Memorial Day 2021
Unofficially the beginning of summer, here in the Northeast the Memorial Day weekend seems to have become the last gasp of April. At least it seems as though, in recent years, there have been more of these cool rainy weekends than not.
What if nature is trying to give us a pause to remember why we even have this holiday?
For the second year in a row, the parade my town participates in to remember has been canceled. So it’s up to us all as individuals. And maybe, as we remember, we can remember not just those who served and died, but that with one bloody terrible exception they fought with each other, not against each other.
Soft mornings always make me contemplative. If you find yourself so inclined, I hope the soundtrack I’ve assembled for this year helps that mood. As always, there’s a Spotify playlist with additional tracks, accessible here and at the end. Sorry if many of these videos are homemade, it’s a consequence of going deeper into the catalogs.
Didn’t it Rain, Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1958)
The messy stew of America contains more than a few unpleasant bits. But it also contains plenty of joy and wonder. And I don’t think there can be a better ambassador for joy and wonder than Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the guitar-playing Gospel singer from Arkansas. If Keith Richards says you should listen to her, you probably should.
September in the Rain, Dinah Washington (1960)
Of all the mid-20th century female singers, Dinah Washington is my favorite. Jump blues, R&B, standards, uptempo, ballads, she could sing it all. For me, her distinction lay in having just enough “church” in her voice to stand apart from her peers who may be technically better singers. Here, in a fabulous arrangement, she takes on the 1937 Harry Warren-Al Dubin standard, with some great old photos as illustration.
Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, B. J. Thomas (1969)
As a kid, I don’t remember my parents going out to the movies much. And when they did they often didn’t seem terribly enthused about what they’d seen. So, when they returned from seeing the first Redford Newman film with my mom singing the Burt Bacharach–Hal David penned theme song, it stood out. It’s still a pop gem
Ballet for a Rainy Day, XTC (1986)
If the broader public knows XTC at all, it’s because of the hit song, “Dear God, which appeared on the same album as this song. That hit might be my least favorite song on what, I recall reading, is one of the band’s least favorite albums. Ever contrary, I’d put that record right up there with their best and I’d offer this song, along with the record’s openers, as the reason why. Pop songcraft doesn’t come much better than the lads from Swindon demonstrate here.
Why Does it Always Rain on Me?, Travis (1998)
One good question deserves another. What is it about life in a rain-soaked archipelago that has inspired so many young men to sit down and craft pop bulletproof pop songs? I don’t suppose that question has any clearer answer than this song does. And i’m not sure we need to know as long as the question is asked in the form of this shimmering guitar-pop gem.
It Feels Like Rain, Maria Muldaur (1999)
This John Hiatt–penned song is most often associated with Buddy Guy, since it was the title song of his 1993 breakout record. (And isn’t it ridiculous to have a breakout record 35 plus years into your career?) But I prefer this slower, smokier version from local gal Maria Muldaur’s 1999 album, the record that began an incredible run for her.
Here Comes the Rain Again, Macy Gray (2011)
When the first Eurythmics album came out, in 1983, all I could hear were the synthesizers. Even the drums were canned. So it took me a while to really understand what great songwriters and musician Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart were. I never quite got past that initial reaction, though, and so have come to prefer the cover by the ever-idiosyncratic, always-fun Macy Gray.
I’ve added some songs you’d expect to hear, and maybe some you would not, as well as a bunch of versions of the Hiatt song. Enjoy your holiday.