Summertime, and the living is easy

This is the second in a series of four blog columns examining some of the classic and obscure songs of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s celebrating the four seasons.  Today’s entry focuses on songs of summer.

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“Schoooooool’s out for summer!!…”  Alice Cooper, 1972

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The summer solstice, the date when we experience the year’s longest day and shortest night, was three days ago, marking the official beginning of summer.  Woo hoo!!

It’s the season when the kids go off to camp, when families pack up and head out on 12c29ceb44bbfe16de7767820d01e790vacation, when couples take leisurely bike rides, when everybody heads to the beach for the day, or goes waterskiing at the lake, or enjoys fireworks at a baseball game.  It’s the dog days.  The lazy hazy crazy days of summer!

Popular music lyrics have done a marvelous job over the years of describing the events, emotions and nuances of the different seasons.  Summer, the time for fun in the sun, is no exception.

20150721202818-summertime-business-hammack-outdoorsIndeed, there may be more songs celebrating summer than any other season.  It was a challenge, but I’ve assembled a sweet setlist of songs of summer that might be a great companion as you head to the beach, to the river, to the mountains, to the backyard hammock to chill for a while.  Put on your flip-flops and enjoy the day!

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41TcqwP-zxL._SL500_“Summer’s Here,” James Taylor, 1981

It may have been because he always used to release albums in May or June, but Taylor’s music invariably makes me think of summer — cheerful melodies, whimsical lyrics, days at the beach, outdoor concerts. On his “Dad Loves His Work” LP in 1981, he captured all that in “Summer’s Here,” which celebrates the season’s hotly anticipated arrival:  “Summer’s here, that suits me fine, it may rain today, ’cause I don’t mind, it’s my favorite time of the year, and I’m glad that it’s here…  Yeah, the water’s cold but I’ve been in, baby lose the laundry and jump on in, I mean, all God’s children got skin, and it’s summer again…”

99348913[1]“Summertime,” Billie Holiday, 1936;  Sam Cooke, 1957; Billy Stewart, 1966

George Gershwin took a DuBose Heyward poem and set it to music as a hybrid of jazz, blues and gospel in 1934, when it was used prominently in the modern opera “Porgy and Bess.”  “Summertime” went on to become one of the most covered compositions of all time (15,000 versions and counting).  It first hit the charts in Billie Holiday’s rendition in 1936, and Sam Cooke’s 1957 version also proved very popular, but it was Billy Stewart’s more gimmicky arrangement that reached the Top Ten in 1966.  Janis Joplin served up a fabulous treatment on the #1 album “Cheap Thrills” in 1968…and don’t miss Peter Gabriel’s knockout version on 1994’s “The Glory of Gershwin” collection, and Annie Lennox’s cover in 2014:   “Summertime and the living is easy, catfish are jumping and the cotton is high…”

51l0IWTdPgL“Summer Breeze,” Seals and Crofts, 1972

This euphoric tune has appeared on almost every “Best Songs of Summer” list you can find.  Jimmy Seals and Dash Crofts had been working in several bands throughout the ’60s before they finally hit it big as a duo with this #6 hit, released in August 1972.  (Why didn’t they release it in June?  It might’ve made #1…).  The Isley Brothers had some success with a funkier version in 1974.  Crofts said he wrote it one day when he was feeling particularly happy about his new life with his new wife:  “Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind, sweet days of summer, the jasmine’s in bloom, July is dressed up and playing her tune…”

maxresdefault-26“Summer in the City,” The Lovin’ Spoonful, 1966

You can almost feel the sweat dripping from John Sebastian’s brow as he sang this timeless #1 anthem that alternately bemoans and celebrates summer days and summer nights when the thermometer is in the 90s.  Make it through the hot days, it said, and the warm nights would bring rewards:  “Hot town, summer in the city, back of my neck gettin’ dirty and gritty, been down, isn’t it a pity, doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city…  But at night, it’s a different world, go out and find a girl…  And babe, don’t you know it’s a pity that the days can’t be like the nights in the summer in the city, in the summer in the city…”

