Great Songwriters on Great Songs, Part 7: Suzanne Vega on “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today” by Randy Newman

Randy Newman, “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today”

She said making one choice alone was impossible. Which it is. It’s an unreasonable request of anyone, but especially a songwriter. So instead of one, she chose three, delivered in this order: “Story of Isaac,” by Leonard Cohen, “I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today” by Randy Newman and “It’s Alright Ma (“I’m Only Bleeding),” by Bob Dylan

We brought you Suzanne on “Story of Isaac,” by Leonard Cohen yesterday. Today is the day for Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today.” That she would choose this of all of Randy’s songs makes sense, as amplified by her own work and her given reasons. She is drawn the way he imparts so much sorrow into the imagery, without coming out and expressing it directly.

Unlike so many of the narrators of his songs who are famously untrustworthy, revealing their true selves through the words they speak, this song – like another early Randy masterpiece, “Marie” – reveals the character by what he doesn’t say. Which is remarkably true to human nature – that so much of our inner reality is hidden and unexpressed. In “Marie” the narrator admits, “I’m drunk right now baby, but I need to be or I never could tell you what you mean to me.”  He then proceeds to use several metaphors which would normally seem cliche, but in this frame work so poignantly: “You’re a flower, you’re a river, you’re a rainbow.”

In “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today,” the character is even more submerged, and perhaps doesn’t express sorrow directly because he doesn’t perceive it directly. Instead he reflects that sorrow as expressed in the world.

But in the bridge, he connects the image and the emotion, nearly: “Tin can at my feet/think I’ll kick it down the street/That’s the way to treat a friend.”

Suzanne’s most famous song is “Luka,” which is a character speaking directly and indirectly both, and like Randy’s song, is about what is unsaid. Whether Luka chooses not to tell or is incapable is not known, but in that unknowing lives a real person. Randy was among the first to bring us people who talk like real people in song, and not being able to speak the truth, or choosing not to. It’s a development which Suzanne absorbed and expanded upon.

Of course, as Suzanne explains, it’s not the lyric alone which imbues this song with singular beauty, it’s the marriage of the words with this simple yet haunting melody.

Although some of his songs are more famous, it is a modern standard, recorded by a vast and diverse span of great singers and others, including Dusty Springfield (Randy’s favorite), Bette Midler, Joe Cocker, Peter Gabriel, Neil Diamond, Norah Jones, Judy Collins and even Leonard Nimoy.

Randy Newman, “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today,” Live,
2013 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.

Suzanne Vega on “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today,” by Randy Newman:

“I love the tone and the imagery of it, both the music and the lyrics. It seemed like a really sad and melancholy song – without being sentimental. Kind of sad but dry at the same time.

“All of the emotions are in the images, which I really like. ‘Broken windows, empty hallways…” 

All of the sadness that’s in those images is quite powerful. It’s not like him sitting around going, “I feel sad,” which is the kind of song I really hate.”

Dusty Springfield, “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today”
Peter Gabriel, “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today”

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