One of the most original R&B tracks released during the 1970s, "I Can't Stand the Rain" has been covered and sampled by innumerable artists. It solidified singer and songwriter Ann Peebles' starring role on Hi Records, on a par with labelmate Al Green. Indeed, the slow-burner "I Can't Stand the Rain" can be seen as a female version of Green's soulful and spiritual songs.
Born in St. Louis, Peebles grew up singing in her father's church choir. As a teenager, she pursued secular music, performing in nightclubs under the careful supervision of her minister dad. Her big break came in 1968, when she traveled to Memphis to sing with trumpeter Gene "Bowlegs" Miller's band. Impressed by her soulful voice, Miller urged his label, Hi Records, to sign Peebles to a deal. After Hi Records producer Willie Mitchell heard her demo, he offered her a contract.
Barely 21, Peebles was paired with singer and Hi Records songwriter Don Bryant; the two began collaborating on material (and later married). Her 1969 debut album This Is Ann Peebles scored minor R&B successes, as did her subsequent albums Part Time Love (1971) and Straight from the Heart (1972). She truly broke through with her 1973 effort I Can't Stand the Rain, with the title track reaching number six on the R&B charts and cracking the Billboard Top 40. Even John Lennon proclaimed the song as a favorite. Another single, "I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down," fared modestly well on the soul charts, but "I Can't Stand the Rain" remains her signature song.
The track instantly mesmerizes with its gentle percussion, allowing her multi-range voice to take center stage. Her unique, slightly off-center interpretation of the title phrase, her voice cracking on the word "rain," renders itself instantly recognizable. Then the full band enters, horns blaring straight out of a classic Green track. An organ adds a gospel feel, perfectly complementing her melancholy delivery. "When we was together / Everything was so grand / Now that we've parted / There's just one sound / That I just can't stand," she wails. Interestingly Peebles the window through which she gazes at the rain: "I know you've got / Some sweet memories / But like the window / You ain't got nothing to say," she sings. In the end, the rain becomes a source of misery, haunting her. While "I Can't Stand the Rain" tackles a common theme--lost love--it does so with originality, intelligence, and passion. She and collaborator Bryant created a unique track that mixes southern soul, gospel, and a touch of rock.
While Peebles never equaled her success with the track, she continues to record and perform live. "I Can't Stand the Rain" has lived on in countless covers, most notably by Eruption, Tina Turner and Seal. Hip hop artists also rediscovered the track, sampling it in their music. The most famous example of this is Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott's 1997 single "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)," which creatively merged 1970s soul with modern day beats. While the remakes and reinterpretations may be enjoyable, nothing has surpassed the timeless quality of the original.