A very British habit – and one of the cliched views of the British from around the world – is, apparently, to talk about the weather incessantly. I’ve never been sure why, but I guess with a changeable climate, the seemingly never-ending threat of rain (well, at least until the last few years where dry spells seem to get longer and longer), it is a good place to start a conversation.
Needless to say, the weather comes up in an awful lot of songs. Even the first set of suggestions for this list exceeded ten in minutes, and I had a choice of a couple hundred songs to potentially include. So after the first ten, there is a second Spotify list that has a few additionals that didn’t make the final cut. And now we can embed Spotify playlists at last, you can play the main ten direct from here.
This Is A Low
This is the song that inspired this weeks’ list, after hearing a quite wonderful solo cover of it at and Lucy’s party the other week. And it is a notable song for a couple of reasons. Firstly, amid the triumphant, upbeat sound of Parklife, there existed darker, more comtemplative corners, and this was one of them. Built around a metaphorical trip around the Shipping Forecast, and as a result those titular Lows have more than one meaning…
Only Happy When It Rains
The return of Garbage this spring after a long hiatus has been something for celebration, particularly as some of the new material doesn’t half hark back to their still-striking debut album. And this song, despite some people’s initial view that it is just a dour goth moan, is actually Scottish singer Shirley Manson poking fun at the average Scot’s less-than-sunny view of the world in general – and that started with the weather…
A Northern Soul
Very different to the skyscraping anthems that The Verve released later on, a fair proportion of The Verve’s early material were lengthy, atmospheric jams that frequently went on for quite some time (the most extreme example being the epic Gravity Grave, an early B-side that in its live form would normally hit the ten minute mark or more). While they still indulged in the odd space-rock epic like this on their later material, none really hit the mark like songs like this. A lengthy, moody groove, that gracefully builds across the sonic horizon until the sky is all black. Richard Ashcroft’s overwrought vocals – you know, like he normally does – actually work well almost as a warning as the storm threatens to break.
Covenant, of course, come from Sweden – and like the other parts of Scandinavia, these are countries well used to preparing for the weather and dealing with the extremes that it can throw at them. The band have referenced the weather in their songs a few times, actually, but this song (from an album kinda forgotten in their past nowadays, sadly, as they hardly ever play anything from it live) has perhaps the deepest link with the weather. The bitter, cold winds from Artic are a warming, soothing contrast to Eskil’s mood and demeanour in this song – a cold, icy and distant atmosphere, and instrumentation, that Covenant have got across so well.
Little Fluffy Clouds
The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld
A song that kicked off all manner of trouble due to the (deliberate?) use out of context of a stoned-sounding Ricky Lee Jones eulogising about the desert sky at sunset, the truth is that the song really does invoke images of glorious, orange and red sunsets. Not necessarily in the desert, mind. As for the song, its languid beat, spaced-out synth lines, and that voice sample have made it something of a poster child for ambient music, not to mention seeing it appear on probably hundreds of compilations. The thing is, it never gets boring…
Supa Dupa Fly (The Rain)
Supa Dupa Fly
Another with clever use of sampling (this time of Ann Peebles), this was Missy Elliott’s breakthrough song, and was more than a bit of a notice that she was a bit different to the other female rappers out there. And that wasn’t just in looks – her elastic basslines, odd rhythms and plain strange raps made her and her producer friend Timbaland stars. This track is remarkably stark, too: little more than that bouncing rhythm, her voice and the sample: and a song about wanting to go out and have some fun, but being constantly held back by the damned weather. A feeling we can appreciate here in the UK, that’s for sure.
Like The Weather
In My Tribe
Another song with the weather as a metaphor – here Natalie Merchant takes a relatively sympathetic view towards someone suffering from deep depression, unable to leave the house, or the bed, in a position where even the thought of the weather outside brings out a panic. The fact that it is cold, grey and rainy in this case isn’t helping. Having been in similar positions myself before – and seen someone else like it – this song makes it all too real once again.
I was never all that interested in Krautrock when it first got resurrected in the 90s, I have to confess. I had too much new music at the time to take in, why would I want to look that far backwards? It was only as my curious musical mind developed over the years that I started looking back at genres such as this, to what interest there was there. And then, having seen the odd documentary, and heard more than a few things, I began to dig a bit deeper, and picked out the odd compilation. And there was this – an oddly sunny, bright, hypnotic track that doesn’t really do a great deal for its seven-minute-length, just an incessant, simple beat, a strummed riff, and that title repeated ad infinitum. It doesn’t have a great deal to do with the weather aside from the title, apart from the fact that it always makes me think of sunny days in an English garden. Which is a juxtaposition that I suspect the band might be proud of…
Prayers For Rain
Back to the rain, again, though. And for perhaps the darkest song in the list, from what must surely be the bleakest album ever to be a multi-million-seller. Six minutes of unremitting darkness – the beats, slight guitars and synth washes all combine with Robert Smith’s desperate vocals to yearn for escape amid the rain. When one thinks about it, it isn’t hard to see how they ended up with the lead track on The Crow Soundtrack only a few years later…
Like A Hurricane
American Stars ‘n Bars
Ok, so it isn’t quite a hurricane. But some extremes are needed here, aside from the sun and the rain, eh? Anyway, it lasts nearly as long as a storm, so Neil Young’s tale of getting caught up in a dream about a lover, who can never quite reach out and touch the object of his affections, makes it into the list. Still, it sounds like it should belong on the windswept, open expanses of the American mid-west, with the sun beating down on you, and the wind rushing through your hair – the cliché that fills so many films.