here and there, adds vocal flourishes, and changes its instrumentation from folk-rock to slow-burn R&B (provided by the legendary musicians of Muscle Shoals). I’m usually a stickler when it comes to covers—change the melody? Why would you change that?—but I love this rendition, which was released only seven months after Taylor’s.
You can tell that Womack understands what Taylor was going for in this song, a lament about the plane crash that killed his friend. He trades Taylor’s emotional detachment for a sadder, angrier response. It’s how you might imagine Taylor singing the song after a few weeks, after the shock of the accident has worn off, and the unfairness of the situation has set in.