Sunday, March 6, 2016

Rain as portrayed by The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and the Doors

Rain has been on my mind a lot this winter. 

As of last fall, California had experienced a four-year drought which left us in a very precarious position, so the relatively heavy rainfall these past few months has been welcome. 

Sometimes, as I stand in my living room gazing out the window while the rain patters against glass, or plod through Oakland with an umbrella in hand, my thoughts veer from the here and now to certain rain-related songs. 

Rain has been explored by everyone from the Eurythmics to Buddy Guy to Milli Vanilli, but four cuts by rock royalty stand out for me.

First up is the Beatles gem "Rain," from 1966. Lyrically, the song isn't much, but musically, "Rain" is a perfect encapsulation of the mid-years Beatles pop formula. Clocking in at a lean 3:04, the song features many Fab Four specialties, including ringing guitars, a bouncy bass line, liquid harmonies, and psychedelic-era backward vocals.

Led Zeppelin's "The Rain Song" from 1973 is a more muted track that shows Zeppelin's soft side. The band best known for heavy guitar riffs and bone-crushing drums here melds acoustic guitar, brush-stick percussion, and Mellotrona synthesizer which produces the string soundsto compliment Robert Plant's lyrics about the vicissitudes of a challenging (and ultimately rewarding) long-term romantic relationship.

Seattle native Jimi Hendrix was no stranger to rain, and it comes out in brilliant color below, in a video which fuses two separate tracks from 1968's "Electric Ladyland": "Rainy Day, Dream Away" and "Still Raining, Still Dreaming." In these songs, rain encourages the listener to lay back and groove as the music follows suit, starting out with saxophone flutters, meandering guitar lines, and organ voicings that variously intertwine, play point-counterpoint, or lurch off in their own directions, over a lazy four-four drumbeat. 

"Still Raining, Still Dreaming" comes in at 3:10 with a talking wah-wah guitar that speaks a language only Hendrix could evoke. By 3:57, the song is in deep jam mode, gutbucket drums driving the beat as unison guitars pan back and forth across left and right speakers and the organ comps in the background, eventually building to a heavenly crescendo. Not long before the two songs bridge, Hendrix says he is "leaning on my windowsill, digging everything," and we are right there with him.  

When the Doors first presented "Riders on the Storm" to long-time producer Paul Rothchild, in 1970, he dismissed the song as cocktail jazz. Fortunately for us, the Doors ignored Rothchild's poor judgment. Highlights include a jazzy opening which features heavy rainfall with an ominous bass line, a boss organ solo at 2:46, and the ethereal, cascading kisses of the Fender Rhodes keyboard throughout. This masterpiece of mood and space was the last track recorded by Jim Morrison, a fitting swan song that projects the otherworldly aura of rain like few tunes before or since.

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