“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.
Why it feels so good to feel so sad?
I’m only happy when it rains
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