The human condition explained in three-minute bursts
This thread of the blog being called The Wisdom of Pop Songs, we’re not just going to look at songs about the weather, but what the weather symbolizes.
Rain has always been a negative symbol: sun good, rain bad. That, of course, depends on where you live, but famous pop songs don’t generally come from the Sahara or from drought-stricken countries.
If you go out in the rain, you get wet, and most people don’t like that. Being cold is one thing. Being cold and wet is another. Besides, rain spoils your hairstyle and doesn’t look good when soaked into your clothes. On the ground it forms mud, which means dirty shoes and maybe strips of gunge at the bottom of your trousers.
No one, then, likes being caught in the rain – unless they’re in love, and we will come to that next week.
This week, rain is bad. Ask anyone. Ask John Lennon, who wrote Rain, the B-side of Paperback Writer in 1966. “If the rain comes, they run and hide their head. They might as well be dead.” That’s a bit extreme, but maybe he was speaking metaphorically, and rain represented bad things in general. Actually, at one point he says “Rain, I don’t mind”. A gorgeous song, anyway, the psychedelic sound just developing in Lennon’s voice, and Paul McCartney’s bass going where no bass player had gone before (listen to it later – it’s at the bottom of the page).
A couple of years before Lennon wrote that, he would have heard The Cascades’ one-off hit Rhythm of the Rain, in which the singer imagines the rain is communicating with him.
Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain
Telling me just what a fool I’ve been
Listen, pal, I know you’re young and romantic, but you’ll get yourself locked up if you carry on like that.
As I just mentioned, young lovers can find walking in the rain quite charming, but not Oran “Juice” Jones in 1986. What bothered him, though, was that his girlfriend was walking in the rain with someone else – holding the guy’s hand, no less – and if anyone was going to be getting soaked in that way, it should have been him.
Paul Simon came up with a very different scenario in I Do It For Your Love on the Still Crazy album. Daydreaming about the beginning of a relationship, he sings of buying furniture for the couple’s rather modest abode.
Found a rug in an old junk shop
Brought it home to you
Along the way the colours ran
The orange bled the blue
Let’s hope he wasn’t clutching it to his nice white shirt, or that will have been ruined too.
Peter Gabriel’s song Red Rain (1986 on the album So) may not be about rain at all. Again, it may have been about something bad happening, and poor old scapegoat precipitation gets the blame. It’s falling down all over him, apparently. But he’s dreaming, so it could be anything. He could have had a deprived childhood in which his family had tomato ketchup with everything to enhance the bland food, so he shook the Heinz bottle so many times he was sick of it.
It’s a theory, that’s all. These are pop songs, not pronouncements from on high.
Carole King left us in no doubt about her feelings in her 1962 hit “It might as well rain until September”. She didn’t mean that in a good way. Her boyfriend had gone away for the summer and she wasn’t happy about it. Let’s hope he and the sun returned before her tennis shoes went rotten.
ELO made the wet stuff guilty by association in Showdown (1973), when an unspecified situation is heading for a confrontation that can bring no good, and the singer concludes:
It’s raining all over the world
Tonight, the longest night
Eurythmics (they didn’t go in for definite articles) joined in the moaning in 1984 with this:
Here comes the rain again
Raining in my head like a tragedy
Tearing me apart like a new emotion
Little Annie Lennox wanted better weather, which would somehow revive a dead relationship.
James Taylor’s breakthrough hit Fire and Rain is said by some to be metaphorical, with the elements of the title representing his drug addiction (fire) and alcohol consumption (rain), and for once there could be something in that. Send the forensics team in to examine the song and you find that the Suzanne whom he had always thought he would see again was one Suzanne Schnerr, an old friend who had committed suicide, while the “flying machines in pieces on the ground” refers to the breakup of his old band, Flying Machine.
So it’s a rarity: a pop song that actually means something.
Meanwhile, back at the rainy day complaints department, I Can’t Stand The Rain, as popularized by Ann Peebles and covered by many others including Tina Turner, reggae singer Hortense Ellis, Paul Rodgers and Michael Bolton, gives us rain against the window as emblematic of the distress caused by yet another romantic breakup.
When Bob Dylan sang about a hard rain that was going to fall, he was at his most enigmatic: the bard of rock talking about who knows what. Something to do with heavy water, a part of the process of creating nuclear energy and therefore capable of more bad than good? You get the feeling Dylan is never going to tell us the truth, because his protest songs and other heavy material rely on their mystery.
Way back in the 1950s, Buddy Holly presented no such conundrums with Raining in my Heart, in which everything in the garden is rosy except one thing: the girl doesn’t love him. The weather man doesn’t know that, though, so he has announced glorious sunshine. Insensitive berk.
That’s more like it. Pop music is for basic emotions. It’s there to tell us we’re not alone and others have felt the way we do. It’s there for us, come rain or shine.
Next Friday: rain is good