Keeping the GAS (Great American Songbook) Flame Burning: “Here’s That Rainy Day”

Keeping the GAS (Great American Songbook) Flame Burning: “Here’s That Rainy Day”

By Roger Crane, the Song Scout

Background/Discussion

Sometimes great songs are featured in unsuccessful shows. The much beloved “All the Things You Are” came from Very Warm for May, which was a dismal failure (59 performances). Well, the equally loved “Here’s That Rainy Day” is also from a flop, the 1953 show Carnival in Flanders (only six performances). Yet, surprisingly, it earned a Tony for actress Dolores Gray, the only time a performance in a run that short was so honored. In fact, if the show is remembered today, it is for the song.

Jimmy Van Heusen’s melody is chord driven; in fact the radical harmonic movement in the first few bars is most unusual and challenging for a popular song. For that reason, the song serves as inspiration for jazz improvisation and may explain why it is perhaps more popular with performers than with the general public. Lyrically, Johnny Burke matches Van Heusen’s complexity with an exceptionally understated, almost bemused reflection on lost love that makes the loss all the more wrenching because it is implied rather than explicitly stated. For instance “Maybe I should have saved those leftover dreams” – – the protagonist speculates and then adds as an afterthought – – “Funny – but here’s that rainy day,”

Following its publication in 1953 the song did not gain much attention until Frank Sinatra’s superior recording with Gordon Jenkins (the 1959 No One Cares album). (No composer enjoyed more support from Sinatra who, surprisingly, recorded 85 of Van Heusen’s songs.) Despite the onslaught of rock music during the 1960s, the song gradually established itself as part of the standard repertoire and is now firmly entrenched in the Great American Songbook (GAS). Part of its success can be attributed to its mutability. For example, the song works well with a slow swing tempo or a glacially slow ballad such as the Bill Evans treatments (link below). It even works at a fast clip such as in a Philly Joe Jones treatment. Richard “Groove” Holmes turned it into a medium-tempo funk feature. The song is an especially good bossa nova piece (e.g., Wes Montgomery/Don Sebesky, link below). As noted above, Burke’s lyrics are excellent and many of the better vocalists include “Here’s That Rainy Day” in their repertoire. The song almost demands its harmony’s presence for a singer to not get lost in the complex line and, perhaps for that reason, mediocre singers seldom choose this song.

A Few Sample Recordings

INSTRUMENTAL VERSIONS

Wes Montgomery from the 1965 Bumpin, string arrangements by Don Sebesky

Bill Evans from Alone, 1968 (this LP won Evans his third Grammy)

Stan Getz with Gary Burton (vibraphone), Carnegie Hall, 1964

Paul Desmond, with guitarist Jim Hall, from the 1965 Easy Living recording

VOCAL VERSIONS

Frank Sinatra with Gordon Jenkins from the 1959 No One Cares recording

Nat King Cole from his ‘50s TV show

Peggy Lee with Quincy Jones from her 1961 If You Go recording

You may also wish to investigate worthy recordings by the following.

Vocal versions by Carmen McRae, Jack Jones, Ella Fitzgerald, Julie London. Vic Damone, Steve Lawrence and Rosemary Clooney

Instrumental versions by Art Pepper, Danny Zeitlin, Gerry Mulligan, Joe Pass, Freddie Hubbard and Tommy Flanagan

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