Here in the Golden State we really only have two seasons: wet and dry. Okay, if you factor in mudslides, firestorms and earthquakes, we have five seasons that us Californians, um, enjoy during any given year. It’s always quite comforting on a warm October day when someone reminds you that it’s earthquake weather, or when the weather report includes how acrid the air is because there’s a fire burning out of control somewhere. Yeah, it’s not all beaches and movie stars in California, but one thing that’s always welcome here is rain. We don’t get nearly enough to supply the water needs of the state, but when it pours, there’s a kind of underlying comfort that you can flush your toilet or take an extra minute or two in the shower without the water police reminding you how much we need to conserve. Alas, the rainy season hasn’t quite started. Oh, we’ve had a few storms, but nothing that will add significantly to the snow pack in the Sierras, fill the lakes and reservoirs, or allow me to hose down the back patio without feeling guilty.
In the realm of music, though, rain has been a popular theme for decades. Sometimes it’s a metaphor for redemption, sometimes misery, and sometimes it’s not a metaphor at all — sometimes, it’s just a song about rain. So, here we go with six songs that, for me, are a not-so-subtle rain dance to the weather gods.
“Shadows in the Rain,” Sting (download)
“Wait! Wait! What key is it in?” Don’t know you know? It’s in the key of Sting (try and keep up, will ya?) and, more importantly, this is the first of many instances where Sting pilfers from the songs he wrote and recorded for the Police for his solo work. I have to say that his decision to take a rather noir ska tune and remake it into a upbeat jazzy number was inspired. Of course, Sting had help from a stellar grouping of talented musicians that included Branford Marsalis on sax, Omar Hakim with some wicked drumming, and Kenny Kirkland on keyboards.
“Rain,” the Beatles (download)
“Rain” was the B-Side of the single “Paperback Writer,” and I think it’s probably the most telling 45 of their career. By that I mean it’s a single that highlighted the band at a musical crossroads. “Paperback Writer” is a great song, but it’s reminiscent of their early bubblegum work, while “Rain” has elements that would show up in Revolver and beyond: more psychedelic harmonies, backward vocals, and stop time. The song is one of those literal meaning songs about rain and people hating crappy weather, but you’d never know it from its upbeat vibe.
“Plainsong,” the Cure (download)
There are rainy days where time just kind of lilts along in a dreamy kind of way. For those days, “Plainsong” really signals the keynote. The album Disintegration, which I would argue is the Cure’s masterpiece, was created in a very Robert Smith way: deep depression, drink, and drugs. Thinking that his muse had long left him, he set about writing songs without the band’s input (seems the goth lads where fighting). Surprisingly, Smith penned some of the best songs of their career and achieved a great amount of rock star success — something which he says he didn’t want. Well, in 1989 Smith didn’t get his wish, but considering the sales of their last album, I think he’s finally achieved his career goals.
“I’ll Take the Rain (Remix),” R.E.M. (download)
I have long since abandoned R.E.M. as a favorite band, and when they released Reveal in 2001, it was a zero on my Thrill-O-Meter. But then they did something novel for the time: they allowed people to remix tracks on the album and then gave away the finished product on their website. r.e.m.IX was, to me, a breath of fresh air because Jamie Candiloro took an “Everything I Hate About R.E.M.” song and made it shine.
“Rain, Rain, Rain,” Roxy Music (download)
This was the first Roxy Music album I ever purchased. And even though I love Avalon more, there’s something about Flesh + Blood that makes me return to it every now and then. “Rain, Rain, Rain” is certainly appropriate for this mix, but there’s a certain unbridled quality to this song than there is on any others on the album. The band is playing in a less structured and more instinctual way — which adds a great deal of passion to the tune. Sure, I love the polish that Roxy Music brought to their late career music, but it’s nice to hear them be a little more raw like they are on “Rain, Rain, Rain.”
“When It Rains,” Paramore (download)
What can I say? I have a 13-year-old daughter and I hear a lot of Paramore at home. I’m not too fond of the Riot version of “When It Rains,” but the band really energizes this live version by speeding up the tempo a bit, while Hayley Williams brings the right kind of emotion to the vocals. Clearly, this tune resonates with the audience since they mimic Williams’ vocals when prompted — demonstrating that teenage crushes hurt the most when they don’t work out.