ELO_Face_The_Music_album_cover“One Summer Dream,” Electric Light Orchestra, 1975

ELO leader Jeff Lynne has always been an unabashed Beatles fan, and his band’s music has often shown the Fab Four’s influence.  On their first of four Top Ten albums, 1975’s “Face the Music,” several tracks resembled latter-day Beatles music, most notably the ethereal album closer, “One Summer Dream,” full of wistful emotion and a melody that seems to float by:  “Warm summer breeze blows endlessly, touching the hearts of those who feel, one summer dream, one summer dream…”

simple-minds-someone-somewhere-in-summertime“Someone Somewhere (in Summertime),” Simple Minds, 1982

This Scottish band was far more successful in England and Europe with a half-dozen Top Five LPs in the 1980s, but their fame in the US was more limited.  Too bad — this is an extraordinary band worth exploring further.  On its “New Gold Dreams” LP in 1982 is this lush, almost erotic song that British critics gushed about — “It starts 100 feet above the ground and never comes to earth,” said one; “It’s a magisterial waltz through a mythical August haze,” said another.  A beautiful piece, without question:  “Somewhere there is some place that one million eyes can’t see, and somewhere there is someone who can see what I can see, someone, somewhere, in summertime…”

the-happenings-see-you-in-september-b-t-puppy-records“See You in September,” The Happenings, 1966

Formed in New Jersey expressly as a vocal group who covered established hits, The Happenings had a huge #3 hit in the summer of ’66 with “See You in September,” thanks to Bob Crewe, expert arranger and producer, who was the wizard behind the similar vocal excellence of The Four Seasons.  In the lyrics, the narrator is seeing his girlfriend off on her summer vacation, wishing her a great time but ardently hoping she doesn’t fall for someone else while she’s gone:  “Have a good time, but remember, there is danger in the summer moon above, will I see you in September, or lose you to a summer love?…”

Meat-Loaf-Bat-Out-Of-Hell-SACD“You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night),” Meat Loaf, 1977

When the amazing “Bat Out of Hell” album was released in 1977, it took a little while to grab hold, but its operatic songs and shimmering production values ultimately made it one of the best-selling albums of all time (over 40 million sold).  Curiously, its singles didn’t chart well, but they became memorable anyway thanks to relentless FM airplay.  For me, this track elicits memories of humid June evenings full of lust and promise:   “It was a hot summer night, and the beach was burning, there was fog crawling over the sand, when I listen to your heart, I hear the whole world turning, I see the shooting stars falling through your trembling hands…”

blodwyn_aheadF“Summer Day,” Blodwyn Pig, 1969

Blues guitar purist Mick Abrahams didn’t care for the direction Jethro Tull leader Ian Anderson was taking the group, so he left Tull after its debut LP to form blues band Blodwyn Pig in 1969.  Their first two albums fared well in England but were largely ignored here.  Several powerful and/or quirky tracks can be found on “Ahead Rings Out,” including “See My Way,” “Dear Jill, “It’s Only Love” and “Summer Day,” full of fun and saxophones:  “Much too tired in the morning, much too lazy in the evening time, summer day, much too tired, don’t pass time with me…”

1626494“Summertime Blues,” Eddie Cochran, 1958

In 1958, Cochran wrote this rockabilly classic that shares a teen’s lament about having to work a summer job instead of play, and it not only reached #8 upon release, it ranked #73 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Rock Songs of All Time.”  Blue Cheer’s distorted version is credited with being the first heavy metal song to make the charts (#14 in 1967), and The Who’s fierce rendition on their 1970 live album “Live at Leeds” reached #27.  Country artist Alan Jackson reached the top of the country charts in 1994 with his spirited recording:  “Every time I call my baby to try to get a date, my boss says, ‘No dice, son, you gotta work late,’ sometimes I wonder what I’m gonna do, there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues…”

the-motels-suddenly-last-summer-capitol“Suddenly Last Summer,” The Motels, 1983

In the music video for “Suddenly Last Summer,” an ice-cream truck appears periodically, which New Wave singer Martha Davis said was meant to remind us that summer’s nearing an end and “it’s going by for the last time and won’t be back for a while.”  Perhaps that’s a key reason the song peaked at #9 well into the autumn of 1983, when memories of summer had mostly faded for the year.  Along with “Only the Lonely” from the previous year, this track was The Motels’ high-water mark:  “It happened one summer, it happened one time, it happened forever for a short time, a place for a moment, an end to a dream, forever I loved you, forever it seemed…”

sly-and-the-family-stone-hot-fun-in-the-summertime-epic-serie-gemini“Hot Fun in the Summertime,” Sly & The Family Stone, 1969

