Though Luther Vandross was drafted to contemporize the sound of Aretha Franklin in the early-mid 1980’s, parts of her winning formula from the late 60’s/early 70’s remained intact. During Aretha’s golden era part of the formula was a selection of material that included new compositions, covers, and material composed by Aretha. And after all, what’s Aretha Franklin if not a covers queen? On Luther and Aretha’s first union Jump To It, Aretha covered the Isley Brothers classic “It’s Your Thing.” On Get It Right, Aretha covered The Temptations’ 1967 hit “I Wish It Would Rain.”
“I Wish It Would Rain” is a record steeped in melancholy. The title itself is an implication of the impending sadness. “Raindrops will hide my teardrops, and no one will ever know,” The Temptations’ lead singer David Ruffin explains as he pleads for the skies to open up. It’s a classic Motown record with a classic Motown arrangement, driven by piano, percussion, and sweetened by selective placements of strings. The ballad was a number one R&B hit and a top 5 pop hit. Gladys Knight and the Pips also had a hit with a similar arrangement of the song the next year in 1968.
Luther Vandross gave the song a brooding makeover for Aretha. The song opens with the sounds of rain falling and thunder cracking, a contrast to the sounds of seagulls meant to imply sunshine on the Temptations version. Marcus Miller’s bass arrives shortly after and drives the song’s introduction and verses alongside a subtle percussion mix. It’s also a slowed down tempo, a move that has often suited Aretha and given her room to stretch out and showcase her immense vocal ability. “I Wish It Would Rain” is no exception, and finds Aretha adding a generous quantity of runs and melisma as the song progresses.
Aretha’s version surges at each chorus. More instruments mix in and the background singers’ echoes of “raii-in” perfectly accent Aretha’s charged pleas for rain. Aretha flexes her range and melisma more on the second verse, and adds a hair-raisingly delicious harmonized series of “di-di” in the midst of the second chorus. Little flourishes like this take this already unrecognizable cover to new heights, as does a soaring bridge that culminates in the reintroduction of the rain sounds to the record. It should come as no surprise that Aretha’s voice controls the weather.