It seems rather flippant to highlight the sadness of one of Belinda Carlisle’s more poppy songs on the morning that Prince died suddenly at the age of 57. As a bastardised mix of ‘Purple Rain’ and this song (“Summer Rain, Summer Rain”) loops in my head like a mantra, and Anderson Cooper interviews everyone from Stevie Wonder to session musicians on TV about Prince’s tragic exit, it seems futile to point out how dramatic the strings are in this Belinda song. But they are. And one tragedy doesn’t take away from another. So, let’s begin.
There’s a certain feeling that dramatic, minor-y songs thrust onto you before you are old enough to fully realise what that involuntarily body surge is. It’s like being scared, or sad, but that’s not quite it. After all you aren’t shivering or crying, so that can’t be it. It’s a type of emotional overload, and you never quite forget it, even while struggling to describe it on a blog 25 years later. I remember this weird feeling with Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’ – all the dark religious symbolism – I felt it with Jason Donovan’s depressing, sepia-stained cover of ‘Sealed With A Kiss’ (after luring me in with the romantic candy of Kylie duet ‘Especially For You’ mere months earlier), and I felt it with ‘Summer Rain’. Speaking of Kylie, I was too old by the time ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’ came out – but I’m sure that elicited a similar response for many. Maybe it’s true that this is the devil’s music, after all?
‘Summer Rain’ deals in all the romantic farewell cliches: a train fast arriving to tear two lovers apart; whispered goodbyes; promises that nothing will change; a blanket of rain as if to underscore the tragedy; slow-dancing in said rain to freeze time and rally against the hopelessness of this scenario; an impending war and the uncertainty that implies; a CityRail conductor with a whistle hanging from his neck, wearing a packet of Twisties like a glove. All that ‘Casablanca’ shit.
Despite – no, actually because of – all this, ‘Summer Rain’ holds up nicely as a doomed love story. The strings add a wealth of dark weight, despite being digitally arrived at, the keys in the intro and verse sound like droplets of rain, and the swelling music leading into the chorus actually sounds like someone running alongside the carriage, waving and wishing for one last desperate embrace. You can hear the train pulling away.
‘Summer Rain’ is written from the perspective of the one left behind, this one last, perfect evening immortalised in her memory. She knows that while ever she replays this in her mind, he isn’t gone, and boy does she cling to this. The various sense-memory triggers in the bridge – lightening, thunder, wind, even the act of closing the window – suggests she isn’t going to get over this for a long time, nor does she seem in a rush to do so. It’s a tragic tale that hits hard because it has been played out countless times over the centuries – always terribly cliched, and always terribly singular. And that’s war for you, kids. Vote McGovern.