It’s been raining here for the past day or so and if the weather forecast is any indication, it’s not going to go away anytime soon. Rain is such a powerful force of nature – it can be destructive, but it can also regenerate. Rain can symbolize depression, or in the sense of a spring rain, happiness and joy.
Bob Dylan has probably gotten the most use out of rain just in song titles alone – “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, “Buckets of Rain”, “Rainy Day Women #12 & “35” and “Rainy Day Afternoon” plus a live album named Hard Rain.
On “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” Dylan uses it as a metaphor for an impending destruction. Dylan has stated that the song isn’t about a nuclear fall-out, but rather just a really hard rain. It’s hard to take that into account when he sees travesties such as “a new-born baby with wolves all around it” and a “young woman whose body was burning”. Dylan’s visions are so chilling that’s impossible to envision the rain in the song as anything but destructive.
Besides song titles, Dylan uses rain throughout his lyrics. “Shelter From the Storm” off of Blood on the Tracks is much more personal and the storm is entirely metaphorical. Over a soft acoustic guitar, Dylan recounts travels he has under taken, and let in by an unnamed woman who offers him shelter. Though the song seems sincere – she’s offering him shelter – I’ve always thought of the song as ironic. Everything seems perfectly fine until Dylan admits “there’s a wall between us and something has been lost”. Perhaps he got “his signals crossed” and misunderstood her motives. Each that each time Dylan repeats the chorus after that he seems increasingly bitter and betrayed. His tone on the words “give you” turns into “give ya” that cuts like a knife. At the end of the song the listener is left wondering where “the storm” actually is, and whether there is actually any shelter at all.
Similar to “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fail” John Fogerty used rain to vent his frustrations on the Vietnam War and the Woodstock generation on Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Who’ll Stop The Rain”. “Long as I remember, the rain been comin’ down,” Fogerty laments in the folk-rock classic. “Clouds of myst’ry pourin’ Confusion on the ground.” He sees that there is no end in sight and wonders, “who’ll stop the rain”?
Prince’s “Purple Rain” might very well be his masterpiece (both musically and lyrically). Throughout the song Prince tries to rectify relationships that have been torn apart – his girlfriend, his father, and his band members. “Purple Rain” represents a sort of redemption for Prince. It’s aching beautiful and heartfelt. While “Purple Rain” is certainly an anthem, it shouldn’t be interpreted as “Purple Reign” as a couple of Baltimore bars seemingly do after the Ravens win a game.
For Van Morrison, rain evokes peace and renewal on “Sweet Thing” off of Astral Weeks. The slow jazz inspired number even sounds like a spring rain. Throughout the song Morrison wanders through “gardens all wet with misty rain” with his love. On album filled with looking backwards, “Sweet Thing” is the only song that looks to the future, and the only one with a hint of happiness.
Rain is also a major theme of The Who’s 1973 double-album Quadrophenia. The main character Jimmy is a raging alcoholic and pill-popper, who constantly questions his identity (he even has multiple personalities). At the end of the album, Jimmy finally comes to terms with himself in the pouring rain. The song even opens with an extended collage of rain and thunderstorms.
Fran Healy of Travis famously asked, “Why does it always rain on me?”. Unlike the other artists mentioned, the narrator doesn’t get it. With self-loathing lyrics like that, the rain and sadness will never stop.