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Rain Songs

Author: Robert Benson

Robert writes about rock/pop music, vinyl record collecting and operates ""
Collecting vinyl records blog

Rain Songs
Parts 1 & 2
Part 1

After a long, hard winter, we all look forward to the spring, the warmth of the sun and the longer days of April and May and then on to summertime. However, as they say- with spring a little rain must fall. In this four-part article series, let's explore some popular 'rain' songs in music history, you will probably be surprised how many of these songs from American music that you are familiar with.

B.J. Thomas scored number one hit in 1970 with the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song called "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head." The song was written for the soundtrack of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford. The cut was the second number one single for the Bacharach-David songwriting team and it won an Academy Award for Best Song, being only the second number one song of the rock era to do so.

Interestingly, the night before B.J. Thomas was to record the song, he was under doctor's orders not to use his voice for two weeks (he was suffering from laryngitis). However, he pleaded with the doctor to treat his condition, explaining that he had to record a song for a new Paul Newman movie and the doctor gave him some medication to keep his throat lubricated so he could sing.

The next day, Thomas did five takes of the song before Bacharach was satisfied (and Thomas would later admit that if he had been asked to record one more take, he couldn't have done it). After a few weeks his voice healed and he flew to New York to record the single version, this time his voice was crystal clear.

Some history books say that Bob Dylan was originally asked to record the song, but Bacharach disputes this, claiming that he had asked Ray Stevens to do it, but it wasn't a career move that Stevens wanted to make. Ooops.

Iconic guitarist Eric Clapton released a cut called "Let It Rain" in 1972 (it peaked at #48 on the Billboard charts). Clapton wrote the song with the help of Bonnie and Delaney Bramlett while they were on tour together in 1969 (and while Clapton was still with the supergroup Blind Faith). The song is the last track on Clapton's first solo album, which was coincidently produced by Delaney Bramlett. There is also a nineteen-minute version of the song on the Derek and the Dominos "Live at the Fillmore" LP.

The song was not released as a single until 1972. Two years after the album came out. Jerry Allison and Sonny Curtis, both former members of Buddy Holly and the Crickets, along with Bonnie Bramlett and Rita Coolidge sang back up vocals.

Another fantastic rain song is the Creedence Clearwater Revival cut, "Have You Ever Seen The Rain," which hit number eight on the Billboard charts in 1971 (from the LP Pendulum 1970).

There have been some who have speculated that the song's lyrics were referring to the Vietnam War, with 'rain' being a metaphor for bombs falling for the sky. But John Fogerty, singer and songwriter for the band has stated that the song is about the rising tension and internal strife that CCR was experiencing at the time and about the imminent departure of his brother, Tom from the band (he ultimately left the band in early 1971 after the release of Pendulum).

Before there was the Partridge Family, another family band scored a huge hit with a 'rain' song. The Cowsills, a family pop group, hit number two on the Billboard charts in the fall of 1967 with the song called "The Rain, The Park and Other Things." It is also known as the 'flower girl song, in reference to the lyrics, "I love the flower girl."

Some interesting tidbits about the cut are that it is one of only a few vocal works whose lyrics do not contain the song's title. The song was co-written and produced by Artie Kornfeld, who later went on to fame as one of the concert promoters at the legendary concert at Woodstock. Additionally, the song was an international hit, reachi9ng number one in Canada in the week of November 13, 1967 and was also a hit in the UK.

"Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain" is a song that was written by Fred Rose and was originally recorded in 1945 by Roy Acuff and later in 1951 by Hank Williams Sr. But it is best remembered as the breakthrough number one hit for country singer Willie Nelson (the song hit number one on the country singles chart and number twenty-one on the Billboard Top 100), who also earned a Grammy Award for Country Male Vocalist in 1975.

Prior to the massive success of the song, Nelson had enjoyed mainstream success primarily as a songwriter; the best known song he wrote was "Crazy," performed by Patsy Cline. He chose to include "Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain" on his concept LP "Red Headed Stranger" and with his own unique style incorporated into the melody, the hit helped launch his career to country superstardom.

The cut has also been placed at number 302 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs. Interestingly, it is also the last known song that Elvis Presley performed before his untimely passing on August 16, 1977 (he had played the song at his Graceland home piano shortly before his demise).

Part 2

"Fire and Rain," a #3 Billboard hit in 1970 for James Taylor, helped to define his creative songwriting skills and became, not only part of his signature sound, but was a profound influence for many other songwriters and performers.

The sparse arrangement, including Taylor on the acoustic guitar, was written into three parts. The first part refers to a friend Suzanne, who had died while Taylor was in London working on his first album (he never got to say goodbye- friends thought that it would be a distraction and kept the tragic news from him). The second part of the song details Taylor's struggles to overcome his own drug addictions and depression. Finally, the third part of the song deals with facing the perils of fame and fortune, and in retrospect, exploring the road he traveled to get there.

