John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

Greatest Song Ever Written?

So said John Lennon about “I Can't Stand the Rain,” co-written by Ann Peebles

By - Nov 16th, 2017 03:44 pm
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Ann Peebles performing at the Beale Street Music Festival in 2007. Photo by By Lindsey T from Memphis, Tennessee, USA (ann peebles) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Ann Peebles performing at the Beale Street Music Festival in 2007. Photo by By Lindsey T from Memphis, Tennessee, USA (ann peebles) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

John Lennon called “I Can’t Stand The Rain” the best song ever. To prove his point, he put a sanitary napkin on his head and created a bizarre distraction that featured an off-color running commentary at an Ann Peebles performance in Hollywood. That well documented incident was during Lennon’s infamous “lost weekend.” He apologized the next day for his drunken escapade. She accepted it along with his very helpful endorsement. Lennon went on to cut the song with an even crazier Phil Spector producing on his Rock and Roll album. This helped establish the song as a soul classic.

Ann Peebles wrote it with her future husband and songwriting partner Don Bryant and the disc jockey Bernard Miller. It came to them in a flash of lightning, so to speak. There was a sudden downpour as they were about to leave for a concert and she shouted, “I can’t stand the rain!” Knowing a good turn of phrase when they heard one, they decided to sit right where they were and write a classic — aren’t we glad? The song was intended as a reaction to all the ecstatic “walking in the rain” songs that were on the charts at the time. Sometimes rain isn’t all that wonderful.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Andy Kaufman seated in the front row as Peebles sang the song on this unnamed TV show. Why he’s there is a mystery, but I like to think they were conspiring to save the 70’s from going down in history as the worst decade ever. Looking radiant in a gown that hides all but her face, you are reminded once again of a time before personal trainers and wardrobe malfunctions. She lip syncs here, but I’m not complaining — the track is produced by the legendary Willie Mitchell and no road band could’ve matched it.

The stillness in this song, with its imitation raindrops at the top, belies its turbulent story. In the very first verse she’s talking to her window… it can’t be good news.

I can’t stand the rain ‘gainst my window
Bringing back sweet memories
Hey windowpane, do you remember?
How sweet it used to be

When we was together
Everything was so grand
Now that we’ve parted
There’s just one sound that I just can’t stand

I can’t stand the rain ‘gainst my window
Bringing back sweet memories
I can’t stand the rain ‘gainst my window
‘Cause he’s not here with me

Alone with the pillow
Where his head used to lay
I know you’ve got some sweet memories
But like a window you ain’t got nothin’ to say

I can’t stand the rain ‘gainst my window
Bringing back sweet memories
I can’t stand the rain
Against my window
Just keeps on haunting me
Hey rain, get off my window
Because he’s not here my me

© Ann Peebles Don Bryant Bernard Miller

Once again, simplicity and directness win the day. Lennon, who had so much to do with the birth of word salad lyric writing, was responding to something he helped lay to rest. As a bridge between the 50’s and 60’s, he may have been yearning for a simpler time.

Hi Records received the baton from their Memphis neighbors at Stax, and like them, would also eventually fizzle in the 70’s. They just did it a little later. Hi’s golden era was mostly the product of Mitchell and his singular vision as a producer/arranger, along with a band as skilled as any in the south and, in no small part, a spectacular talent by the name of Al Green. The Hi take on things was a little mellower, but it still had a spine. Some of the players from Stax migrated to this newer scene, including The Memphis Horns and a man many consider the greatest Memphis drummer ever, Al Jackson Jr.  He teamed with Howard Grimes no slouch himself, to create some of the steadiest grooves ever laid down.

Two veterans of this stellar band, The Reverend Charles Hodges on organ and his bass playing  brother Leroy Hodges were in Milwaukee last week, along with Boo Mitchell, Willie’s son. They were performing classics from the Hi and Stax catalogs. The legendary writer and performer William Bell, along with Bobby Rush and Charlie Musselwhite, lit up the stage at Vogel Hall playing songs from the documentary Take Me To The River. (One of the producers of that movie is Milwaukee native and Talking Head Jerry Harrison.) A more convincing argument for music made by actual humans on real instruments (including the voice) you will never hear.

I could jump up on the soapbox now, but I’d hate myself in the morning. Ann Peebles, weighing in at all of 99 pounds, made one of the heaviest slabs of soul ever produced. For this I’m thankful in this season of thanks. I’m grateful beyond words that there is a place called Memphis where music like this is the rule rather than the exception. As this country continues to unwrap its endless gifts, we should thank those who delivered them. I’ll leave it at that.

4 thoughts on “Sieger on Songs: Greatest Song Ever Written?”

  1. Dean J Calin says:

    These behind-the-scene tales of the genesis of iconic music are so important. I think that there is such a disconnection between the average consumer and the creatives that make the music of the ages – I think the music is all the more memorable and vibrant for knowing its origin. These talented folks give birth to the songs that speak for the people of the times they are written in, and knowing how these pieces came to be is so compelling. Thanks for your stewardship of these memories, John.

  2. Christina Zawadiwsky says:

    Giant waves of emotions come from her voice in this song! I myself once wrote a poem called No More Rain (although I wouldn’t want to move to Arizona or someplace else with little rain, I love Milwaukee!).

  3. Charlie Offer says:

    The Milwaukee connection to this song is that one of the writers, Bernie Miller, was a DJ and program director at WLUM in the mid-80’s

  4. Robert Blondis says:

    Am so sorry I missed the show with the Hodges, Bell, Musselwhite, etc. I saw Musselwhite while I tended bar at the Stoned Toad in 1971 or so. Those Memphis artists were great. There are many very cool “rain” songs. I Wish It Would Rain” by the Temptations wasn’t weak. Neither was “Rainin’ In My Heart” by Buddy Holly. In a short period of time we all could come up with a pretty good playlist. Look out of your window. It’s a great day for it.

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