SONG: Singin’ in the Rain
ARTIST: Gene Kelly
Listen to it here:
This song, surprisingly enough, has a long history before it appeared in the Gene Kelly movie of the same name. I had assumed that the song was written for the movie, but it was actually written by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed around 1929, a good 23 years before the movie! It was recorded numerous times before the film, but had never retained the staying power it maintained after it received the Gene Kelly treatment. One interesting thing about the form of the song itself before we talk more of its history: Singin’ in the Rain has an unusual form – the 32 measure chorus actually opens the song, instead of starting with a verse. This doesn’t really seem like the hugest deal, but if you think of any popular song you know, it almost never gives away the chorus right off the bat! The only other song that came to mind that starts with the chorus is Jolene by Dolly Parton.
I looked into whether Singin’ in the Rain was a kind of “triumph over adversity” type song, but in the movie, Kelly has just left the house of his new girlfriend, and it’s just pure, innocent, happiness. But, back to the beginning. In the 1920s, Arthur Freed, the writer of this song, was running a sheet music shop in Seattle. One day, he saw a man completely drenched from the rain dancing past his shop window. This was the inspiration for the song. Eventually, Freed ended up being hired by MGM because of his songwriting talents. There, he teamed up with composer Nacio Herb Brown to write the music for the Hollywood Revue of 1929, MGM’s first-ever musical. Singin’ in the Rain was included in the Revue. Freed’s big opportunity came when MGM got the rights to The Wizard of Oz. On that movie, Freed was a hardworking “uncredited assistant” so though we may not know the exact input he had on that film, it was enough to give him huge status within MGM. He continued working on a string of successful movies, but had a longtime urge to make a musical that would include some of his earlier songs that still held a special place in his heart. He especially wanted to use Singin’ in the Rain in this new endeavor and pushed hard to make it also the title of the film. And so, unusually, the entire movie Singin’ in the Rain was made as a vehicle for that song!
Eugene Curran Kelly was born in 1912 in Pittsburgh. He was the third son of a phonograph salesman, and his dad was born in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, so there’s a little tiny Canadian connection! When Kelly was eight years old, his mother enrolled him and his brother into dance classes. They both rebelled, and claimed to hate dancing and the bullying that came with it. He got in fights with the neighbourhood kids who called him a sissy, and eventually his mom took him out of dance classes. He didn’t dance again until he was 15 years old. He spent the majority of his childhood playing sports and became an excellent athlete. He graduated highschool at age 16, but went to work to help his family after the stock market crash and didn’t go to college. He and his brother would create dance routines to earn prize money in local talent contests, and also performed in nightclubs.
After his family was back on its feet, he enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh to study economics. There, he became involved in the University’s musical theatre club, called the Cap and Gown Club, and even served as its director for years after he graduated. His family opened a dance studio in 1932, named the Gene Kelly Studio of the Dance, and it was so successful that they opened a second location the next year. This pushed Kelly to decide to pursue a career as a dance teacher and full-time entertainer, and he increased his focus on performing. He had an unsuccessful first go at New York City, and then returned home for a while, but eventually he landed a spot on Broadway, in the 1938 production of Cole Porter’s Leave it to Me! This led to him being noticed by other cast members and production crew. He started to be hired into more and more shows, eventually dancing to his own choreography, and that led to him getting hired as a choreographer as well. Finally, he started to get asked to go to Hollywood. He spent four years involved in movies that were mild successes, or out and out flops, before he broke into the mainstream with his choreography and dancing in Anchors Aweigh. This film, which features Kelly dancing with an animated mouse called Jerry Mouse, became one of the most successful films of 1945.
Kelly maintained an active film, tv, and stage career all the way until the late 1980s when his health began to decline. In 1994, he suffered a stroke, and then had another stroke in 1995. Gene Kelly died at age 83 in 1996, and as per his wishes, was cremated, without a funeral or memorial service.
- The first recording of Singin’ In the Rain was sung by Ukulele Ike (later the voice of Jiminy Cricket) and the Brox Sisters, where it culminated in a bizarre sequence with a happy, and presumably doomed chorus dancing in front of Noah’s Ark.
- Gene Kelly was sick, with a fever of 102 over the two days it took to film the Singin’ In the Rain sequence in the movie.
- Kelly was asked to direct the film version of The Sound of Music. He escorted Ernest Lehman, the asker, out of his house saying “Go find someone else to direct this piece of shit.”
Maaaan this is another hard one! It’s tricky because 1. Gene Kelly was a total babe and 2. It’s hard to separate the music from the dancing here, and Gene Kelly was such an incredible dancer! And 3. That scene is so iconic! How can you not picture Gene in his suit and hat, stomping around in those puddles with his umbrella? Sigh. Anyway, now that we’ve established that Gene was a great dancer, as far as his singing goes, he was no slouch! I think his singing really suits the mood of the song – but I CANNOT get behind those intentional vocal hiccups that he does. Ugh. As far as the orchestra, I would describe it as “MGM” – it sounds very “musical of the time” – full orchestra, every section used. Even bells towards the end! The melody is definitely what really carries this song. It’s instantly recognizable, interesting and a total earworm! Good luck not having this in your head, at least for a little while. I think it’s a pretty strong song overall and a really good example of 1950s Hollywood musical prowess.
Here we go with another review that’s tough to do. This song is also ubiquitous – though I’ve never seen the movie, I can definitely picture this scene pretty vividly. So I’ll go with some likes and some dislikes. Overall, I like Gene Kelly’s voice. It’s understated, and smooth. He does these weird hiccup things from time to time that I really don’t like. It’s also an interesting Broadway orchestration behind him. The strings make it seem Broadway and a little old-fashioned, but this orchestrator used French Horn and oboe, and percussion pretty expertly, and in a way we haven’t heard in our previous reviews. This song has been stuck in my head for about 4 days now, so the melody is catchy, and I think it’s actually pretty interesting. I think that someone could re-harmonize it and totally change the feel, which is always kind of interesting. Overall, I think it’s pleasant. I’m trying not to rate songs against each other, but it’s interesting going from duos and trios, to a singer with an entire orchestra pit behind them. It almost makes this somewhat simple song feel overdone. As far as movie songs go though, I like this one just fine.
Average mark out of 10:
Other notable versions of this song:
Some ricky-ticky jazz:
And Sammy Davis Jr doing his thing:
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Link to 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist: