‘When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day’.
(Feste’s song from Shakespeare’s, ‘Twelfth NIght’)
‘Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with liquid silver drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain’
(Langston Hughes – ‘April Rain Song’)
‘Hey rain – Get off my window … ‘
(Ann Peebles, Don Bryant, Bernie Miller – ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’)
‘And when the Sun comes out,
After this Rain shall stop,
A wondrous Light will fill,
Each dark, round drop;
‘Twil be a lovely sight.’
(W H Davies – ‘The Rain’)
Shakespeare was right. Somewhere, each and every day, the rain rains down. Sometimes to bend and batter, sometimes to nurture and replenish. Of course, somewhere, each and every day, the sun shines brightly, bathing us in its balm or sending us scurrying from its awesome burning power.
Though we might pray and dance to win the favour of the weather gods in the end we find that the sun shines when it wants to shine and that when it’s time for rain – it rains. As with so many aspects of our lives we are not in control so we must learn to adapt or spend a lifetime in fruitless frustration.
Naturally, being a storytelling, metaphor manufacturing species, we look to the skies and begin to discern patterns and meaning in every drop of rain and every ray of sun that visits itself upon us. The rain can seem a rebuke for our failures; a physical manifestation of despair or the blessed agent of change and growth. Perspective is all.
Poets, songwriters and proverb makers have always known that rain, a small four letter word like love and hate, always attracts the ear and can be freighted with multiple emotional meanings to suit almost any human situation.
Bearing all the above in mind it’s no surprise that a sharp songwriter like Don Bryant should have had his imagination quickened when his girlfriend (later his wife) Ann Peebles looked up at the skies above Memphis one summer night in 1973 and exclaimed, ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’. Some phrases simply beg to be song titles and this was surely one thought Don.
Moving to the piano he began, with help from Ann and DJ Bernie Miller, to fashion a steamy soul ballad themed around a spurned woman being tormented by the sound of the rain against the windows of the house she used to share with her departed lover.
Each drop tolling upon the panes seems to bring back memories – she calls them sweet but in the context of the song there is surely a substantial bitter-sweet element to her recollections. Let’s listen and decide where the bitter/sweet balance lies! (You will need to be patient while the clip loads).
Now that’s a serious record! Loaded to the gunnels with love, longing and loneliness and blazing with the banked heat of searing emotion. No wonder John Lennon a man of firm conviction and a lifetime aficianado of superior R&B/Soul balladry, called it, ‘The best song ever’.
I make it a point of my critical practice to rarely take issue with John. So, ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’ will take its rightful place on the Immortal Jukebox as A11 joining 99 other records in rotation as, ‘the best song ever’ just waiting to be selected by you (isn’t that what Jukeboxes are all about).
Ann Peebles sings the song with mature womanly authority investing the lyric with immense drama and emotional punch without once straying into diva like hysteria. Her vocal uses judicious variation of vocal volume, tone, register, leaps and slides to convey the migraine inducing situation the protagonist finds herself in as the rain insistently beats on and on against her window assaulting her mind with memories of days and nights when watching the rain was a shared experience. Now the rain only emptily echoes the sweet times.
Ann brings gospel training to her performance seeming to draw herself up, straight backed, to lament her loss, a loss she cannot deny but which will not defeat her. There is old testament glower and grit along with new testament sweetness and mercy in her vocal. In the end, exhausted she can still muster the strength to hurl a curse at the rain – Get off my window!
The drama and palpably humid heat of the song owes everything to the enormously gifted musical team that assembled at Hi studios Memphis HQ located at 1320 South Lauderdale in the old Royal Movie Theater. This is one of those addresses like 3 Abbey Road and 706 Union Avenue which should have preservation orders protecting them in perpetuity in view of the cultural impact of the works created there.
The moving mind and musical intelligence behind a wondrous series of superb soul records emanating from Hi in the 1970s (Al Green’s epochal run of hits being the most artistically and commercially successful of these) was bandleader/trumpeter/producer and arranger, Willie Mitchell.
Willie Mitchell is one of those rare figures who through production alchemy could turn a fine song into a living, breathing great record which would burn up the radio airwaves and sound like it had always been part of your life the first time you heard it.
It was Willie who thought of the attention arresting intro featuring electric timbale to mimic the sound and spooky impact of the rain. Willie knew that any arrangement he came up with for a song could be given a golden lustre because at his command he had a peerless rhythm section comprised of the Hodges brothers: Leroy (bass), Mabon ‘Teenie’ (guitar) and Charles (organ) with Howard Grimes on drums. Together, this quartet, supplemented when needed by Archie Turner on piano and the Memphis Horns were able to sustain a distinctively supple and slinky groove that became the signature sound of the Hi label. It’s a ravishing sound that seduces the ear while providing a singer with the room to strut their stuff.
‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’ has the musicians supporting and swirling around the vocal providing an emotional surround sound accompaniment. Though the sound is full it is never clogged. Maybe that’s something to do with the cooperative trust and intimacy shared by brothers – always aware of the other, always adjusting, so that each has the space they need to build the whole.
The interplay between Teenie’s liquid subtle guitar fills, Charles’ emotion quickening organ and Leroy’s propulsive anchoring baseline is a wonder to behold. Howard Grimes drums always seem to me to be saying, ‘Listen up! This is some serious stuff we are laying down here!’ Together, their style is at least as tender as it is strong and powerful as if each tune was as precious to them as a child or a woman they loved.
It’s a rare life that doesn’t include some long nights staring out of a dark window as the rain falls prompting memories of lost love, lost time and lost hope. A song like, ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’ can be a true companion getting you through those nights until the world turns again and the rain becomes one more memory while you wait for the sun.
Ann Peebles 5 albums from the 1970s for Hi have now been reissued and have my unreserved recommendation. Just listen to the imperious, ‘I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down’, the incandescent, ‘Love Vibration’ or the stupendous, ’99 lbs’ and I guarantee you’ll be getting your credit card out!
5 Classic Rain Songs (Send in your suggestions):
Bob Dylan: ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ – a cloudburst of songwriting and performing genius.
Brook Benton: ‘Rainy Night In Georgia’ – Tony Joe White who wrote it and Brook Benton singing it will surely convince you, while you listen, that Lord, it’s raining all over the world.
Creedence Clearwater Revival: ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain’ – John Fogarty is a heroic pessimist with the drive of a 50s rocker combined with an acute eye for history and social dislocation. And, he’s one hell of a singer and guitar player. There are no answers to his question.
Randy Newman: ‘I Think It’s Going To Rain Today’ – A typically clear eyed and heartbreaking meditation on the crooked timber of humanity.
Buddy Holly: Raining In My Heart’ – Perhaps there is an artist who can cut more directly and deeper to the heart than Buddy Holly. If there is I’m not sure my heart would be up to listening to them.