Category Archives: Paul

Songs about Rain

“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 TouchDave 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
Oh
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.

You know I love it when the news is bad
Why it feels so good to feel so sad?
I’m only happy when it rains
Pour your misery down
Pour your misery down on me

 

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

‘Eye of the Tiger’ as played by an Orchestra of 80+ Double Basses

My son plays the double bass, and each year takes part in a really cool summer camp called BassWorks – a one week summer music camp of only double bass players.  The camp includes students of all ages and levels of abilities, and the faculty includes some of the best double bass players in the country and world.

For their final concert, in addition to more classical pieces, they usually do one popular song.  This year it was Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’.  Check it out!

 

If you search for BassWorks on YouTube, you can also sample the entire 2.5 hour final concert which includes the different smaller ensembles and the full orchestra final concert.  The faculty recital is also worth checking out to see that the double bass is much more than just a accompaniment instrument in an orchestra.

One List of the Worst Songs of all Time

Mike and Paul love music – all kinds of music.  That’s why we started a blog after all!  So we tend to have a pretty wide area of toleration, if not love, for all kinds of music.  We would never say we hate for example, all country music, or all hip hop music, or even all polka music.

Having said that, we have to admit that there are some songs that just don’t cut it.  Inane melodies, pointless embarrassing lyrics, some songs are just bad.  Even artists with songs we love can over the course of a long career reach a creative nadir.  So without further ado, here is, in my opinion, a list of the worst songs of all time.  Disagree?  Have suggestions for additional songs?  Leave a comment below.

 

Beach Boys  Kokomo

Ok the Beach Boys are a legendary band, revolutionizing rock and roll in the early 60’s with their classic surfer sound.  But 25 years on, they had sunk to this annoying piece of pop drek. Pointless chorus, and it goes downhill from there.

 

Starship – We Built this City

This one makes most lists of all time worst songs.  What began as Jefferson Airplane, the influential late 60’s psychedelic folk/rock band, had morphed in the mainstream rock band Jefferson Starship, which descended by 1985 into Starship, which produced this.  The pretentiousness of the lyrics, combined with a bland melody is just too much. Extra rotten tomatoes for the cheesiness of the video.

 

Lou Ree – Metal Machine Music

In 1975, Lou Reed released this album of, let’s be honest, noise.  There are no melodies, no lyrics, no rhythms, just an hour plus of guitar feedback and other effects.  Some have hailed it as the forerunner of industrial or noise rock.  There is speculation it was a big middle finger to his record company.  Either way it is un-listenable.  If you ever want to clear a party, just put this on.  Here is a mercifully short clip.  The entire album is over an hour of this.

 

Van Halen  – Why Can’t This Be Love?

Sometimes its not the song melody that makes a song the worst, but the lyrics.  This 1986 song, the first with lead singer Sammy Hagar, gets the nod for  utterly inane lyrics.  One choice example: “Hey only fools rush in and only time will tell, If we stand the test of time.”  Seriously guys, this is the best you could come up with?

 

Kid Rock – All Summer Long

I have to say up front that I have never been a Kid Rock fan, which doesn’t make me particularly popular with my in-laws who live in Michigan.  What annoys me about this song is the complete rip-off (some would say appropriation) of the melody structure of  Warren Zevon‘s ‘Werewolves of London’ and Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s ‘Sweet Home Alabama.’  I know that there are few original ideas in music (everyone is always recycling new ideas for new creative purposes) but in my opinion this crosses the line into desecration of two classics.

 

USA for Africa – We are the World

Ok so yes, this song was done for a noble purpose (to raise money for famine victims in Africa).  And yes it brought together the best of mid 80’s American pop and rock stars to record it (watching the video is a kick in that sense).  But the song itself, written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richtie?  Not so good.

 

Lou Bega – Mambo #5

This one is emblematic of any number of one hit wonder songs that become massively popular in a short amount of time.  I’m thinking the Macarena, Who Let the Dogs Out, Gangnam Style.  They may not necessarily be terrible songs themselves, but they get played over and over and over and over and over…again on the radio to the point where you want to destroy your radio.

 

Dionne & Friends – That’s What Friends Are For

Written by Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager.  Ok.  Covered in this version by Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder.  Granted.  And it also was a charity song for AIDS research and prevention – a noble purpose.  But it makes my list for a very specific reason.  At the 1986 Grammy Awards, this song beat out the following songs for Song of the Year – Steve Winwood – Higher Love; Paul Simon – Graceland; Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer.  Stop for a second and read that list again.  Enough said.  I guess its not the song’s fault it won, but if it hadn’t been written it wouldn’t have won.

 

Dan Hill – Sometimes When We Touch

This 1977 song by songwriter Dan Hill is the perfect example of overly earnest lyrical sentiments that quickly collapses into annoying tripe and cheesiness. As one song lyric goes, “The honesty’s too much, And I have to close my eyes, And hide.”  Couldn’t have said it better myself, Dan.

