Singing in the Rain: A history of weather in songs

Well before the climate crisis, the weather has always been an integral part of our lives. But people don’t just talk about the weather, they also sing about it.

 Gene Kelly performing the title song in the 1952 film ‘Singin’ in the Rain’  (photo credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Gene Kelly performing the title song in the 1952 film ‘Singin’ in the Rain’
(photo credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)

Mark Twain famously quipped, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

“Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

Mark Twain

The expression “talk about the weather” implies making mundane small talk. The idiom refers to using the topic of weather as an icebreaker, to fill awkward silences, or to divert the conversation away from an uncomfortable subject.

As irony would have it, the weather has now become an uncomfortable subject itself. Today, everybody is talking about climate change, but what we are doing about it remains to be seen.

But well before the climate crisis, the weather has always been an integral part of our lives – and our lexicon. If you have a “sunny” disposition, you can “weather the storm” “come rain or come shine,” as long as you’re not too “snowed under” or feeling “under the weather” or going through a SAD (seasonal affective disorder) time, and nothing “clouds your judgment,” and no “fair-weather friend” “steals your thunder” or “rains on your parade.” 

But people don’t just talk about the weather, they also sing about it. The pop charts are replete with songs such as Prince’s “Purple Rain”; The Weather Girls’ “It’s Raining Men”; Rihanna’s  “Umbrella”; and Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s  “Rain on Me.”

 Buddy Holly publicity picture for Brunswick Records (credit: WIKIPEDIA) Buddy Holly publicity picture for Brunswick Records (credit: WIKIPEDIA)

Taking a step farther back, let’s take a look at some of the weather-related songs that were inundating the record charts of yesteryear and the messages they conveyed.

A history of weather in song

Depending on whether one viewed the rain gutter as half full or half empty, songs about rain took on either a positive or negative spin.   

On the downbeat, the first song that comes to mind is “Stormy Weather,” written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler in 1933. The torch song begins:   

Don’t know why 

There’s no sun up in the sky – 

Stormy weather. 

Since my man and I ain’t together, 

Keeps raining all the time. 

In 1952, Johnnie Ray poured his heart out in the song “Just Walkin’ in the Rain” when he crooned, 

Just walking in the rain, 

Getting soaking wet, 

Torturing my heart 

By trying to forget. 

Just walking in the rain, 

So alone and blue, 

All because my heart still remembers you. 

Similarly, in 1958 in Buddy Holly’s recording of the song “Raining in My Heart,” he lamented, 

The sun is out, the sky is blue, 

There’s not a cloud to spoil the view, 

But it’s raining, raining in my heart. 

But as they say, every cloud has a silver lining, so there were many golden oldies that sang the praises of rain. A shining example is the 1936 classic “Pennies from Heaven,” which asserted that 

Every time it rains, it rains pennies from heaven. 

Don’t you know each cloud contains pennies from heaven? 

You’ll find your fortune’s fallin’ all over town;. 

Be sure that your umbrella is upside down. 

Trade them for a package of sunshine and flowers; 

If you want the things you love, you must have showers.

So when you hear it thunder, don’t run under a tree – 

There’ll be pennies from heaven for you and me. 

That sentiment was echoed in the 1921 song “April Showers,” which pointed out: 

Though April showers may come your way, 

They bring the flowers that bloom in May. 

So if it’s raining, have no regrets 

Because it isn’t raining rain you know, it’s raining violets. 

In that same upbeat vein, the 1927 song “Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella” advised:

Just let a smile be your umbrella 

On a rainy, rainy day. 

And if your sweetie cries, just tell her 

That a smile will always pay. 

When it comes to elated-related songs about rain, who can forget the exhilarating scene in the 1952 film Singin’ in the Rain, where Gene Kelly is splashing around in the puddles, joyfully proclaiming:

I’m singin’ in the rain, just singin’ in the rain.

What a glorious feeling, I’m happy again.

I’m laughin’ at clouds, so dark up above. 

The sun’s in my heart, and I’m ready for love. 

Let the stormy clouds chase everyone from the place. 

Come on with the rain, I’ve a smile on my face.

I walk down the lane with a happy refrain. 

I’m singin’ and dancin’ in the rain. 

Nothing can put a damper on that one.

It is said that in every life, a little rain must fall. But as Little Orphan Annie reassured us in the 1977 musical Annie, which ran on Broadway for six years, 

The sun’ll come out tomorrow. 

Bet your bottom dollar 

That tomorrow there’ll be sun.

In that regard, the hit lists have no shortage of songs dedicated to the delights of sunlight. “You Are My Sunshine”; “Let the Sun Shine In”; “Here Comes the Sun”; “Good Day Sunshine”; Walking on Sunshine”; and “Sunshine on My Shoulders” are just a few examples of such cheerful chansons.

However, to circle back to climate change, we have gone too far, and that warm, safe feeling has morphed into a sense of dread, as global warming has us singing a different tune.

So what can we do?

Ideally, we want to get back to better times and better climes. In the 1930 film Monte Carlo, Jeanette MacDonald sang “Beyond the Blue Horizon,” where she envisioned: 

Beyond the blue horizon 

Waits a beautiful day.

Goodbye to things that bore me –

Joy is waiting for me. 

I see a new horizon. 

My life has only begun. 

Beyond the blue horizon

Lies a rising sun. 

So how do we get there from here?

We can take a page from the songbook of 1921 and heed the lyrics of the song “There’ll Be Some Changes Made.”  

There’ll be a change in the weather

And a change in the sea;

From now on, there’ll be a change in me:

My walk will be different, my talk and my name –

Nothin’ about me gonna be the same.

I’m gonna change my way of livin’,

And if that ain’t enough,

I’m gonna change the way I strut my stuff.

Nobody wants you when you’re old and gray – 

There’ll be some changes made today,

There’ll be some changes made. 

If we want there to be a change in the weather, we indeed have to change our way of living and change the way we strut our stuff, so to speak.  

In other words, if we can work together to reduce our carbon footprint, the future may well see us walking on sunshine, not to mention kicking up our heels and gleefully singing and dancing in the rain.  ■