Listening to this dense, complex song, written in 1962, is like being caught without an umbrella in a relentless downpour of strange non-sequiturs and bleak symbolism. There's a dead pony, a white ladder, a crying clown in an alley, a black dog, 1000 drummers, a girl who's on fire and another girl who's handing out rainbows. Oh, and lots of hard rain. As the song was written at the peak of Cold War paranoia, with the Cuban Missile Crisis just around the corner and the fear of impending apocalypse running like a sore through the American psyche, it has been frequently suggested that the hard rain of the song's chorus is a reference to nuclear fallout, or even a barrage of nuclear bombs. In a radio interview in 1963, Dylan put that particular interpretation firmly back in its box. ""No, it's not atomic rain,"" he said. ""It's just a hard rain."" Metaphor-drenched in may be, but it's still just a song about the weather.
""Purple rain, purple rain"", blares Prince, as this eight minute epic cranks up to a crescendo. ""If you know what I'm singing about up here, c'mon raise your hands."" Most hands remain resolutely un-raised. Nobody has ever come to any definite conclusion as to what the colourful downfall in this massive 1984 hit single is supposed to represent, but knowing Prince it's probably utterly filthy.
""Love has flooded my heart / And there's rain in Venice for the first time,"" sings Steve Harley, proving once and for all that the surge of endorphins triggered by falling in love can do serious damage to your critical faculties. Be assured Steve, it has rained in Venice before, even if you weren't there to witness it.
A beautiful piece of battered romanticism from Ireland's greatest (barely) living drunk, Shane McGowan, who manages to make Soho in a downpour sound like the most compelling place on earth. ""I took shelter from a shower / And I stepped into your arms / On a rainy night in Soho / The wind was whistling all its charms"". With the area's high density of clip joints, he's just lucky he wasn't charge £200 for a round of drinks then beaten up.
This Bacharach and David classic was recorded by BJ Thomas in 1969 for the soundtrack of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. As well as begging the question of just how big a boy's feet would have to be for them to be more of a problem in bed terms than the length of his legs, it contains the immortal line, ""I'm never gonna stop the rain by complaining"", which the British public should be forced to repeat every day like some kind of mantra.
This lovely slab of melancholy Motown soul from 1967 ticks all of the boxes of the classic 'rain as a metaphor for misery' song. Girl gone away? Tick. Clunky 'rain / window pane' rhyme? Tick. Raindrops / teardrops simile? Tick. Thunder effects? Tick.
The breakthrough hit by Glaswegian band Travis reached the top 10 in the late summer of 1999. The song hit the news earlier that year when it was debuted live at Glastonbury. As soon as the band started to sing the chorus, the heavens opened – an impressive trick, but less so than if it been performed at the Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada rather than a notorious rain magnet in Somerset. The poser set by the song's title is not the most difficult of questions to answer – the most obvious response being: ""Because you live in Scotland.""
This wry little number, a top 10 hit in 1996, plays fast and loose with the whole ""rain as a metaphor for misery"" thing by reveling in the glories of being damp and unhappy. What Shirley Manson, the Garbage lead singer, clearly needs to do is move in with Fran from Travis. In Scotland.
More of a morality tale than a song – drug-fuelled hair-metal group becomes biggest band on the planet, seemingly overnight; grateful record company writes blank cheque; band takes lots more drugs and delivers a nine minute single complete with three guitar solos and a metric ton of sheer bombast, accompanied by a hugely overblown video featuring a hair-metal wedding, an opera house, a woman apparently dying from being rained on, a guitar solo in a desert, loads of wind machines and not a single atom of irony or self-awareness; world laughs itself hoarse; band ceases to be biggest on the planet, seemingly overnight.
The b-side to Paperback Writer, released in 1966, was a key moment in the development of the Beatles from straightforward pop group to irascible experimenters. Multiple overdubs, tonal shifts on the vocal, backwards guitar tracks, backwards singing and lots more studio wizardry, including one of the first ever promo videos. The sonic experimentation sits somewhat at odds with the mundanity of the subject matter, which essentially boils down to: ""Some people moan about the rain. We don't. We're from Liverpool.""