My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Single Review: Tanya Tucker – ‘Lizzie and the Rainman’

TanyaTuckerTanyaTuckerThe extraordinary run of success enjoyed by the teenage Tanya Tucker is illustrated by the fact that she was still only 16 when she recorded the story song ‘Lizzie and the Rainman’. It was her fourth #1 hit, and her first single for a new record label, MCA.

As so often with Tanya’s choice of material, the story had controversial elements, as it deals with a traveling “rainman”, who claims that in return for some cold hard cash, he can magic up some rain for the desperate inhabitants of a drought-stricken rural west Texas town. Lizzie Cooper is the one resident who is prepared to challenge his claims.

The song was written by two very accomplished Nashville songwriters: Kenny O’Dell, composer of the classic ‘Behind Closed Doors’ (and later writer of ‘Mama He’s Crazy’ for the Judds), and Larry Henley, who came from a pop background but had written ‘Til I Get It Right’ for Tammy Wynette, and is best known today for his much-recorded ‘The Wind Beneath My Wings’. ‘Lizzie and the Rainman’ is rather different, being a good old-fashioned story song with a dramatic lyric, which is one of the most interesting songs Tanya has ever recorded. It is one of those songs which feels as though it was made for Tanya to sing. It was covered in the 90s by Alison Krauss-produced bluegrass group the Cox Family, but their version sounds just a little too pretty to have the force of the original. Tanya’s earthy vocal feels just right for the story, and renders it completely believable. The production starts low-key, but builds through the song with some subtle sound effects at the end.

The story is set in a rather vague but obviously historical period, which I think is most likely the late 19th century: the never-named rainman comes riding in, accompanied by a painted wagon and the price for his dubious services is “the small price of $100” – clearly not small at all in context. He sets up his pitch like a traveling tent preacher, with a bonfire and drums to attract attention. And like the perpetrator of many a fraud of this kind, he has a handy get-out clause: it is lack of faith in his victims which may stop his magic working:
“Step back non-believers, or the rain will never come,” he warns.

One of the things I find most interesting about this song is that it’s not a straightforward tale of deception defeated by the valiant Lizzie. For one thing, it’s not clear that the townsfolk are altogether credulous; it’s more that they want to believe this man can save them, because the alternative is worse:
“They all just stood there a-starin’
Tryin’ to believe”.

Lizzie doesn’t want to believe. She accuses the rainman outright of being a “lying cheat”:
“She said you call yourself a rainman,
Well, you oughta be ashamed
Startin’ all these people dreamin’
Thinkin’ you can make it rain”.

The story then takes another unexpected turn, as the rainman, unperturbed by her challenge, turns his undoubted powers of persuasion to a different kind of seduction: from the townspeople to Lizzie herself. He addresses her directly:
“Hey Lizzie
Well, a man’s got to have a dream
And if you can’t walk on the inside with me
I’ll meet you in between
Oh, come with me, Lizzie
And the stars will write your name”

We don’t actually know if she gives him any credence. One would like to hope that she has too much common sense.

And then in another twist the miracle happens and it does start raining (complete with thunder sound effects). If nothing else that’s a refutation of his earlier statement that unbelievers like Lizzie will keep it away. It’s a fascinatingly layered story whose ultimate outcome is left to the listener’s imagination.

Grade: A

Listen at Rhapsody

Download at Amazon.

2 responses to “Single Review: Tanya Tucker – ‘Lizzie and the Rainman’

  1. Razor X June 9, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    This has always been one of my favorite Tanya songs. Her MCA material tends to get overlooked for some reason; I know that there were some missteps along the way and it isn’t as consistent as her Capitol catalog, but she recorded quite a few gems during that period, starting with this one.

  2. Joe July 16, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    This song – on of my favorite Tucker Tunes – is based on “The Rainmaker”. The film starred Katharine Hepburn as Lizzy Curry and Burt Lancaster as the rainmaker himself. Many of the lines in the song are direct quotes from the film (which was, in turn, based on a Broadway play). Both were written by N. Richard Nash.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: