For my wife on our anniversary. This was our wedding song. Can’t wait to see him live next week.
For my wife on our anniversary. This was our wedding song. Can’t wait to see him live next week.
“Into each life some rain must fall” So said Longfellow
This past July was apparently the wettest on record for the DC/Baltimore area. This got me thinking about rain, and songs about rain. While everyone would agree that we need rain, most times its a bummer in that it ruins outdoor plans, keeps you inside, and is associated with a lack of sunshine. How is rain used in songs?
There are literally dozens if not hundreds of songs about rain. So this will be just a small sample of rain songs that I dig for one reason or another.
Sometimes the message is pretty straightforward – the songwriter doesn’t like rain. The Travis song ‘Why Does It Always Rain on Me‘ (off their 1999 album The Man Who was written by lead singer Fran Healy after traveling to Israel for winter holiday to get away from his rainy Scotland home. And what did it do during his holiday – rain! But Healy then also uses rain as a metaphor for a unsettled mental state:
‘Why does it always rain on me?
Even when the sun is shining I can’t avoid the lightning’
I love how the violin perfectly captures the depressing message of the song.
One of my favorite bands, Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) had not one but two great songs about rain. First up, ‘Have You Ever Seen the Rain‘ off their 1970 album Pendulum. Many people thought the song was about the Vietnam War or the loss of the idealism of the 60’s, but John Fogerty has said that in fact it was written about the creative tensions in the band and the imminent departure of his brother Tom even while the band was at the height of its commercial success. The lyrics capture this perfectly in the image of rain on a sunny day:
Have you ever seen the rain
Comin’ down on a sunny day?
The second great song from CCR is ‘Who’ll Stop the Rain’ off their 1970 album Cosmo’s Factory. Again, many interpreted the song to be about the Vietnam War, but Fogerty has said it was actually written after CCR played at Woodstock. After seeing the masses of fans singing and dancing despite being cold and muddy in the unrelenting rain, he went home and wrote the song.
Heard the singers playing, How we cheered for more.
The crowd had rushed together, Trying to keep warm.
Still the rain kept pouring, Falling on my ears.
And I wonder, Still I wonder Who’ll stop the rain.
Another sub 3 minute classic from CCR!
Let’s shift to the pop world. A great example of rain as a metaphor for the complicated nature of emotional relationships is the Eurthymics song ‘Here Comes The Rain Again‘ from their 1984 album Touch. Dave Stewart has said that the melancholy mood of the song is due to “I’m playing a b-minor, but then I change it to put a b-natural in, and so it kind of feels like that minor is suspended, or major. So it’s kind of a weird course.” The song structure also repeatedly alternates between an A and B section with little variation, suggesting the monotony of continuous rain fall. The lyrics captured in Annie Lennox’s beautiful vocals describe a tension between the complicated emotions that can happen simultaneously in a troubled relationship: resignation,depression, longing, but still love and desire.
Here comes the rain again
Raining in my head like a tragedy
Tearing me apart like a new emotion
I want to breathe in the open wind
I want to kiss like lovers do
I want to dive into your ocean
Is it raining with you
So baby talk to me
Like lovers do
Let’s go back a bit. A great use of rain to speak to larger societal issues is the Bob Dylan classic ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ from his 1963 album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. The song is written in the style of an old English folk ballad with a mother repeatedly asking her son questions, and he answering them in increasingly apocalyptic terms. The song is generally considered an anti-nuclear war ballad, although Dylan has said the rain imagery in it is not meant to be nuclear fallout, but “some sort of end that’s just gotta happen.”. The lyrics get increasingly dark, culminating in
I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well-hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number…..
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall
Ok, let’s do one for the youngsters in the audience. Only Happy When It Rains by Garbage (off their self titled 1995 album). On the face of it, the lyrics are pretty bleak and depressing, veering towards being a bit over the top – but actually that was the intent. The song is actually a tongue in cheek poke at the general view at the time that grunge and alt rock bands only sang about depressing angst ridden subjects.
