This is the 24th post in a weekly, yearlong series. Read about it here and see the list of previous songs here. A new post about a different song will be posted each Monday throughout 2016. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.
Paul Shaffer was working on “Saturday Night Live” as both a musician and a featured sketch performer when he got a call from musician Paul Jabara in 1979. Jabara had recently had success writing Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” and Barbra Streisand’s “The Main Event/Fight.”
In an interview with George Wayne in Vanity Fair, Shaffer said,
Paul Jabara called me up and said, “I’ve got a great song for Donna Summer. I want you to write the song with me. What do you think about ‘It’s Raining Men’?” We wrote it in one afternoon. Lyrically she hated it, because she had become a born-again Christian. She thought it was blasphemous. She called Paul and said, “I hate the song. Oh, we’ve lost you.” And then she sent him a Bible the next day.
Diana Ross, Cher, and Streisand also passed. Jabara then approached Martha Wash and Izora Armstead, who had met as backup singers for Sylvester and has been performing together as Two Tons O’ Fun. But they, too, had their reservations.
“We thought it was a crazy song — in fact, too crazy to record,” Wash said. “I kept saying, ‘It’s raining men? Really? Are you kidding me?’ … I just did not think people would buy it… That’s why I kept saying no.”
Jabara persisted, and Wash and Armstead relented. They recorded the song, and to play up the theme of the song, they dropped the name Two Tons O’ Fun in favor of the name The Weather Girls. “It’s Raining Men” was released as a single in the fall of 1982, and appeared on The Weather Girls’ 1983 album, “Success.” The single peaked at 46 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The song’s depth didn’t go much beyond the title. The conceit was that later that, “for the first time in history,” the sky would start showering the Earth with… Men. There would be a heathy variety, as the men would be “tall, blond, dark, and lean/Rough and tough and strong and mean.”
OK, so, Wash was right in that the song was ridiculous. But it became the duo’s biggest hit, precisely because it was campy and over the top. Wash and Armstead already had gay cred because of their association with Sylvester, but this song made them icons to the gay community in their own right.
The song’s evolution over the next 24 years dovetailed with the evolution of pop music, specifically dance music, and even more specifically, the dance music and tastes of gay men. As such, some were predictable remakes, though some gems stood out.
I.I. Simmons’ Eurodance version gave “It’s Raining Men” a dance club update in the style of early ’90s dance groups, such that at any moment, it sounded like it would mash into La Bouche’s “Be My Lover.” I dare you to listen to this and not start singing “La la la la dee da…”
Wash teamed with RuPaul on “It’s Raining Men… The Sequel,” which appeared on the 1998 compilation, “RuPaul’s Go-Go Box Classics.” The update was subtle, as the most notable difference was simply RuPaul’s substitution for Armstead. As fun as the combination of Wash and RuPaul might have seemed on paper, RuPaul’s addition riddled the song with too many one-liners. Of course, one can’t blame Ru for being excited to sing on such a classic, but this version would have been fine with one less “Thank you, Jesus!”
When previously discussing songs that had been recorded a second time by the original artist, we posed the question as to whether those second versions could be covers. Had this version been Wash and Armstead, or just one of them, we’d rule that no, “It’s Raining Men… The Sequel” was not a cover. And if it had only been RuPaul on the track, it would definitely have been a cover. But because it had both RuPaul and Wash, it falls into that squishy territory of not being a cover, but more than just an alternate version by the original artist.
Former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell — she was Ginger Spice, if you were keeping track — covered “It’s Raining Men” for her 2001 album “Scream If You Wanna Go Faster.” In contrast to the Wash/RuPaul duet, Halliwell’s version had the opposite problem in that her cover was not silly enough. She had barely any of the aside commentaries from the original, which were part of what made The Weather Girls’ version so appealing. OK, so it would have been weird for Halliwell to do a call-and-response with herself. But the straightforward vocals, when combined with the too-clubby backing track, made Halliwell’s version too serious. But it was a huge success, cracking the top 10 in more than 20 countries and reaching Number One in Belgium, France, Ireland, Italy, Poland and the UK.
The first minute and 15 seconds of Carol Jiani’s “It’s Raining Men” was a slow burn, as disco riffs faded in over a drum machine before Jiani sang a word. When she did start singing, she sang slower than Armstead and Wash, but more deliberately, as if she were sharing a testimony of a life-changing experience. Spanning more than six minutes, Jiani’s version served as a tribute to the various dance genres that had grown since the original “It’s Raining Men,” working in flourishes of garage, house, Hi-NRG, and modern keyboards.