The song includes a reference to James Taylor and the Flying Machine, a band he had worked with before he signed on with Apple Records. In fact, the lyric, "sweet dream and flying machines in pieces on the ground," is a direct reference to the dissolved group and not a fatal airplane crash which the phrase was long rumored to be about.

As we all know, James Taylor has gone on to a stellar music career, his genre-defining sounds have long been recognized and admired. The song, "Fire and Rain" is in the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is named as Rolling Stones' 227th greatest songs of all time (out of 500). The song has also been covered by numerous musicians including Willie Nelson (1975- #30 on the Billboard chart), Richie Havens, Herb Alpert, the Isley Brothers and many more.

Another 'rain' song that has a unique story is the cut "It's Raining Men," by the aptly named duo the Weather Girls (who were originally the back up singers for Sylvester in the late 1970s). The disco duo (Martha Wash and Izora Redman) took the song to #46 on the Billboard charts in 1983.

What's interesting is that this one-hit-wonder had been offered to a virtual who's who of female singing stars including the queen of disco, Donna Summer, diva Diana Ross, Cher, Grace Jones, Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin, among many others. Why even Barbra Streisand turned the song down. However, the Weather Girls made the song an international hit, selling over six million copies worldwide. The cut went to #1 on the US Disco chart, #34 on the US R&B charts, #2 in the UK and Australia and #1 on the Euro Hot 100.

The song was redone in April of 2001 by Geri Halliwell as a single on her second solo effort and was also on the soundtrack for the film "Bridget Jones Diary." "It's Raining Men" also became the second best selling single of 2001 (with over 3 million copies sold), not bad for a song nobody wanted to record in the early 1980s!

John Cougar Mellencamp's ode to the plight of Midwestern farmers, "Rain On The Scarecrow," hit #21 on the Billboard charts in 1986 (from the LP "Scarecrow" released in 1985 on Mercury Records). Although Mellencamp is widely accepted as the writer of the song, it was actually co-written by George M. Green. Mellencamp has a unique touch and passion in his songwriting that appeals to everyman.

But, this was more than just a song; it laments the sad financial difficulties that American farmers have endured and it shows that Mellencamp can be a serious social commentator. However, Mellencamp does more than just sing about the struggle, in fact, shortly after Scarecrow was finished, Mellencamp helped organize the first Farm Aid benefit concert with Willie Nelson and Neil Young in Champaign, Illinois on September 22, 1985. The Farm Aid concerts remain an annual event and have raised over $33 million for struggling family farmers through 2009. Interestingly, this album was also the first that Mellencamp recorded at his own recording studio, located in Belmont, Indiana (which was built in 1984). All of his subsequent albums after Scarecrow have also been recorded there.

"The Rain Song" is a love ballad of over 7 minutes in length by Led Zeppelin (from the band's fifth album "Houses of the Holy", released in 1973). George Harrison was reportedly the inspiration for "The Rain Song" when he commented to Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham that the group never wrote any ballads. So as a tribute to Harrison the opening two notes are recognizably borrowed from his ballad "Something."

During Led Zeppelin concerts from late 1972 until 1975, the band played the song immediately following "The Song Remains the Same," and by doing so they presented the songs in the same order as they appeared on the album. However, there was another reason for this; the group organized the set list in this manner because Page used a Gibson EDS-1275 double-necked guitar for both songs: the top, 12-string portion for "The Song Remains the Same" and then switching to the bottom, 6-string portion for "The Rain Song".

"The Rain Song" has appeared in two films: Almost Famous, directed by Cameron Crowe (who, as a teen reporter for Rolling Stone magazine, covered Led Zeppelin), and Led Zeppelin's own 1976 concert film, The Song Remains the Same (and accompanying soundtrack), as part of lead singer Robert Plant's fantasy sequence.

A hit for the band Blind Melon in 1993, their signature single "No Rain" topped off at #20 on the Billboard chart for 23 weeks in 1993 and hit #1 on both the Modern Rock Tracks and Mainstream Rock Tracks charts. "No Rain" was originally released in 1992, but was later re-released the following year and the cut subsequently helped propel Blind Melon to a multi-platinum level.

Led by singer Shannon Hoon (who died in 1995), the song was a hit not only because of the great music but is also well-known for its accompanying music video, which featured the "Bee Girl" character. The music video, directed by Samuel Bayer, received heavy airplay on MTV at the time of its release; helping to fuel sales.

It is a song that Blind Melon bass player Brad Smith had written about a former girlfriend. In the November, 1993 issue of Details magazine, he explained: "She had a hard time with depression. I was telling myself that I was writing it about her: how f--ked up she could be, but how intelligent she was and why she was so unhappy and how much she needed me to be happy. And I realized I was writing it about myself at the same time. I needed her just as much. She would sleep even when it was sunny outside and she'd complain that there wouldn't be any rain, because that would give her an excuse to stay in.""

VH1 ranked the "No Rain" video 83rd on its "100 Greatest Videos of All Time" list and the cut is also #99 on the video channel's "100 Greatest One-Hit Wonders" list.

Go to: Rain Songs - Parts 3 & 4

Article by: Robert Benson

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