King of the Rain


Counting Crows’ “Rain King,” from their debut August and Everything After, goes in part:

I belong in the service of the queen
I belong anywhere but in between
She’s been lying, and I’ve been sinking
And I am the Rain King

I’m not here to parse Adam Duritz’s meaning, but to look at the way he echoes that language in “Goodnight Elisabeth,” from their sophomore effort, Recovering the Satellites:

If you wrap yourself in daffodils
I will wrap myself in pain
And if you’re the queen of California
Baby I am the king of the rain

This is the kind of in-universe connection you’d usually see in movies, TV, or books. Off the top of my head, a number of Stephen King novels make mention of events or people in his Dark Tower series, in effect turning a large amount of his work into one connected (if occasionally ungainly) body. Or there’s the way Richard Belzer’s Detective Munch appeared on “Homicide: Life on the Street” and then “Law & Order: SVU,” cementing those two separate shows as existing in the same world. (And you can, of course, go farther down the rabbit hole with Tommy Westphall.) One of my favorite movie examples is a small one: Michael Keaton as FBI agent Ray Nicolette in 1997′s Jackie Brown and 1998′s Out of Sight. The films have different stories, directors, and casts; he’s the only link.

For some reason, though, it feels rarer for such crossovers to happen in music. It also feels more special, and I think that’s because music is such a personal experience. We watch movies together, and we even watch TV together, but we listen to music by ourselves. It’s in our ears, or our car, and it becomes a soundtrack to our own lives. So little grace notes that connect songs across albums feel like gifts for listeners and fans, ways for you to feel connected on a deeper level. They just have that beautiful little spark.

The Refreshments have some, too. They only put out two albums before their label dropped them, and 1996′s Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy and 1997′s The Bottle & Fresh Horses feel like narrative complements to each other. The first one’s about relationships coming together, the second’s about how they fall apart. The first album’s “Down Together,” a love song about being in it for the long haul, says:

Cars break down and
People break down and
Other things break down, too
So let’s go
Down together, down together, down together
Let’s go down

The follow-up album’s “Fonder and Blonder,” a bittersweet break-up tune, goes:

Cars break down and
People break down and
Other things break down, too
I felt something slip when you left on your trip
And now I think I’m breaking down on you

You don’t have to know the first song to get the meaning of the second, but it helps. At any rate, it gives the second one more punch to connect it to the happier character of the first song and to wonder about the path he took to get where he is. John Mellencamp did the same thing with “Jack and Diane” and “Eden is Burning,” which charted young love and its apathetic decline.

I’m trying to find more examples, but I’m not even sure what this would be called. These aren’t just songs that reference other songs, but multiple songs by the same artist that reference each other. Song worlds? Song universes? Anyway, you get the idea. If you have any more examples, I’d love to hear them.

  • Kester

    It’s not the same thing, exactly, but I’ve always liked how “Mary” keeps showing up in Bruce Springsteen songs, throughout his career.

  • TylerDFC

    Det. Munch was also on The X-Files as well as The Wire. That rabbit hole goes DEEP.

  • TylerDFC

    Interesting topic. The only one I can think of off hand is in the song Volcano Girls from “Eight Arms to Hold You” by Veruca Salt. Not only do they reference their first hit Seether from “American Thighs lyrically, but the song actually changes back to Seether for this part: “I told you about the seether before/and the one who’s either or nor/here’s another clue if you please/the seether’s Louise(Post)”

  • LizBR

    Over the Rhine does this with the literary landscape of Ohio in their more recent albums. “Ohio” itself creates a picture of the state throughout the record, but I see it even more in their new release, “Meet Me at the Edge of the World.”

    From the Ohio double album’s title song:

    Hello Ohio, the back roads
    I know Ohio, like the back of my hand
    Alone Ohio, where the river bends
    And it’s strange to see your story end

    Now you’ve got “All Over Ohio” on the Edge of the World album, which repeats the state-based emphasis over and over, including lines like:

    I’m gonna kiss you all over Ohio…
    I’ll just name all the birds in Ohio…
    Shipwrecked with you in Ohio…
    Goddam you right here in Ohio…

    The title track, “Meet Me at the Edge of the World,” has:

    That lone tupelo soon will be on fire
    For all I know with God’s desire
    As Autumn in Ohio spirals
    Off of the edge of the world

    “Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down” has:

    Feel the ache of Ohio
    Through the veins of Illinois
    Mine the seams of West Virginia
    Land of buried joy

    The song “Highland County” is about a specific county in OH.

    “Cuyahoga” lacks lyrics but is titled for the OH county.

    These, of course, are the explicit references. If you start including the implied allusions to Ohio, then the landscape they’ve created in their music absolutely explodes. You have “Baby, If This Is Nowhere” on the new album, which alludes to the Nowhere Farm, which is the name of the farm where Linford and Karin of OTR live in Ohio. The same is also referenced in “Live from Nowhere,” their series of live albums. I can also remember back to a number of Linford’s late 90′s, early 2000′s poems that seemed to exist in this same world.