“Who’ll Stop the Rain” is a song written by John Fogerty and originally recorded by Creedence Clearwater Revival for their 1970 album Cosmo’s Factory. Backed with “Travelin’ Band”, it was one of three double-sided singles from that album to reach the top five on the Billboard Pop Singles chart and the first of two to reach the #2 spot on the American charts, alongside “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked it #188 on its “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list.
Lyrically, “Who’ll Stop the Rain” breaks into three verses, with a historical, recent past, and present tense approach. All three verses allude to a sense of unending malaise, pondered by “good men through the ages”, “Five Year Plans and New Deals/wrapped in golden chains”, and the Woodstock generation. The malaise is not defined, but appears to allude to a sense that man’s problems have to be dealt with by those who wish to fix them, and that no ancient philosophers, money-promising government, or Flower Power generation can merely push them off by thought, money, or communal love. There could be no end to warfare and poverty with patchwork economic plans which merely reorganize citizens into new productive forces once the pressures for social change have relaxed. The corrupt leadership within a government continued to wage perpetual war contrary to campaign promises. The song’s universal topical appeal made it unusual in the time of its release and gives it a quality that helps it maintain its popularity 40 years later.
Musically, in contrast to the 1950s-Rock-inspired “Travelin’ Band”, “Who’ll Stop the Rain” has more of an acoustic, folk-rock feel to it. Like many folk-rock songs, it starts off with a ringing acoustic guitar riff, though the backing throughout has more of a roots rock sound than that heard on more standard folk-rock recordings. Interpreting the song in its time period (1970), and the resigned but somewhat angry feeling of the song, many see “Who’ll Stop the Rain” as a thinly veiled protest against the Vietnam War, with the final verse lyrics and its references to music, large crowds, rain, and crowds trying to keep warm being about the band’s experience at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969. There is also a line during the song’s second verse about “five-year plans and new deals wrapped in golden chains” that may indicate a general cynicism altogether about self-centered politicians, hollow social movements, and corporate influence within the government. For his part, when asked by Rolling Stone about the meaning of the song’s lyrics, John Fogerty was quoted as saying,
“ Certainly, I was talking about Washington, when I wrote the song, but I remember bringing the master version of the song home and playing it. My son Josh was four years old at the time, and after he heard it, he said, ‘Daddy stop the rain’. And my wife and I looked at each other and said, ‘Well, not quite’.” ”
In 2007 during a concert in Shelburne, Vermont, he said the following about the song:
“ Well, this next song has a bit of a fable surrounding it. A lot of folks seem to think I sang this song at Woodstock way back then. No. I was at Woodstock 1969… I think. It was a nice event. I’m a California kid. I went up there and saw a whole bunch of really nice young people. Hairy. Colorful. It started to rain, and got really muddy, and then (yelling) half a million people took their clothes off!!! (Normal voice again) Boomer generation making its presence known I guess. Anyway, then I went home and wrote this song. ”
The half-minute-long fadeout of the song, which reprises the repeating guitar pattern from the intro, seems to reinforce the song’s main theme of the ‘rain’ continuing to go on, interminably.
The song was a concert staple for Bruce Springsteen during 1980-81’s River Tour, as well as on the summer 2003 leg of the Rising Tour. Springsteen and the E Street Band opened with “Who’ll Stop the Rain” whenever it was raining.
When Creedence Clearwater Revival was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, Springsteen performed the song with John Fogerty. The song has also been covered by Rudy Rotta, Rod Stewart, Rise Against, Courtney Jaye, The Ventures, and Vince Neil and was included on John Fogerty’s 1998 live CD/DVD Premonition. The Stereophonics have also covered the song as a B-side to their single “Local Boy in the Photograph”.
Microdisney performed the song live, frequently in 1984 and on at least one occasion in 1985. Their version of the song was rearranged in their style, at a faster tempo with additional instrumental parts. Usually the song had guitarist Sean O’Hagan performing vocals on it, but regular singer Cathal Coughlan sang on the 1985 version.
Engelbert Humperdinck included “Who’ll Stop the Rain” on his 2009 album A Taste of Country.
On Fogerty’s 2013 album Wrote a Song for Everyone, he re-recorded the song as a duet with Bob Seger.
Garth Brooks recorded the song for the 2013 “The Melting Pot” album in the “Blame It All on My Roots: Five Decades of Influences” compilation.
Dwight Yoakam released a version of the song as a single in 2014, after his character, Lyle Chumley, sang a fragment of the song in the “Force Majeure” episode of Under the Dome.
Bill Haley and the Comets recorded a version of this song on their album “Rock Around the Country”.
It’s was also recorded by Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks in 1986. In 86 they would have been called The Band but they paired up with Hawkins again for one album.
Versions of the song with altered lyrics do exist – especially in regions of the USA experiencing e.g. the Texas Gulf Coast (primarily the Third Coast from the upper Texas Gulf Coast to the Florida Panhandle) where the absence of sunny weather is a way of life.
In 1978, the song was used in the film Who’ll Stop the Rain. The movie starred Nick Nolte as a Vietnam veteran. It was originally going to be called Dog Soldiers after the source novel, but when the producers got the rights to use the song, they changed the title to it. The song also appeared in the 1989 film Powwow Highway. Both the original song and a softer, slower cover version sung by Courtney Jaye are included in the soundtrack of December Boys. A clip of the song appears in the film The War. The song was also included in the movie Philadelphia. In 1990 it was also used in a third-season episode of Tour Of Duty, a TV action-drama series that followed the fortunes of a U.S. Army platoon during the Vietnam War. The song features in Haruki Murakami’s novel “Hear the Wind Sing” which was later made into a film.