They tend to be associated with “dark and dreary nights” trapped indoors; but to me there isn’t a more visceral experience during the summer than watching a thunderstorm roll through in all of its glory. Few things are more enjoyable and awe-inspiring than taking in nature’s brilliant display of raw power as it reminds us how small we really are. While it is sometimes best to allow the storm itself provide the soundtrack, I feel there is absolutely a place for a certain type of music in the experience. This of course raises the question- what music generated by us feeble humans could possibly stand up to the powerful and all-encompassing atmosphere of a thunderstorm? There’s plenty of mopey sad bastard music out there; some of which works alright, but for the most part is better suited for a prolonged, dreary rainfall than an outright storm. On the other hand there has been many a rock band that has tried to replicate the energy and power of a mighty tempest, but when it comes down to it the safe, predictable song structures do no justice to the real thing. As I began putting this playlist together it quickly became apparent to me that to find music that truly enhances rather than hinders the experience I would need to dig deeper. Music for this purpose is all about mood and atmosphere- the most intangible aspects of an already intangible art form. You know it when you hear it, which as it turns out is satisfyingly fitting.
Television - Marquee Moon
I remember, how the darkness doubled
I recall, lightning struck itself
Not every song on this list will directly reference thunderstorms in the lyrics, but I can’t think of a better way to kick things off than with the opening lines of Marquee Moon. Nowhere else in music is the atmosphere of an impending storm better depicted. As the song pushes along via the trembling pulse of its anxious bassline and jittery electric guitar meandering, there ensues a very particular moment when the vibe shifts from being ominous to powerful, to cathartic, and finally spirals back to unpredictability; and it’s probably my favorite 30 seconds or so of any song ever.
Spiritualized - Electricity
While Jason Pierce’s Spiritualized is more widely known for droning, druggy psychedelia, he is more than capable of channeling his unique compositions into uptempo bursts of manic energy. Such is the case with the aptly named noise freakout Electricity, which is the aural equivalent of jabbing a fork into a bundle of frayed wiring. I’d prefer to never be struck by lightning, but should it happen it would be awesome to have this song playing at the time.
The Doors - Riders on the Storm
Alright, so I don’t exactly have many nice things to say about The Doors…but for this particular playlist this particular song is absolutely essential. The drawn out organ noodling and Jimbo’s low, ominous pseudo-croon manage to really work within the context of rolling thunder and steady rain. Surely they were aware of this based on the lyrical content and tacky sound effects, but I digress…this is as good of a thunderstorm song as there is.
Silversun Pickups - Panic Switch
The aggressive buzzsaw guitars and rushed, stuttering rhythm combine to give this song an incredible sense of anxious, high-voltage energy. Meanwhile the ethereal, oddly calm vocals seem to exist perfectly at the eye of the storm, surrounded by urgency and panic.
Cream - White Room
It gets a pass because it fucking rocks, but this is a weird song. What’s with the intro? The lyrics frankly don’t make any damn sense. The choruses are nothing more than awkward psychedelic breaks. The guitar is overdriven and wah-wah’d to the brink of destruction. The missing piece however is Ginger Baker, who’s drumming emulated rolling thunder like none other; and brings everything else together to earn a place high on this list.
David Essex - Rock On
This mostly forgotten glam-rock classic has become a movie soundtrack staple for a reason- From its dirty, slinking bassline to the cryptic lyrics that arrive dripping in reverb from a million miles away; this sparse, airy groove is just begging for a backdrop of thunder and lightning.
Red Rider - Lunatic Fringe
The intro to this song sounds like a werewolf mid-change, and the rest of the song doesn’t disappoint. As the rhythm pulsates ominously and distant lyrics are howled into the void, it’s hard not to visualize dark clouds being sliced open without warning by lightning.
All-American Rejects - It Ends Tonight
I’m thoroughly guilty of dismissing them at the time, but in hindsight it’s a real shame that All-American Rejects got thrown in with all of the pretty-boy try-hards that infiltrated pop-punk during the early 2000s. It Ends Tonight is Exhibit A: Dripping with genuine, well-delivered angst without being whiny, this song internalizes all of the chaos and tension of a doomed relationship; using the unspoken metaphor of a thunderstorm to set up the explosive catharsis of finally letting go.