Stormy Weather: Five Underrated Songs About Rain
Tony! Toni! Toné! told me it never rains in Southern California.
It took moving to Southern California in 2004, to realize Tony! Toni! Toné! lied.
It does rain in Southern California…although so infrequently that you can almost forget sometimes, since it can go six months without doing so.
Fast forward thirteen years to July of 20SickDream, making the edifying drive from Southern California, back to Southern New Jersey.
The rain increased, with great frequency, along the way.
It’s raining today right now, back in my new, old home.
Is rain a bad thing?
Who’s really to say?
All I know is that on a cold and rainy day in N.J., it's hard not to think about L.A.
Rain is a powerful natural act, it can be a gift in a drought or a curse in a flood.
It can give life or cleanse.
It can dampen or destroy.
Today's theme in The Five Spot is rain, featuring a few lesser-hailed, yet no lesser-scaled, lamentations on condensation.
Since it's in a musical context, rain can be literal, metaphorical or even metaphysical.
Put on some wudder-proof pants and come rain dance with Bomby Digital.
Oh, you thought we were gonna go “Purple Rain”? C’mon, Kids! How is “Purple Rain” in any way underrated? It’s a masterpiece that’s at very least properly rated, perhaps even overexposed, since it’s still trying to shed the stink of all the terrible posthumous tribute versions from its suited-and-booted Princely clothes.
17 Days, on the other hand, is a propane-flamed P banger in the rain. It was the b-side of “When Doves Cry”, it also killed live with The Revolution on the Parade tour across Europe in ’86. The lyrics sorta shift the “call my old lady for a friendly word” theme from "Let's Go Crazy", on its head. This time rather than her picking up the phone, tossing it on the floor, the acts he once heard, are instead imagined. Rather than in Prince’s most famous rain song, where rain is redemptive, here rain is painfully reflective. And while that's cool, the crucial thing about this cut is its unshakable groove.
Key Raindrop: “U been gone, 17 days/17 long nights/the main drag is knowing that/you’re holding someone else tight/I wanna call u, every day/beg u to be near me/but I know, your head is underwater/I doubt that u can hear me.”
Bob Dylan-Buckets of Rain
From one Minnesota-bred musical legend to another. Bobby D is another titan who has written more well-known songs about rain than this one, “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” and “Rainy Day Women” to name a couple. He also had an album called Hard Rain. My favorite Dylan info-site in the dawn of the digital era was Expecting Rain, with its domain-name taken from the lyrical tour-de-force “Desolation Row”.
This, however, is my favorite Bob Dylan rain-related song. It is the final song on perhaps Bob’s finest album, Blood On The Tracks, for a reason. It is gut-wrenchingly beautiful, yet in an understated, pared-down way, that some of his more traditional war-horse hits, are not….I like it a lot.
Editor’s Note: apologies for the Vimeo on this one. Dylan, like Prince, is fairly vigilant in keeping his stuff off YouTube. Vimeo skirts around this complicated copyright issue by presenting mostly personal fair-use clips, featuring unrelated things. So when I stumbled upon this one with the Hermosa Beach Pier in it, it felt appropriate to include.
“Life is sad, Life is a bust
All ya can do, is do what you must
You do what you must do and ya do it well
I do it for you, aw, Honey baby, can't you tell?”
Jerry Garcia-Mission In The Rain
This is a beautiful one, first released on Jerry’s third solo LP, Reflections. It being Jerry Garcia, co-written with Robert Hunter, it of course pops up in many other forms, with both the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia Band. I chose this Passaic version, for both a New Jersey tie-in, while being a particularly phenomenal rendition. However, if you love this song, I strongly encourage you to go on a mission to find your own favorite “Mission”.
This song now feels very personal, because it reminds me of my dearly departed brother, Kenny Le May. The night in March that he passed away, it was a particularly rainy night in L.A. I got the call, then made a few, then sat in my apartment in Santa Monica alone, listening to primarily this song on repeat. Eventually managed to get up, literally off the floor, to meet a friend at Barney’s Beanery. Walked there in the rain, in a hoodie, with pajama pants and house shoes, tears streaming down my face and this blasting on headphones. It’s only in typing that out now, that I fully realize how crazy that sounds, plus how crazy I must have looked. Many thanks to all those in Santa Monica who saw me but did not question me while I was in that state, it would not have gone well for anyone.
"Ten years ago, I walked this street my dreams were riding tall
Tonight I would be thankful Lord, for any dream at all.
Some folks would be happy just to have one dream come true
But everything you gather is just more that you can lose."
People Under The Stairs-Acid Raindrops
I don’t have a whole lot of backstory or personal history to share about this one. The song just knocks. People Under The Stairs are a mid-city LA-based indie-rap outfit who've paying their dues and developing a following for nearly twenty years. This joint is off their 2002 (and still probably best-known) album O.S.T., which is well worth checking out if you like what you hear here. There is far more to Los Angeles, historically and culturally, then most people not from there, will ever realize.
“I'm sayin what else is there to do besides relax?
Let the problems in your mind become ancient artifacts
Perhaps these raps can help you alleviate
The things that's got you trippin, yo watch me demonstrate
First you ignore the nonsense and clear your conscience
Let your pen touch the paper write verbs and consonants
As the words become a sentence you start to feeling different
The stress is out your mind you feel like the weight was lifted
Terrific, I'm glad we had this time to discuss
I'm out tho, call me if you want to blaze one up”
Buckwheat Zydeco-Cryin’ In The Streets
20SickDream has gotten so dilapidated by death, particularly on the musical artist front, that some who never got their full due while alive weren’t even able to get fully recognized once they die. Buckwheat Zydeco was a massive figure in a massive American musical town. The crying in the streets in New Orleans started at the end of 2015, with the death of Allen Toussaint. They continued thru this year of rain and pain like the rest of us, then came down again on a municipal level with Buckweat’s passing this past September 26th.
This gem, a cover of the 1970 George Perkins song, was from a 2005 compilation charity album called Our New Orleans. The great Ry Cooder adds his tastefully trademark slide guitar to Buckwheat’s wail, both participated on this compilation to help raise money for an ailing City of New Orleans, one of America’s greatest cultural contributions, who were rocked badly first by a hurricane, then by faulty levees. Every time this city loses an icon from an earlier era predating that fateful event, it feels like a bit of its original spirit of that city dies. We say that even while gratefully acknowledging all those who have done and are currently doing their best to bring it back. There are also some craven financial interests in that never truly happening that we won't get into here.
In Buckwheat's honor, we conclude this Five Spot by hosting a second line marching party out here in these digital streets. Rest In a Shower of Love and Peace.
I see somebody marching,
marching down the street/
This time we stop and pray/
To have a better day.