Only Happy When It Rains — Garbage

No Words, No Song
6 min readOct 8, 2022
Photo by Erik Witsoe on Unsplash

Incredibly, to me at least, “Only Happy When It Rains” by Garbage is almost 30 years old. Released in 1995, it made the UK Top 30 and has become one of the band’s best known songs.

While not their biggest hit — in most of the world that was “Stupid Girl” — “Only Happy When It Rains” resonates more with me than the rest of the Garbage back catalogue.

It might be because I was brought up in Scotland, like Garbage lead singer Shirley Manson. A beautiful country, to be sure, but somewhere there’s definitely no shortage of rain. In Scotland, if you can’t be happy when it’s raining, you won’t be happy very often.

“Only Happy When It Rains” has a bleakness about it, which I quite like in small doses, but that bleakness doesn’t tip over into hopelessness.

It’s solitude, if you like, without straying into loneliness.

Contemplative, without becoming self-absorbed.

That’s an incredibly fine line to walk. A song on that topic doesn’t need to tip too far before it becomes so depressing no-one will want to listen to it. Equally, the subject matter is hardly frivolous, so it would be easy to come across as inappropriate mockery if it had tipped the other way.

It takes real artistry to pull off a balance that precarious.

“Only Happy When It Rains” is a story of someone who doesn’t see the world the way most people see it…

I’m only happy when it rains
I’m only happy when it’s complicated
And though I know you can’t appreciate it
I’m only happy when it rains

The great thing about song lyrics is that a three-minute pop song is rarely long enough to tell a full story. It’s just about enough time to do “boy meets girl and falls in love”. But anything more nuanced takes a lot longer, and pop music radio can be an unfriendly place for stories that go on much beyond the 3' 00" marker.

So we have to imagine our own stories, fill in our own details, create pictures in our minds to make sense of what we hear, even though what happens inside our mind might be nothing like the pictures the original songwriter had in theirs.

Any song can speak to each one of us in its own unique way — there’s no need for the world to…

--

--

No Words, No Song

Without words, it’s just a nice tune. Add words — now you’ve got a song. And songs can change your world. I write about some that changed mine.