The Perfect Simplicity of “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?”

We were a young family, and we had a small house. My in-laws, Lynn’s parents, were kind enough to host our daughter Eliana’s first birthday party at their house rather than at ours. Their house was much larger than ours, and was free of the overwhelming clutter that often comes with young children.

Lynn’s dad ran out to get the bagels and birthday cake while Lynn, her mom and I ran around the house trying to get everything set in time for our friends, family and extended family. Decorations were hung. Coffee was brewed. Vegetables were sliced. The plasticware went on top of the folded birthday napkins…but not just piled on top of the napkin (as I foolishly tried to do), but rather with the knife on the right side of the plate with the blade pointing in towards the plate, the spoon to the immediate left of the plate and the fork next to the spoon. Eliana was no doubt smiling and making cute noises as we all prepared for the festivities ahead. I was trying to be responsive to my wife and my mother-in-law. Everybody was busy doing something when I said “Let’s all be sure to enjoy the storm before the calm.”

I got polite laughter at my turn of a well-worn phrase, but I was sincere, and I was sure that once people began to arrive for the party we could calm down and all enjoy the party together. Most of the work would be done, and now we could just enjoy everyone’s company, and a fun birthday party for my year old daughter.

This fond, far away memory came to mind as I considered writing about “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” by the great 1960’s swampy, blues folk rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR).

“Someone told me long ago
There’s a calm before the storm
I know, it’s been coming for some time
When it’s over, so they say
It’ll rain a sunny day
I know, shining down like water”

Released in 1971, towards the beginning of the end of the Viet Nam war, many people saw “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” as a statement against the war, and that the rain falling down was a metaphor for napalm raining down from the bombs being dropped throughout the country. That’s not what the song is about, that is, unless that is what you want the song to be about.

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, CCR was a monster band, releasing hit albums one after the other, even outselling The Beatles at one point. Based in California, their music sounded like it came out of the swamps of Louisiana. Lead singer and songwriter John Fogerty adopted a thick Cajun twang to his singing, and the rest of the band played with a muddy bluesy, folk rock sound that suited the covers and originals the band released with mechanical regularity from 1968 through to 1971.

John, his brother Tom Fogerty on rhythm guitar, Stu Cook on bass and Doug Clifford on drums were top selling rock and roll stars, but everyone in the band was angry and depressed. As John assumed more songwriting and singing responsibilities the rest of the band became resentful of the role he was playing as de facto leader of the band, and in response to the overall mood of the band, John became upset and angry as well.

In other words, it was a beautiful day, and all they could see was the rain.

I wanna know, have you ever seen the rain?
I wanna know, have you ever seen the rain?
Coming down on a sunny day.”

CCR was recording their 1970 Pendulum album, and “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” was written, rehearsed and recorded all on the same day. It’s a simple song, with a simple chord structure. No bridge. No guitar solo. Just the sadness and the impending eventual doom of the band.

“Yesterday, and days before
Sun is cold and rain is hard
I know, been that way for all my time
‘Til forever, on it goes
Through the circle, fast and slow
I know, it can’t stop, I wonder”

As is the case with many great rock songs, it can mean exactly what you want it to mean. You want it to be an anti-war song? It’s a great anti-war song. Want it to be about the demise of CCR? Turns out, that is exactly what it is. Want it to be a song to just put you in a good mood? Yep, it’s that too. “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” is timeless, resonant and deeply personal to different people for different reasons.

Fogerty himself loves this song, he even goes as far to say it’s his very favorite song of all time (like…of all songs). Rock stars..whaddya gonna do?

Sometimes I talk about great cover versions of the songs I write about here at, and no article about “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” would be complete without mention of Bonnie Tyler’s amazing 1983 version.

I was seeing the play The Rainmaker at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, which is about a con-man that comes to small farm town and promises that, for $100, he can make it rain. This small town has not gotten rain for a long time. The play culminates with a great scene of a massive storm hitting the farm town, just as the con-man promised, while Bonnie Tyler’s explosive, shimmering version of “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” was blasted. As the lights flashed the thunder boomed, the con-man joyously demanded his $100. It was a great moment of theater, and a great cover version of a truly perfect song.

“Have You Ever Seen the Rain”
Written by John Fogerty
Performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Released January, 1971

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