The musical “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” adapted from the 1994 movie “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” premiered in 2006. Just as “Mamma Mia!” was a jukebox musical that repurposed ABBA’s hits, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” used pop songs to tell its story, including “It’s Raining Men.” The arrangement in the musical was faithful to the original, and had no surprises.
Irish-English group The Nolans, comprising sisters with the surname Nolan, covered “It’s Raining Men” in 2009. It was faithful to the original, but with fewer one-liners and a production more in line with what you’d hear in the late 2000s. It was not bad, but it was not distinct enough to make you want to listen to this version over the original. The Nolan sisters are fun to listen to, but if you’re going to listen to “It’s Raining Men” without Wash’s iconic vocals, the cover should reinterpret and surprise. This Nolans version did not.
Singer Countré Black turned “It’s Raining Men” into a steamy slow jam for the “Magic Mike” soundtrack in 2012. Black’s version, stripped of any of the disco, featured her singing the lyrics over breakbeats and samples. It was so heavy on the programmed sounds that it felt more like a remix than a cover. Whereas the original was a dance floor filler, this song sounded like the aural equivalent of grinding. It might featured the sounds of actual grinding, because if I’m not mistaken, one of the sounds behind Black’s sultry vocals sounded like panting.
The band Tragedy has specialized in metal versions of disco songs, having covered ABBA and The Bee Gees. The band’s “It’s Raining Men,” released in 2013, began with the sound of thunder, followed by a deadpan delivery of the classic line from the original: “Get ready all you lonely girls and leave your umbrellas at home.” What followed was a guitar intro worthy of “Kill ‘Em All”-era that led into a headbanger that instrumentally sounded like a cover of Blondie’s “Call Me.” The dead-on metal affectation made this the campiest, most-tongue-in-cheek version since the original.
Turkish band Dolapdere Big Gang plays western pop songs in a traditional Turkish style. The band, named for the Istanbul neighborhood of Istanbul, comprises eight musicians, and in those musicians’ hands, “It’s Raining Men” has more texture and layer than in the polished, keyboard-driven original. With each new listen, a different part of the song is bound to stand out: the fast drums, the intricate strings, the prayer-like vocals. Leave your umbrellas at home, and let this quirky version wash all over you.
Most of these versions didn’t reinterpret the song so much as just inject the elements du jour that had crept into the dance music since 1982: more bass, more polish, more production. In that respect, these versions can be considered a time capsule of what type of music was popular in dance clubs the years they were released: Simmons, 1995; RuPaul, 1998; Halliwell, 2001; Jianni, 2005. And it’s for that reason that those versions are inherently not as interesting as the era-agnostic versions byDolapdere Big Gang or Tragedy. Those reinterpretations, respectively recasting the song as a traditional Turkish song or thrash metal song, stand out more than versions that merely update the song to reflect current trends.
Those updated versions are not inherently bad, and they certainly aren’t the only covers we’ve looked at that update an older song with modern gimmicks. But those versions help us focus on what we want (and expect) from cover songs. Some of the more enduring covers we have discussed have endured because of the new voice and tone. The acoustic version of “Bizarre Love Triangle” by Frente! had a sound that belied the year it came out. It sounds just as fresh today as it did in the mid ’90s.
And it’s possible for very time-specific covers to hold up. Perhaps the best example of that we’ve reviewed has been The Pet Shop Boys’ version of “Always On My Mind,” which was quintessentially ’80s but also so good that it will never sounded stale or dated. But part of the appeal of that version and Samantha Fox’s “I Only Wanna Be With You” were that those recast the songs into different genres and also added a new feel to the songs.
Much of the longevity of “It’s Raining Men” can be attributed to its revered status in the gay community. In 2014, the original “It’s Raining Men” saw a resurgence in the UK charts. Jeremy Joseph, the owner of the legendary G-A-Y nightclub in London, started the campaign to have “It’s Raining Men” reappear on the pop charts after politician David Silvester blamed winter floods on the 2013 act that legalized same-sex marriage in Britain. Joseph encouraged people to use the song, and the effort to make it popular again, as a means of protesting Silvester.
With that in mind, it’s worth pointing out that as a gay anthem, “It’s Raining Men” can seem somewhat heteronormative in 2016:
God bless mother nature
She’s a single woman, too
She took for the Heaven
And she did what she had to do
She taught every angel to rearrange the sky
And each and every woman could find her perfect guy
But then again, let’s not forget that even The Weather Girls were skeptical of this song. It was never meant to be serious, as it was clear from the first note that this song was anything but earnest. If you want a dance song that addresses the LGBT experience, there are tons of better choices, including “Smalltown Boy.” But if you’re just looking to blow off steam and dance, then this song is perfect.
Just make sure to leave your umbrellas at home.
You can listen to these songs and previously discussed cover songs in a Spotify playlist.