For a couple of years, before drug use did major damage to this band’s momentum, Sly and his band were commercial and critical favorites (“Dance to the Music,” “Everyday People,” “I Want to Take You Higher”), and this exuberant song was probably one of the main reasons why.  It simple reeks of the joys of summer:  “End of the spring and here she comes back, hi hi hi hi there, them summer days, those summer days, that’s when I had most of my fun back, high high high there, them summer days, those summer days…”

bryan-adams-summer-of-69.18914“Summer of ’69,” Bryan Adams, 1985

This durable rock track reached #5 in the US in the summer of 1985, one of the biggest hits for the Canadian-born Adams.  In the lyrics, the narrator looks back fondly on the summer of ’69 when he was in his first band and chasing girls, a time he called “the best years of my life.”  It’s not autobiographical — Adams was only 10 in 1969 — but it is realistically nostalgic about the cultural revolution going on at the time, he said:  “I got my first real six-string, bought it at the five-and-dime, played it ’til my fingers bled, was the summer of ’69… oh, when I look back now, that summer seemed to last forever…”

AllSummerLongCover“All Summer Long,” The Beach Boys, 1964

No summer song playlist is complete without a selection from California’s worshipers of sun and fun, The Beach Boys.  Brian Wilson and Mike Love collaborated on this track, the title song of their fourth Top Ten album, and the first following the arrival of The Beatles and British Invasion bands in the summer of 1964.  It was to be their last album that focused on beach culture, and this song condensed everything they’d done so far into one succinct party tune:  “Miniature golf and Hondas in the hills, when we rode the horse, we got some thrills, every now and then, we hear our song, we’ve been having fun all summer long…”

images-77“In the Summertime,” Mungo Jerry, 1970

A classic one-hit wonder on the US charts (#3 in the summer of ’70), Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime” went on to sell 25 million copies worldwide.  Singer-songwriter Ray Dorset took the band to significant success in their native UK, with several #1 albums and various hit singles.  Here’s a great bit of trivia:  The name “Mungo Jerry” comes from the T.S. Eliot poem “Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaser.”  Whatever.  The song is an infectious earworm that is still catchy today:  “In the summertime when the weather is hot, you can stretch right up and touch the sky, when the weather’s fine, you got women, you got women on your mind…”

Don_Henley_-_Boys_of_Summer_cover“The Boys of Summer,” Don Henley, 1984

I vascillated about this song, trying to decide if it really belonged on this list or if it was more appropriate for an upcoming setlist of songs of autumn (“after the boys of summer have gone”).  The images it brings up — “Nobody on the road, nobody on the beach, I can feel it in the air, summer’s out of reach…” — undeniably describe the end of summer.  But still, it sounds like a summer song, and well, here it is, for better or worse:  “I can see you, your brown skin shining in the sun, you got that top pulled down and that radio on, baby, I can tell you my love for you will still be strong after the boys of summer have gone…” 

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Honorable mention:

Summer Nights,” Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta, 1978;  “A Summer Song,” Chad and Jeremy, 1964;  “The Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” Bruce Springsteen, 2007;  “Summer Rain,”Johnny Rivers, 1967;  “Cruel Summer,” Bananarama, 1983;  “Sunny Afternoon,” The Kinks, 1966;  “It’s Summertime,” Flaming Lips, 2002;  “Youth of 1,000 Summers,” Van Morrison, 1990;  “Your Summer Dream,” The Beach Boys, 1963;  “That Summer Feeling,” Jonathan Richman, 1984;  “Black Summer Rain,” Eric Clapton, 1976;  “Summer Comes Around,” Mike Reaves and Emily Hackett, 2014.

