7 Rainy Songs for April Showers

It’s finally April, which means it’s time for those proverbial showers. We’re enduring another dreary, drizzly week of gray skies here in New York, but I’ve found a silver lining in all the clouds. Rather than rage against the rain, I’ve decided to make it my muse for today’s playlist.

Perhaps because enduring a drizzly day is such a universal experience, popular music is full of rain songs. Some (like a track here from the soul trio Love Unlimited) celebrate it, but most (the Carpenters, Ann Peebles) bemoan it, or at least see it as a metaphor for all kinds of sadness. So get ready to wallow — but know that this playlist ends on an optimistic note.

Plus, if all these rain songs get you down, just know that there’s an inevitably floral sequel to this playlist coming in May.

You know I had to include some Neil Young now that he’s back on Spotify. Clouds gather ominously on this moody tune from his great, uncompromising 1974 album “On the Beach,” which features understated percussion from Levon Helm and foreshadows the downpour to come on the album’s melancholic second side.

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The instrument that makes that iconic, pinging rain sound at the beginning of this 1973 classic? That would be an electric timbale, which the producer Willie Mitchell had recently acquired and was excited to experiment with on this innovative track. Luckily, Ann Peebles and her songwriter partner Don Bryant gave Mitchell the perfect showcase for that futuristic percussion sound: a soulful lament about the weather, destined to be sampled and introduced to a whole new generation by Missy Elliott in her 1997 debut single.

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The only song on the country outlaw’s hit 1974 album “The Ramblin’ Man” that he wrote himself, “Rainy Day Woman” is an ode to a pessimistic, Debbie Downer type, though it seems that Waylon Jennings likes her that way. As he puts it in his low, rough-hewed croon, “I know where to go on a cloudy day.”

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Recorded during the “Revolver” sessions, this dreamy 1966 B-side to “Paperback Writer” never made it onto a proper album, but it remains a potent early example of the Beatles’ penchant for studio experimentation and interest in the burgeoning sounds of psychedelia. As Ringo Starr put it in 1984, speaking of his inventive approach to percussion on the track, “‘Rain’ blows me away. It’s out of left field. I know me and I know my playing, and then there’s ‘Rain.’”

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A timeless soundtrack for languidly gazing out the window on a drizzly day, this 1971 hit, with lyrics by Paul Williams, was recorded when the precocious Karen Carpenter was just 20. “What I’ve got, they used to call the blues,” Carpenter sings in her clarion voice, parting the clouds with the luminosity of her tone.

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Though not a song about precipitation in the literal sense, this aqueous, atmospheric and underrated 2013 track from FKA twigs’s second EP is a personal favorite, and I happen to think it perfectly captures the vibe of a rainy day.

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Finally, here’s a song that celebrates the rain, written by Barry White for Love Unlimited, the all-female trio that sang backup vocals for his solo recordings. This 1972 hit features drizzly sound effects, lush harmonies and a sensual spoken-word intro that revels in the romance of a sudden downpour: “Oh, it feels so good,” intones Glodean James, who would marry White and take his last name two years later. “The rain — and thinking of you.”

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“7 Songs for April Showers” track list
Track 1: Neil Young, “See the Sky About to Rain”
Track 2: Ann Peebles, “I Can’t Stand the Rain”
Track 3: Waylon Jennings, “Rainy Day Woman”
Track 4: The Beatles, “Rain”
Track 5: The Carpenters, “Rainy Days and Mondays”
Track 6: FKA twigs, “Water Me”
Track 7: Love Unlimited, “Walking in the Rain with the One I Love”

If you’re still mulling over Beyoncé’s “Cowboy Carter” — as you should be, since it’s 27 tracks long — I recommend Jon Pareles’s review, which articulated quite a few of my own feelings about the album. I also had the pleasure of participating in a critics’ round table about “Cowboy Carter” with my colleagues Wesley Morris, Ben Sisario and Salamishah Tillet, which you can read here. In the words of Cowboy Carter herself, “It’s a lot of talkin’ going on.”

Also, I thoroughly enjoyed Brett Martin’s profile of the wildly prolific novelty songwriter Matt Farley in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine. While I cannot in good conscience recommend any of Farley’s music in this newsletter, I must confess that I have listened to more than one song released by one of his more ridiculous monikers, the Toilet Bowl Cleaners.

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