Ok time to start wrapping this one up. There’s only one song about rain that I can imagine finishing this post with. Purple Rain by Prince. The title song off the soundtrack to his 1984 movie, and the song that launched him to pop super-stardom, was apparently inspired after Prince attended several Bob Seger concerts and noticed the huge response that slow songs like Night Moves and Mainstreet received. The meaning of its lyrics have been much debated – clearly its a love song, although Prince has been quoted as saying this about it:
When there’s blood in the sky – red and blue = purple.. purple rain pertains to the end of the world and being with the one you love and letting your faith/God guide you through the purple rain
Ok, now that we have cleared that up…. What’s interesting to me is that it is one of the few instances (at least for a song that was this popular) of rain not having a negative connotation, but rather a joyous, cleansing, ok, even spiritual feeling. Prince’s impassioned vocals, along with the equally brilliant guitar solo, take the song to another level. By the end of the song, you feel like you have taken a journey to a new better place where you can start anew, “bathing in the purple rain”. Even if you aren’t completely sure what purple rain is.
Ok that will do it for now. As I mentioned earlier, there are loads of songs about rain. These are only the ones that immediately came to mind. Perhaps I will do a follow up post some time looking at other examples.
Now it’s your turn! – what are some of your favorite songs about rain?
Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts.com; Genius.com; NME.com
Hatchie is an Australian singer/songwriter whose music reminds me of 90’s groups that I loved like The Sundays or the Cranberries.
This song is what got me into Regina Spektor – I love the quirkiness of her songs – always something unexpected that makes it an enjoyable listen. From her 2012 album What We Saw from the Cheap Seats. (and the video is neat too!)
We’d like to take a short interlude from sharing new music and current music interests for a more personal post to remember a dear friend, brother in arms, and our third amigo, Rich. This one’s a bit long, just a heads up.
It’s been 15 years since Mike and Paul lost Rich to cancer. 15 years of births, graduations and soon a marriage among our collective children. Children who have been regaled time after time with stories recounting the escapades, wit and wisdom of “Uncle Rich”. 15 years of new music from our favorite artists, of discoveries of new artists, of attending concerts.
So many of those memories are enveloped in a soundtrack of our favorite music. So many memories that we made over our 20 year friendship with Rich were built on or enhanced by our shared mutual appreciation that so much of what we do everyday can be better with the right music, even if it’s just in the background. Rich used to joke about wouldn’t it be great if life was a musical, which led to all kinds of funny jokes involving alot of bad singing. If not a musical, our time with Rich was greatly deepened and enhanced by our shared experience of the music we loved.
A few short years from now Rich will have been gone for as long as we knew him, but to be truthful we’re not actually without him. So much of music we listen to now has its origins in the music the three of us listened to in the 80s and 90s and early 2000‘s.
So what follows are a few memories of our time with Rich framed through the music we loved or were experiencing at the time.
Mike: I’m driving down the Garden State Parkway with Rich in his beast of a car. This was when the tolls were $.25. At the tollboth, from the passenger seat I would try hook shot the quarter over the top of the car into the collection basket. One particular time on the way to Wildwood, the DJ from WMMR in Philly teased the next song with “next, one of the greatest songs ever!” During the commercial break, Rich and I threw out our predictions: Bruce Springsteen (naturally), the Stones the Who, or Led Zeppelin. The commercial ends, the DJ comes back and plays…… ‘In a Big country’……by Big Country. We looked at each other and burst out laughing.
Paul: As regular readers of this blog will know Mike and Paul are huge Springsteen fans. We shared this passion with Rich (after all, he named his dog Bruce!). I have many fond memories of Rich that involve Bruce. But two stand out.
Back in the 80’s before the Internet and streaming, you had to turn to bootleg recordings if you wanted to more fully experience a favorite artist. And so you would head down to your favorite independent record shop who carried bootleg records, and rummage through the backbins (sometimes you had to ask- “Do you have anything else from Bruce, WINK WINK??). Rich had a copy of Springsteen’s famous concert from the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco in 1978 that we loved. Only problem was that one day he left it in the back of his car (did we mention it was a beast?) and the sun had melted the plastic leaving it slightly warped. But did that stop Rich from enjoying it? Turns out it was still playable on a turntable, if you ignored the fact that at a certain part of the record the needle would do its best impression of rollercoaster ride going up and down and up… and that song (don’t remember which) would have its own unique set of pauses and stops. But since it was a bootleg to begin with (and this was in the pre-digital days) it actually didn’t make that much of a difference!
