With this new Life during quarantine playlist, Nick Triani ponders Randy Newman's standard 'I Think It's Going to Rain Today' and the emotions it evokes.
Don’t open the borders we said. Keep wearing the masks we said. Avoid crowds we said. Stay home if feeling ill we said. Lockdown is here again. It’s tiring to discuss but our inherent greed and wish to keep the wheels of capitalism churning might do for us yet. The welcome news that a vaccine is now a reality and just around the corner is a chink of light in this most rotten of years…
Human kindness overflowing
The songwriters that have benefited from the patronage of Judy Collins are too numerous (for the sake of brevity) to mention here. But let’s at least recognise Collins’ role in the careers of Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Donovan (in the US), Jimmy Webb and Randy Newman. Why Collins doesn’t have some kind of monument in her honor for music discovery is baffling, she also never had the title A&R woman attached to her name although that’s clearly what she did. The fact that in this era of rediscovery and music nostalgia Collins is not more readily identified amongst the greats of popular music is quite simply a conspiracy against women. Today I focus on a song by Randy Newman first introduced by Collins, ‘I Think It’s Going to Rain Today’ (or in some cases ‘I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today’).
Collins recorded a version of the song for her In My Life album from 1966, though Julius LaRosa is credited as having released a version a few months earlier. It’s Collins interpretation that became the template for the song’s subsequent ubiquity. To confirm this, LaRosa’s version doesn’t appear anywhere.
30 different versions
Over the years all kinds of bands and artists of varying degrees of fame and fortune have tried to interpret ‘I Think It’s Going to Rain Today.’ I’ve cherry picked 3o different takes for this playlist. You may think, how crazy is that, listening to the same song so many times in a row, but please have a try because this may surprise you. Many of these interpretations are achingly similar in style, but I do think these vary enough so that you can sit through an hour and 40 minutes of the same song. The middle eight is the big variance in a lot of these versions (something about “Tin can at my feet, Think I’ll kick it down the street.”) Generally, most versions lead with piano and have string arrangements. Yet, the story changes with each voice. The latest version on this playlist is from 2020, which gives you some kind of idea of the longevity of the song.
I personally have a soft spot for the Françoise Hardy take from 1972. Her fractured English and the baroque string arrangement brings an intimate melancholy to the song. Leonard Nimoy does a great pass that pleases by not quite being right. Still, it might just be that Randy Newman’s own version from his debut album in 1968, impeccably produced by Van Dyke Parks, is the best. Newman is not the greatest singer, but has oodles of character and personality, which means the song retains its weary edge and infinite sadness (which is a bit lost on many of these takes.)
A younger generation may recognise Newman as the Toy Story soundtrack guy. That’s ok and cool. But Newman also lays a belated claim to be the pre-eminent songwriter of his generation. Recently this song has taken on a life of its own for me, reflecting collective grief and my hopes for a better day. The song also tells something about empathy and giving, even indulging our obsession of connecting our emotions to the weather. ‘I Think It’s Going to Rain Today’ touches a raw nerve, the weary sadness at the heart of the song can also comfort and help in getting through the ache. I believe that’s what Newman initially wanted when he wrote the song.
Nick Triani is an editor and contributor to One Quart Magazine.