"A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" is a song written by Bob Dylan in the summer of 1962. It was first recorded in Columbia Records' Studio A on 6 December 1962 for his second album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. The lyric structure is based on the question and answer form of the traditional ballad "Lord Randall", Child Ballad No. 12.
On September 22, 1962, Dylan appeared for the first time at Carnegie Hall, part of an all-star hootenanny. His three-song set included the first public performance of "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" a complex and powerful song built upon the question and answer refrain pattern of the traditional British ballad "Lord Randall", published by Francis Child.
One month later, on October 22, U.S. President John F. Kennedy appeared on national television to announce the discovery of Soviet missiles on the island of Cuba, initiating the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the sleeve notes on theFreewheelin' album, Nat Hentoff would quote Dylan as saying that he wrote "A Hard Rain" in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis: "Every line in it is actually the start of a whole new song. But when I wrote it, I thought I wouldn't have enough time alive to write all those songs so I put all I could into this one." Author Ian MacDonald described "A Hard Rain" as one of the most idiosyncratic protest songs ever written.
In fact, Dylan had written the song more than a month before the crisis broke. However, the song has remained relevant through the years as it has a broader sweep; the dense imagery suggests injustice, suffering, pollution and warfare.
"No, it's not atomic rain, it's just a hard rain. It isn't the fallout rain. I mean some sort of end that's just gotta happen... In the last verse, when I say, 'the pellets of poison are flooding the waters', that means all the lies that people get told on their radios and in their newspapers."
Seeger has recalled: "I had to announce to all the singers, 'Folks, you're gonna be limited to three songs. No more. 'Cause we each have ten minutes apiece.' And Bob raised his hand and said, 'What am I supposed to do? One of my songs is ten minutes long.'"
Dylan has featured the song regularly in his concerts in the years since he wrote it, and there have been some dramatic performances. Dylan performed it in 1971 at The Concert for Bangladesh, organized by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar. The concert was organized for the relief of refugees from East Pakistan (now independent Bangladesh) after the 1970 Bhola cyclone and during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.
On December 4, 1975, at the Forum de Montreal, Canada, Dylan recorded an upbeat version of the song, which appears on The Rolling Thunder Revue album. This version has a riff similar to one used four years later by Status Quo in their song, "Whatever You Want".
On May 23, 1994, Dylan performed the song at "The Great Music Experience" festival in Japan, backed by a 90-piece symphony orchestra conducted by Michael Kamen.
At the end of 2007, Dylan recorded a new version of "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" exclusively for Expo Zaragoza 2008 world fair, scheduled to open on June 8, 2008, to highlight the Expo theme of "water and sustainable development". As well as choosing local-band Amaral to record a version of the song in Spanish, Dylan's new version ended with a few spoken words about his "being proud to be a part of the mission to make water safe and clean for every human being living in this world.".
- Pete Seeger: We Shall Overcome (1963); World of Pete Seeger (1973); We Shall Overcome: Complete Carnegie Hall Concert (1989); The Best of Broadside 1962-1988 (2000)
- Linda Mason: How Many Seas Must a White Dove Sail? (1964)
- Joan Baez: Farewell Angelina (1965); The First 10 Years (1970); 'Live -Europe '83: Children of the Eighties (1983); Rare, Live & Classic (1993)
- Rod MacKinnon: Folk Concert Down Under (1965)
- Leon Russell: The Shelter People (1971); The Songs of Bob Dylan (1993); Retrospective (1997)
- Bryan Ferry: These Foolish Things (1973); Street Life (1986); More Than This: The Best of Bryan Ferry (1999)
- The Staple Singers: Use What You Got (1973)
- Nana Mouskouri: À Paris (1979)
- Edie Brickell and New Bohemians: Born on the Fourth of July (soundtrack) (1989)
- Barbara Dickson: Don't Think Twice, It's Alright (1992)
- Vole: A Tribute to Bob Dylan (1992)
- Melanie: Silence Is King (1993)
- Mugison Covered this song as the opening of his aldrei for ég suður concert 2008
- Aviv Geffen Geshem Kaved Omed Lipol (in Hebrew: גשם כבד עומד ליפול)
- Andy Hill: It Takes a Lot to Laugh (2000)
- Guitarist Bill Frisell plays an instrumental version on his live release "East/West" (2005)
- Jason Mraz: Listen to Bob Dylan: A Tribute (2005)
- Faust: "Nodutgang" (compilation) (2006)
- Ann Wilson (lead singer of Heart): Hope & Glory (2007 solo release) (with Rufus Wainwright & Shawn Colvin)
- Les Fradkin covered it as part of his 2007 release "12"
- Amaral made a Spanish version for EXPO Zaragoza 2008 called Llegará la tormenta (The storm will arrive)
- The Dead performed a live version at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. on April 14, 2009.
- Furthur performed the song at concerts in California and Massachusetts during their 2010 tour.
- Robert Plant & The Band Of Joy at an April 8, 2011 show in Louisville, KY.
- Ernst Jansz have translated the song in the Dutch: Zware regen. From his CD Dromen van Johanna (Visions of Johanna)
- Jimmy Cliff: Sacred Fire EP (2011)
- Walk off the Earth: A Hard Rain's a Gonna Fall - Marshall and Sarah Blackwood (2011)
Photographer Mark Edwards took a series of photographs illustrating the lyrics of the song which have been exhibited in many locations such as the United Nations headquarters. These were published in a book in 2006.