Here’s ‘Because the Night‘ from that concert:
Another memory. In 1992, Bruce pulled a Guns R’ Roses and released two albums at same time, Human Touch and Lucky Town. The resulting tour without the E St. Band has been the subject of much debate over the years in terms of how the new band held up against the E. Streeters. But of course since it was Bruce, Mike, Paul and Rich were there. During one of the many highlights (I want to say it was Promised Land, but my memory is fuzzy) Rich was dancing like a maniac, slipped, and hit his face on the stairs. He had a big gash above his one eye, but continued dancing like nothing had happened. Finally his girlfriend at the time insisted they get medical attention, so they left and Mike and I stayed. A while later (after all this is a Bruce concert!) right as the first song of the encore starts, his girlfriend comes back and says we need to take him to hospital for stitches. Mike and I look at each other with that dilemma – leave a Bruce concert early? I think one of us even suggested we wait until it was finished (after all it wasn’t an emergency at that point). His girlfriend gave us a withering look and might have even said “I can’t believe that Bruce is more important than your friend!” So of course we left…. we met Rich outside and what is the first thing he says?? “What the hell are you leaving a Bruce concert early for??!!” It was at that point that I realized that Rich and his girlfriend probably wouldn’t be a long term thing.
Here’s ‘My Beautiful Reward from Lucky Town, the song we walked out of at that concert.
Mike: Sitting on the roof of Rich’s apartment building overlooking the Philadelphia skyline at night. I don’t remember what music was playing but whenever I remember it I hear Springsteen’s Streets of Philadelphia playing, a song which seems prophetic in retrospect.
Paul: Another artist that we were really into during college was John Mellencamp. His album Scarecrow was as much a part of the soundtrack of our college years as Born in the USA was. My particular memory here was getting together with Mike and Rich the
summer after our senior year, right before we were all parting ways to go to med school or grad school, for one last 3 amigos bonding experience. We went to Rich’s house, listened to music, shared memories, and drank alot of beer. And then (perhaps because of the aforementioned beer drinking) Rich said let’s make some videos. Remember this was before Iphones and camera phones etc, so setting up a video wasn’t that straightforward. There was a concept video to the Eagles ‘King of Hollywood‘ that involved me in a rain coat, hat and glasses staring at a picture of Julianne Phillips (don’t ask). But the best part was a performance video we did lipsynching (and airplaying instruments to a number of Bruce and Mellencamp tunes. We had an old acoustic guitar, a broom and some pots and pans and kitchen utensils for drums. It was a blast.
Where is the video you ask? It is probably around somewhere on some form of old media that doesn’t play anymore, although I am not sure. But instead, how about Mellencamp’s ‘R.O.C.K. in the USA, which I definitely remember we “played” that night.
Rich was a unique quirky one of a kind friend who was loyal to a fault – going through college together, post college, and the beginning of forming our families bonded us together like brothers. While his tastes in music didn’t venture perhaps as widely as Mike and I’s, his passion for it and the meaning that it gave to our lives meant that we always had that connection to each other, regardless of whether we were separated geographically or involved in our own things. Whenever we got together, the memories would be recalled, the new experiences shared, and the music, always the music, would be playing.
At his funeral, Rich requested that ‘Jungleland‘ off of ‘Born to Run‘ be played, and we honored his request. Let’s honor it again. Rich, we miss you every single day, every single time we share a song with each other, or go to a concert together. But we know that you are always with us, in the songs and notes of the music we love.
Found this on YouTube. If you’re a Dave Grohl or Foo Fighters fan you’ll love this. It also answers the question “ what if you built a band out of a bunch of Dave Grohl clones?”