The lawns are dead, the hibiscus and bougainvillea are fried and the Sierra Nevada snow pack reserve of underground water is at its lowest in 500 years. We need rain here in California, we need torrents of it (and snow up in the Sierras) this winter to even begin to loosen the grip of the historic, tenacious drought that came to stay. Recently, the temperature hit triple digits in places it rarely hits triple digits, and, frankly, it’s starting to feel a wee bit Arrakis up in here.
Like Joni Mitchell says, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Several times this summer, the Bay Area sky looked promisingly threatening, but, sadly, no rain ever fell. Last night, there was a tiny bit of spillage from on high, enough to make a feeble pitter-patter on the gutters for a few minutes and wet the top layer of dust in the garden. It only left me wanting more. I want buckets of rain. I want Hollywood rom-com rain. I want it to pour down in sheets until I’m photogenically drenched like Andie Macdowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral and I’m saying to Hugh Grant, “Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed.”
It’s time for drastic measures. It’s time for a rain dance.
A Playlist of My Favorite Songs About Rain
“Only Happy When It Rains,” Garbage. Rain as metaphor for a pessimistic and “difficult” nature. Shirley Manson gives sassy, wry voice to those of us who can’t help looking at the half-empty glass. This has been my theme song more times than I will ever admit. Pour some misery down on me.
“Waterproof,” Sparks. This operetta from Hello Young Lovers opens the musical floodgates, with stately chorale singing, a charming boogie-woogie interlude, a rock break, a Three Stooges “Niagara Falls” reference, and who-knows-what-else, while the lyrics remain nice and dry-witted: “The rain just falls off of me/ The tears just fall off of me/ Cause I’m waterproof, waterproof/ The barometric pressure has no relevance to me.”
“Umbrella,” Rihanna (feat. Jay-Z). Like everyone else in 2007, I succumbed to the ear worm ‘ella, ‘ella, ‘ella chorus. But I have a soft spot for the song on the basis of the title alone. As an umbrella fan, I believe that there just aren’t enough songs about this often-under appreciated accessory. In addition to being a must in wet weather, umbrellas are romantic, sheltering lovers from raindrops and prying eyes. The romanticism of “Umbrella” links directly back to one of the greatest pop songs ever written, the Hollies’ “Bus Stop”: “Bus stop, wet day, she’s there, I say, Please share my umbrella.” (Has anyone done a mash-up of the two songs?) Umbrellas are also cool and iconically British: think John Steed, the Beatles on the cover of Beatles ’65, John Cleese in the Ministry of Silly Walks sketch. Mary Frickin’ Poppins! So you can probably imagine my delight when, in the wake of the success of “Umbrella,” Isotoner put out a Totes line of Rihanna-branded ‘ellas, ‘ellas, ‘ellas.
“Rain on the Roof,” Lovin’ Spoonful. A sweet relic from my Top 40 AM-radio youth. The tap-tap of the brushed cymbal sounds like raindrops; in 1966, the Lovin’ Spoonful were aural masters of the musical weather report, as they had proven with their previous single, “Summer in the City.”
“It’s Raining Men,” The Weather Girls. Hallelujah! As long as those dudes give my flowers a little somethin’ somethin,’ I’m cool with it. And I’m not speaking metaphorically.
“The Rain, the Park and Other Things,” The Cowsills. This splendiferous pop song never fails to make me happy, happy, happy — although the Cowsills’ story is often tragic. Another childhood fave from 1967, this video is from a live TV special. (The Cowsills were the real life inspiration for the Partridge Family; check out the heartbreaking documentary, “Family Band,” which is now available on DVD.)
“I Can’t Stand the Rain,” Ann Peebles. This song was memorably sampled by Missy Elliott in her “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”, but Peebles’ original version (which she also wrote) is still the best. The percolating drip-drops at the beginning of this Memphis soul classic, so much more evocative than cheesy thunderclaps, are one of the greatest sound effects ever to make the charts.
“Crying in the Rain,” The Everly Brothers. The most beautiful two minutes of sadness and harmony you will ever hear. If rain could sing, it would sing this song.
“I Wish it Would Rain,” The Temptations. Pssst, Don and Phil Everly . . . the Temps did their crying in the rain, too. This song features lead singer David Ruffin’s fervid soul man side, and it’s my second favorite of his vocals, behind his sweeter “My Girl.” And, this video! The Temps are singing live here on a TV variety show (it looks to me like the old Hollywood Palace), and they tear it up.
“Walking in the Rain,” The Ronettes. Forget what I said about cheesy thunderclaps. These are Phil Spector thunderclaps, rolling in from Mount Olympus to make Ronnie Spector sound like a lonely, dreaming goddess.
“Let it Rain,” Eric Clapton/ “Love Reign O’er Me,” The Who. The Temptations and Everly Brothers exemplify one recurrent theme of rain-pop — manly tears permitted to fall only in a downpour. And here’s the other recurrent theme: Rain as a manifestation and metaphor for love, be it holy or carnal. These guys aren’t crying in the rain, they’re running around naked in it, blissed out in the gentle shower of “Let it Rain,” horned up in the tempestuous monsoon of “Love Reign O’er Me”.
“Purple Rain,” Prince. Welp, His Purple Litigiousness has removed all clips from You Tube. So here’s Elvis Costello doing an ecstatic cover version during his Spinning Songbook tour. Catch it before the Prince Police sniff it out!
“Set Fire to the Rain,” Adele. I refuse to call this a guilty pleasure. I have no guilt when it comes to this song. Is Adele’s belting a touch overwrought? Yes. Can you actually set fire to rain? No. But I love the song’s shameless celebration of anger and destructiveness in response to a bad breakup, particularly in its torching of the unrealistic expectations one might get from watching too many rom-com lovers reconcile in the rain. Kill it! Kill it with fire, Adele!
“Singin’ in the Rain,” Gene Kelly. “This California dew is just a little heavier than usual tonight.” “Really? From where I stand, the sun is shining all over the place.” Was this the birth of the rom-com rain trope? Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly have zippier lines than Andie and Hugh, though. And then lovestruck Kelly joyfully dances in the puddles, and oh … words fail me. Just watch the clip.
©Joyce Millman, The Mix Tape, 2015