 

Extreme – More than Words

A hair band trying to show its sensitive side.  The message to the girl in the song is to show her love for the protagonist with more than words.  Maybe its just me, but this one creeps me out.  Reminds me of the archetypal scene in the backseat of a car on a Saturday night where the captain of the football team is trying to get the cheerleader to give it up by showing his “sensitive side.”

 

Wang Chung – Everybody Have Fun Tonight

This 1986 hit by Wang Chung is a good example of how bad some 1980s music became.  Pointless, self involved, new wave cheesiness.  They even refer to themselves in the song lyrics.  Bonus rotten tomatoes for the music video – enough to induce a seizure from all the rapid fire jump cuts.

 

Stevie Nicks Silent Night

Covers of Christmas classics by contemporary artists could be its whole own category of worst songs.  Why does every artist who has more than 2 albums feel the need to do a Christmas album?  Easy money I guess, since you don’t to write the songs, just sing and record them and put it out during the holiday season.  Most of these covers are just plain boring, nondescript, or bland.  Every once in a while a new classic is born.  But the flip side is this selection off A Very Special Christmas Vol. 1, which has Stevie Nicks completely ruining Silent Night.  Completely misguided pairing of artist to song.  And the backing vocals from Robbie Nevil don’t help.

 

So that’s it for now?  Violently disagree?  Dumbfounded that I forgot your favorite selection?  Leave a comment below!

Frank Turner – Be More Kind

Image result for be more kind

Frank Turner is an English singer whose songs have been described as folk punk.  A former member of the punk band Million Dead, his songs as a solo artist are folk songs with a punk asthetic – fast paced, aggressive, fist pumping and easy to sing loud to.  What we really love about his songs though is the message inherent in his lyrics: to be true to yourself, experience life to the fullest, and be authentic.  Very inspirational and life affirming at any age, whether your adult life is just starting or you’re facing midlife and questioning what comes next.

Turner has never shied away from the political, but it hasn’t been as much of a focus as earlier in his career.

Early in his solo career he wrote  songs bursting with youthful indignation and righteous anger. They were sometimes political, sometimes blasphemous and occasionally profane.

The last two albums, 2013‘s Tape Deck Heart and 2015‘s Positive Songs for Negative People found Frank focusing more inwardly; somewhat pessimistically, on TDH and then with a somewhat  sunnier outlook on Positive Songs. Those albums chronicle a personal emotional journey from a darker emotional place to new promising relationships. 

2018 has Frank turning his gaze back outward to the rest of the world.

His latest album, Be More Kind returns to  earlier themes.  The election of Donald Trump in the US, and Brexit in his home UK, have made him contemplate the meaning of these events in our time, and how to continue to be authentic when the world is “slipping over the brink,” as he states in the punk tinged ‘1933‘, an allusion to the years before WWII and the start of the rise of Hitler in Germany.  The song is a direct slap in the listener’s face to wake up and pay attention to what’s going on, a pretty terrifying take on the current state of world affairs.

While 1933 (along with the one off song ‘Sand in the Gears‘ that he premiered right after Trump’s election in Jan. 2017) are directly confrontational, Turner’s larger question on his current album is how to move forward to a better place given the situation we find ourselves in.  His answer, as you may have guessed by now, is answered in the title track ‘Be More Kind‘.  Starting quietly with just acoustic guitar, the song slowly builds to a full  yet restrained melody as Turner implores us to show more kindness towards each other, try to better understand each other and find common ground, regardless of our political views or beliefs.

We’ve stopped talking to each other
And there’s something wrong with that
So before you go out searching
Don’t decide what you will find
Be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind

 

In other songs, Turner explores this theme of connection by focusing on finding individual connection with another within a futuristic nightmare landscape where the world is already over the brink (‘20th Century Survival Blues‘)  or when faced with a literal and figurative ‘Blackout‘:

Meet me in the middle
Meet me in the middle
Bring a burning candle with you
Meet me in the middle
Meet me in the middle
I will be there waiting for you

Musically, this is Turner’s most expansive album to date, incorporating not just his trademark punk folk as well as rock style, but also the most pop influenced songs of his career.  While ‘There She Is‘ is a lovely slice of acoustic pop balladry, ‘Little Changes‘ uses an upbeat and bouncy melody to impart the message that “the big things stay the same until we make Little changes” – change, whether in your personal relationships or in society as a whole, cannot happen all at once but needs to start one step at a time, always moving forward.

In our mind, the highlight of the album and the song that brings it all together is ‘Make America Great Again‘, where Turner brilliantly turns the Trump slogan on its head, using the conceit of an Englishman using the US/England “special relationship” to give advice to his country’s former colony.  After suggesting in the chorus that we make America great again by “By making racists ashamed again, Let’s make compassion in fashion again” Turner ends the song by saying:

Let’s be a friend to our oldest friends
And call them out when they’re faltering
Remind them of their best selves and then
We’ll make America great again

Be More Kind provides a compelling reminder for finding our best selves again, for showing kindness, love and tolerance of others, as the only way to make it through these challenging times.