Make It Rain: A Playlist for California's Drought

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

Still from Selena Gomez's 'A Year Without Rain' video. (Photo: Hollywood Records)

California's pop-music cup has historically runneth over with odes to sunny weather and hot beaches. But songs begging for dark skies and downpours of rain? Those are as rare as kids playing on Slip 'n' Slides these days.

That may well change, with the California drought grinding along and with little relief in sight. In fact, a handful of the state's songwriters have already penned new music inspired by our dried-up rivers and evaporating lakes.

Of course, a lack of water is nothing new. While the riverbanks dry and crack, we at KQED Arts tapped our memory banks to bring you a compilation of 12 drought-related songs from over the years. (Scroll down for individual songs and descriptions.)

"Cool Water" – Sons of the Pioneers
The first song that came to our minds, this 1948 tale of two cowboys traversing the desert in constant search for water kicks off this mix. "I face the barren waste without the taste of water, cool water" reads like a photo caption for Lake Shasta's current water level.

"I Wish it Would Rain" – The Temptations
The story of a lovelorn soul who pleads for rain because "raindrops'll hide my teardrops," this soul ballad reached No. 1 on the R&B charts in 1967. One of David Ruffin's best vocal performances, and yes, that's the Funk Brothers (Standing in the Shadows of Motown) as the backup band.

"Brown Grass" – Gregory Porter
Another sad R&B song -- hey, who said the drought was happy? -- comes courtesy of Gregory Porter, who knows plenty about brown grass, having been raised in Bakersfield. Released in 2014, this finds Porter's Bill Withers-style baritone singing about imagery we know all too well this year.

"Water" - The Who
A nearly forgotten B-side from the Who's greatest era, "Water" was recorded in 1971, between the albums Tommy and Who's Next. The chorus says it all: "We need waaaa-ter!" (A thundering 10-minute version from the Isle of Wight Festival can be seen here.)

"Make It Rain" – Tom Waits
One of the standout tracks from Waits' 2004 album Real Gone, "Make it Rain" finds Waits mingling his ragged-junkyard blues with a modern-day rain dance rhythm. Incidentally, Waits lives in west Sonoma County near the Russian River, where levels this year are unsurprisingly low.

"You Don't Miss Your Water ('Til The Well's Run Dry)" – William Bell
Water as a metaphor for love is a running theme in these songs. This 1961 breakup hit falls into the you-don't-know-what-you've got-'til-it's-gone category, and was later recorded by Otis Redding and the Byrds. And updated version might be titled "You Don't Miss Your Water ('Til Jerry Brown Rations It)."

"Dry River" – Dave Alvin
This song by Dave Alvin is quintessentially Los Angeles, referencing the L.A. river, which you know from that drag-racing scene in Grease. Optimistically, Alvin sings, "Someday it's gonna rain, someday it's gonna pour / Someday this old dry river, it won't be dry anymore."

"Thirsty" – Mariah Carey
Sure, this is more a kiss-off to ex-husband Nick Cannon than a plea for rain in a drought year. But we haven't had a good dance song on this mix yet, and the hook might as well be sung by every reservoir in the state: "Oh, you’re thirsty / Oh, you’re thirsty / Oh, you’re thirsty..."

"The Well's Gone Dry" – The Crusaders
During a drought, we talk about rainfall, rivers, lakes and reservoirs, but we don't talk enough about groundwater aquifers -- probably because they've been largely unregulated until last year. Imagine the "I drink your milkshake" scene from There Will Be Blood, relevant to water as much as oil, while getting down to this funk instrumental.

"A Year Without Rain" - Selena Gomez
If you lasted past the Mariah Carey track, you'll probably remember this Selena Gomez song, which hit No. 1 on the Dance Club charts in 2010. With a video shot in the Lucerne Valley desert, the song begs: "So let this drought come to an end / And make this desert flower again."

"I Wish It Would Rain Down" - Phil Collins
No, this isn't the Collins' track with that drum fill, but it does feature Eric Clapton -- and an official video that sees Collins dressed as a depression-era newsboy, an antebellum gentleman, a Broadway tap dancer and badly superimposed into classic films. If you haven't figured it out already, '80s videos were weird, kids.

"Paris,Texas" – Ry Cooder
This playlist's coda is an instrumental from the Wim Wenders film of the same name. No words, but few pieces of music sound as barren as this. Let it be a harbinger of things to come if California's climate doesn't turn around.