 

Lay back and groove on a rainy day

DBoeeVoWsAA-va9When it rains, people’s moods change.  They turn inward, get a little reflective, maybe even cranky or depressed.  As Karen Carpenter used to sing, “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down…”  

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  It’s all in your attitude.  You can’t control the weather, so just live with it.  Enjoy indoor activities.  Or maybe throw on a raincoat and boots and Kid-Happy-in-Raintake an invigorating walk in the rain.  As The Weather Girls sang, “I’m gonna go out, I’m gonna let myself get absolutely soaking wet!…”

As is often the case, music can help set any mood.  Whether you dread rainy days or welcome them for their rejuvenating, cleansing benefits, songs about rain can be wonderful companions as you embrace the day in whatever mood strikes you.

I’ve selected 20 songs of various genres and vintages, with lyrics that examine how rain affects what we do and how we feel about it.

On the next rainy day that comes along, I hope you click on this setlist (on Spotify below) to keep you company!

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beatles-45-rpm-picture-sleeve-paperback-writer-b-w-rain-4-41“Rain,” The Beatles, 1966

This Lennon track broke new ground in Beatles studio productions as the flip-side of the “Paperback Writer” single during the “Revolver” sessions, spring of 1966.  In addition to some amazing drum work by Ringo, the track features some startling backward-tape vocals of the line “If the rain comes, they run and hide their heads,” and lyrics that are matter-of-fact about whether the weather calls for sun or rain:  “Rain, I don’t mind, shine, the weather’s fine, can you hear me, that when it rains and shines, it’s just a state of mind, can you hear me?…”

the-fortunes-here-comes-that-rainy-day-feeling-again-capitol“Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again,” The Fortunes, 1971

This British harmony beat group hit the US Top Ten in 1965 with “You’ve Got Your Troubles,” and they were the band behind the 1969 Coke commercial theme song, “It’s the Real Thing.”  In 1971, The Fortunes had a #15 hit with an earworm by Tony Macauley that captured the analogy between rain and heartbreak:  “Here comes that rainy day feeling again, and soon my tears they will be falling like rain, it always seems to be a Monday, leftover memories of Sunday, always spent with you until the clouds appeared and took away my sunshine…”

ledzep-houses“The Rain Song,” Led Zeppelin, 1973

George Harrison once told Jimmy Page that Led Zeppelin should do more ballads, and Page came up with this seven-minute beauty from the “House of the Holy” LP.  Robert Plant, who has said this is one of his favorite recorded vocal tracks, wrote lyrics that examine the variety of emotions we experience as the seasons change, using rain as a metaphor for life’s twists and turns that we must endure:  “Upon us all, upon us all a little rain must fall…it’s just a little rain…”

REM_ILL+TAKE+THE+RAIN-198832“I’ll Take the Rain,” R.E.M., 2001

Lead singer Michael Stipe implores us to “celebrate the rain” in this melodic track from R.E.M.’s eighth Top Ten LP, 2001’s “Reveal.”  It did well as a single in the UK but stiffed here, which is a pity, because it’s a real winner.  The lyrics point out how, sometimes, the rain is the better option:  “You cling to this, you claim the best, if this is what you’re offering, I’ll take the rain…”  

taylor_jame_jamestayl_102b“Rainy Day Man,” James Taylor, 1969

First released on Taylor’s overlooked debut album, and re-recorded in 1979 on his “Flag” LP, this wonderful song offers emotional support in the form of a shoulder to cry on when times are hard:  “It looks like another fall, your good friends don’t seem to help at all, now when you’re feeling kind of cold and small, just look up your rainy day man…” 

Screenshot from Here Comes The Rain Again (Remastered Version)“Here Comes the Rain Again,” Eurythmics, 1983

Dave Stewart, the musical maestro behind much of the Eurythmics’ catalog, said he wanted to compose “a song that went in and out of melancholy, using minor and major chords.  I think it has a kind of dark beauty.”  A synthesizer-based foundation was augmented by layers of orchestral tracks and Annie Lennox’s strong vocals, and the result was a #4 hit in the US.  The lyrics have an “in and out of melancholy” nature too:  “Here comes the rain again, raining in my head like a tragedy, tearing me apart like a new emotion, I want to breathe in the open wind, I want to kiss like lovers do…”   

