In the wee hours of this morning, where I most often find my fingers tapping the keys, a steady downstream of rain raps, raps, raps against my chamber door (window). Rain is often such an evocative and emotional setting in films, songs, novels and as it happens, in real life. Romantic moments with kisses and streams of drenched hair is one depiction whereas in another, terror can grip an entire community. In California and across the nation, we are facing a deluge of thunderous storms, the variety for which Stevie Nicks may have been alluding to on the album Tusk.
Currently, our Oroville Dam, the tallest in the country, is facing a tenuous week ahead, with its spillways reaching dangerous levels, and thousands of people are on high alert.
In this spirit of sending positive thoughts to those who face the impending uncertainty, to the courageous first responders and engineers, I dedicate this post to you; be brave and let us continue preparing for what climate change and the proposed Anthropocene Epoch has brought upon us.
1970, in its early months, the classic and moody torrent by Brook Benton, “Rainy Night in Georgia,” spent fifteen weeks on the charts. Written by Tony Joe White (“Polk Salad Annie” – 1969) it’s difficult to understand how this soulful gem failed to hit #1, still doing quite well reaching #4. It has that sound with the harmonica and summer-like chord changes that capture the transition from the 1960s to 1970s (a little bit of message blending with the R&B coolness). Soon many artists, most prominently Marvin Gaye, would be wrapping up social commentary in a groove much like this one. With the Vietnam War in full swing, it must have felt to many that it was indeed raining all over the world.
Albert Hammond, born in England and raised in Spain, brought his particular irony in this Top 10 hit from 1972 which spent sixteen weeks on the charts. I can speak from experience, it never (well, rarely) rained in Southern California, but when it rained “It pours, man it pours.” L.A. had its share of damaging downpours, where I recall a garage across the street dangling precariously over the home below, soon cascading with mud and a Cadillac, ending up parked in their living room. Similarly, music was like a fire hydrant wrenched open by street kids on a warm summer day. With this creative excess, whether it brought fame or failure, Hammond comments on this conflicted state of affairs with tongue firmly in cheek: “Will you tell the folks back home I nearly made it/Had offers but don’t know which one to take/Please don’t tell ‘em how you found me don’t tell ‘em how you found me/Give me a break, give me a break.”
When The Who released their double LP rock opera masterpiece Quadrophenia in 1973, they were on top of the world. Here was a “tribute to the tortured inner life of the mods” (The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll) where “Love, Reign O’er Me” ranks high as both poetry and a visual rock & roll tour de force. Now you might say, the title is Reign not Rain so it doesn’t technically fit this writing’s theme, however, the Bad Boy Brits employ rainy sound effects, a crescendo from opening notes to Moon going ballistic, raising the gods of thunder with his cymbals. And lyrically, we have: “Only love can bring the rain that makes you yearn to the sky/Only love can bring the rain that falls like tears from all high.” ‘Nuf said.
The Fortunes, an underappreciated British quintet wins my award for the bubbliest, ear candy H2O tune of the decade. From 1971, this Top 20 toe-tapper integrates the best of Pop while borrowing a touch of of Motown and Soul. Fan or foe, it crawls in between the ears and takes hold. Much like those ear wigs from Night Gallery.
Peaking at #2 and spending twelve weeks on the charts in 1971, the Carpenters’ “Rainy Days and Mondays” was written by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols to which Williams recalled: “That’s the greatest record I’ve heard of one of my songs. From the harmonica intro to the last notes it just made me crazy. When Karen sang it, you heard the sadness and loneliness. For me, listening to her sing that song is almost like a bridge from what was contemporary to the roots of the emotion, back to a Billie Holiday kind of thing. It’s just a classic.” (From Little Girl Blue – Randy L. Schmidt). As you get to know me, I have a very soft spot for Karen Carpenter. What she accomplished regardless of her suffering was noteworthy – even it may have been mainly achieved by adhering tenaciously to denial – in the end, anorexia eventually prevailed over one of our true American treasures. Still, when I hear her voice, I melt.
“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” sung by B.J. Thomas was the first #1 single of the 1970s and spent four weeks in that position. Never has the idea of rain been portrayed and recorded in such a charming and playful way. The decade was initially serenaded by the team of Bacharach and David. In a sense, with their fruitful career mainly rooted in the prior decade, they were passing the torch to the next generations of melodic, poignant and introspective artists.
Like this one: Joni Mitchell painted her imagery inside a house in this beautiful poetic story from Ladies of the Canyon (1970):
“It was a rainy night/We took a taxi to your mother’s home/She went to Florida and left you/With your father’s gun alone/Upon her small white bed/I fell into a dream/You sat up all the night and watched me to see/Who in the world I might be.”
Even in her early songs that were pre-Court and Spark brilliance, Joni’s foray into the climate metaphor out-thinks and out-classes most others’ pitter patter against the windows. Get well soon, Joni. We love you.
Gordon Lightfoot’s “Rainy Day People” peaked at # 26 in 1975, following up huge hits “Sundown” and “Carefree Highway” and fading just prior to “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” Like most of Gordon’s gold, this little tune is evocative and slips under the skin in the best possible way.
Juxtaposition is a tool writers use, yet it needs to ring true. When James Taylor sings “Fire and Rain,” one gets a master class in opposites working together in concert to share perhaps his most bittersweet story from his young adulthood. We are never told or even shown what the fire is, or the rain is; only that he has seen it. Yes, pertaining to his mental health at the time, it can easily be characterized as the highs and lows of his depression and drug abuse. Toss in his lack of success in England as the fledgling recording artist of The Beatles Apple label; one can see the whole debacle as “pieces on the ground.”
So, I ponder this: Do we really listen to the rain? CCR asked that question. Fro those in Seattle, it is merely their way of life: The Puget Sound Annual Rain Festival – January 31 – December 31. Conversely, Mexico City could benefit significantly from the cloudbursts that never appear to travel south of the Rio Grande. It is heart-wrenching imagining a critical Old World capital, with its millions of people, as their infrastructure and homes literally sink into the past – the home of the Aztec people.
Many of us remember the inaugural Earth Day on April 22, 1970. Occasionally, I flash back to that silly television ad with Mother Nature dressed in a white gown wearing flowers in her hair (was she going to San Francisco?) selling butter (or was it margarine?) exclaiming: “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!”
As children in the neighborhood, we used to sing. “Rain, rain, go away, come back again some other day.
Well here is is, with a warning to us all.
Well, Brook, what would you have said about it today?