The Searchers

What Have They Done to the Rain?

Composed by Malvina Reynolds

Song Review by

Joan Baez described Malvina Reynolds' "What Have They Done to the Rain" as a song that "protests rather gently." It is one of the earliest -- and one of the few -- songs concerned with the issues of environmentalism and pollution. Reynolds' simple melody supports a spare, somewhat abstract lyric, the meaning of which easily can be overlooked. A pastoral scene is described: rain, grass, a breeze. But the rain never stops falling, the grass disappears, the breeze contains smoke. Most ominously, a boy who starts out standing in the rain also disappears. The effect is to evoke, in a few images, a post-Apocalyptic wasteland. "What Have They Done to the Rain" is all the more devastating for its subtlety and simplicity. Reynolds, a noted writer of protest songs who had also composed "Little Boxes," taught "What Have They Done to the Rain" to Baez, who recorded it for her 1962 album Joan Baez in Concert, a Top Ten, gold-selling LP, and even released it as a single in 1963. In 1964, the British pop/rock group the Searchers covered "What Have They Done to the Rain" in what would soon be called a folk-rock arrangement, employing chiming guitars, harmonies, and strings. It was a change of pace for the band, who were not known for their social consciousness. In the U.K., where "What Have They Done to the Rain" reached the Top 20, it was the follow-up to the frothy "When You Walk in the Room"; in the U.S., where it made the Top 40, it followed the Searchers' Top Five revival of "Love Potion Number Nine." The exposure caused by the Searchers' recording brought more covers in 1965, when "What Have They Done to the Rain" was recorded by British pop singer Marianne Faithfull and Australian folk-rock group the Seekers. After that, it was sung primarily by folksingers.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
When You Walk in the Room 1964 Sanctuary
Second Take 1972 Beat Goes On
Greatest Hits [Rhino] 1985 Rhino 2:30
The Collection [Castle] 1988 Castle Music Ltd. 2:36
No Image 1990
Various Artists
30th Anniversary Collection 1992 Collectables 2:36
20 Fabulous Hits of the 60s 1997 Music Club International Records
Definitive Collection 1999 Castle Music Ltd. 2:34
The Definitive Pye Collection 2004 Sanctuary 2:34
BBC Sessions 2004 Sanctuary 2:49
The Most of the Searchers 2006 Virgin/EMI Australia / EMI Music Distribution 2:34
Hearts in Their Eyes: Celebrating 50 Years of Harmony & Jangle 2012 Sanctuary 2:34
blue highlight denotes editor's pick