GORDON_LIGHTFOOT_EARLY+MORNING+RAIN-419303“Early Morning Rain,” Gordon Lightfoot, 1966

So much angst in this classic folk song, one of the Canadian composer’s finest.  It deftly describes how a drifter might have felt on a rainy morning in the mid-’60s, when he realizes his habit of hopping on freight trains was becoming obsolete in the new era of airplane travel:  “This old airport’s got me down, it ain’t no earthly good to me, and I’m stuck here on the ground, cold and drunk as I might be, can’t jump a jet plane like you can a freight train, so I best be on my way, in the early morning rain…”

MI0001459036“Rainy Day, Dream Away/Still Raining, Still Dreaming,” Jimi Hendrix, 1968

Many of the sessions for his “Electric Ladyland” double LP saw Hendrix jamming with guest musicians outside the Experience trio format.  These companion tracks, which began sides three and four, created the feeling that the rain was continuing to fall all day and night during recording.  And hey, as Jimi says in his ’60s lingo, it’s all good:  “Rainy day, rain all day, ain’t no use in getting uptight, just let it groove its own way, let it drain your worries away, lay back and groove on a rainy day…” 

maxresdefault-25“Let It Rain,” Eric Clapton, 1970

Following his celebrated stints with John Mayall, Cream and Blind Faith, Clapton assembled an all-star team of musicians to help him produce his debut solo LP, notably Leon Russell, Stephen Stills, and Delaney Bramlett.  The album’s best song is “Let It Rain,” a joyous, gorgeous track with a fantastic solo at the end.  Originally called “And She Rides” with different lyrics, the finished track uses words that lovingly celebrate the healing power of rain:  “The rain is falling through the mist of sorrow that surrounded me, the sun could never thaw away the bliss that lays around me, let it rain, let it rain, let your love rain down on me…”

1824686“Song to the Sun/Don’t Let It Rain,” Jefferson Starship, 1976

Almost as an answer to Clapton’s song, the Starship’s Paul Kantner wrote this epic anthem from their 1976 LP “Spitfire,” which pleads for the rain to stay away:  “Don’t let it rain on me tonight, don’t let it rain, I need to feel the sun again, please don’t let it rain, rain…”

Temptations_I_Wish_It_Would_Rain“I Wish It Would Rain,” The Temptations, 1967

The Motown songwriting team of Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong did a marvelous job of showing how a heartbroken man can have trouble facing a sunny day, surrounded by happy people:  “Day after day, I stay locked up in my room… my tear-stained face pressed against the windowpane, my eyes search the sky desperately for rain, ’cause raindrops will hide my teardrops… I just wish it would rain…”

R-4691779-1442772038-6742.jpeg“November Rain,” Guns ‘n Roses, 1991

Lead singer Axl Rose worked on this brilliant power ballad for more than eight years before he finally got the recording he wanted, completed with sweeping orchestral backing and one of guitarist Slash’s best solos.  “It’s about not wanting to have to deal with unrequited love,” said Rose, and the lyrics reflect the difficulty of wanting hope but feeling despair:  “Nothing lasts forever, and we both know hearts can change, and it’s hard to hold a candle in the cold November rain…”  

fb7af29736802f34e1a157bbdbca3ef0.640x640x1“I Think It’s Going to Rain Today,” Randy Newman, 1966

One of Newman’s most covered compositions is this wistful piece first recorded by Judy Collins on her “In My Life” LP.  There are more than 50 renditions to check out:  Bette Midler, Peter Gabriel, Cass Elliot, UB40, Norah Jones, Joe Cocker, Neil Diamond and Newman himself, to name just a few.  A gorgeous melody is embellished by lyrics of powerful empathy:  “Right before me, the signs implore me, help the needy and show them the way, human kindness is overflowing, and I think it’s going to rain today…”

supertramp-its-raining-again-am-5“It’s Raining Again,” Supertramp, 1982

One of the last great moments of this British progressive rock group’s 1971-1988 run was this spirited Roger Hodgson tune that reached #11 in the US.  It’s another of many pop songs that equate rain with romantic sorrow:  “It’s raining again, oh no, my love’s at an end, oh no, it’s raining again, too bad I’m losing a friend…  It’s only time that heals the pain and makes the sun come out again…”

 

Rolling-Stones-Rain-Fall-Down“Rain Fall Down,” The Rolling Stones, 2005

I found it gratifying when Jagger and Richards came up with an instant classic like this one, 50 years after “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”  There’s something a little spooky and relentless about the music, and the lyrics are full of queasy images that ultimately point toward the relentlessness of rain that never seems to stop:  “And the rain fell down on the cold grey town, and the phone kept ringing, and we made sweet love… and the phone kept ringing… and the rain… rain… rain… rain…”

America_album“Rainy Day,” America, 1972

America had plenty of commercial hits in their repertoire (“A Horse With No Name,” “Sister Golden Hair,” “Ventura Highway”) but I was partial to some of the lesser known tracks like this one from the debut LP, with intricate acoustic guitar and words that point out how inclement weather makes some people want to curl up at home under a warm blanket:  “Whenever it’s a rainy day, I pack my troubles up in my room, I chase all the clouds away, I get myself back to the womb…”

1289c195-7872-490c-b74a-748a7ea15712“Rhythm of the Rain,” The Cascades, 1962

One of the top ten most played songs on radio and TV in the 20th Century is this tearjerker written by Cascades lead vocalist John Gummoe.  It was #1 in six countries in 1962-63, and was later recorded by the likes of Neil Sedaka, Rick Nelson, Johnny Rivers and Dan Fogelberg.  In the lyrics, the narrator finds the sound of the rainfall painful as it reminds him of the lover he has lost:  “Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain, telling me just what a fool I’ve been, I wish that it would go and let me cry in vain, and let me be alone again…”

CREEDENCE_CLEARWATER_REVIVAL_WHOLL+STOP+THE+RAIN-555101“Who’ll Stop the Rain,” Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1970

John Fogerty watched from a dry tent as hundreds of concertgoers at Woodstock danced, huddled and sang naked in the endless deluge that turned the festival grounds into a sea of mud.  As he wrote about that experience weeks later, he realized the lyrics could have a double meaning:  Who will stop the rain of bullshit coming from all the politicians in Washington?  “Long as I remember, the rain been comin’ down, clouds of mystery pourin’ confusion on the ground, good men through the ages tryin’ to find the sun, and I wonder, still I wonder, who’ll stop the rain?…” 

Purple_Rain_a_l“Purple Rain,” Prince, 1984

Ever since Prince performed this anthem in a downpour at the halftime show of the 2007 Super Bowl, it’s the image I think of whenever I hear it.  The late musician had built a sizable following between 1979-1983, but the release of the album and film “Purple Rain” in 1984 sent his career into the stratosphere.  The title ballad is drenched in sadness:  “I never meant to cause you any sorrow, I never meant to cause you any pain, I only wanted one time to see you laughing in the purple rain, purple rain…”

article-riders-on-the-storm-the-doors-1971“Riders on the Storm,” The Doors, 1971

In what turned out to be Jim Morrison’s final recorded moment, The Doors used the sounds of a thunderstorm to embellish a creepy musical track that may be the best nighttime driving-in-the-rain song of all time.  Lyrics that speak of “a killer on the road” and the warning, “If you give this man a ride, sweet family will die” only underscore the sense of dread oozing from this awesome recording.

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Honorable mention:

A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” Bob Dylan, 1963;  “Alabama Rain,” Jim  Croce, 1973;  “Fool in the Rain,” Led Zeppelin, 1979;  “Fire and Rain,” James Taylor, 1970;  “Save It For a Rainy Day,” Stephen Bishop, 1976;  “Heavy Clouds, No Rain,” Sting, 1994;  “Buckets of Rain,” Grateful Dead, 1970;  “It Never Rains in Southern California,” Albert Hammond, 1972;  “Driving Rain,” Paul McCartney, 2001;  “Looking at the Rain,” Gordon Lightfoot, 1972;  “It’s Raining,” Peter, Paul & Mary, 1964;  “Red Rain,” Peter Gabriel, 1986;  “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1972;  “Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind,”  Linda Ronstadt, 1989;  “Crying in the Rain,” Art Garfunkel & James Taylor, 1993;  “It’s Raining Men,” The Weather Girls, 1982.