The song has become synonymous with the classic 1952 movie musical that features Gene Kelly's jubilant performance during a downpour, but it was written over two decades earlier.
Arthur Freed was originally inspired to write the lyrics for this when he saw from his Seattle sheet music shop a man saturated by rain dancing past his shop window. Nacio Herb Brown, a composer who often worked with Freed on MGM musicals, wrote the music. It debuted in one of the first musical sound films, Hollywood Revue 1929, and was a big hit for star Cliff Edwards.
Some years later, Arthur Freed, now a producer for MGM, wanted to increase the revenue from his old lyrics so he commissioned Betty Comden and Adolph Green to construct a musical around his songs, which became the film Singin' In The Rain.. Gene Kelly, along with Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor, stars as a silent film star struggling with the transition to "talkies." Kelly, who was sick with a cold, performed this famous rain-drenched dance number in the movie over two days while struggling with a fever of 103 degrees. A long-standing myth claims the rain was made up of a blend of water and milk to make sure it showed up on camera, but Kelly attributes the effect to clever backlighting.
In 2005 a big beat version by electronic act Mint Royale peaked at #20 in the UK thanks to its use in a Gene Kelly cgi-enhanced TV advertisement for Volkswagen Golf. It returned to the UK Top 30 in 2008 as a result of 14-year-old George Sampson winning the talent show Britain's Got Talent with a recreation of the dance routine used in the ad. To the surprise of many chart-watchers, in its second week on the chart it made a Gene Kelly-like leap all the way to the top position.
In 1971, the Gene Kelly recording of this song got another outing when it was played over the closing credits of Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. Earlier in the film, Malcolm McDowell sang the tune as he and his colleagues carried out a robbery, assault and rape. "I jumped up and started singing 'Singin' in the Rain' as an improv, on the beats, slapping, kicking, boom," McDowell recalled. "And why did I do that? Because [that song is] Hollywood's gift to the world of euphoria. And that's what the character is feeling at the time. So Stanley shoved me in the car, we drove back to his house, and he bought the rights to 'Singin' in the Rain.'"
Shortly after the film's premiere, McDowell found himself snubbed by Kelly at a Hollywood party. He later learned from Kelly's widow that Kubrick in fact did not pay for the song rights.
An early draft of Singin' In The Rain had Kelly performing the number with O'Connor and Reynolds in celebration of the trio's bright idea to turn the derided Dueling Cavalier into a musical.
Judy Garland sang this in the 1940 movie musical Little Nellie Kelly.
Kelly on his iconic dance routine: "The concept was so simple I shied away from explaining it to the brass at the studio in case I couldn't make it sound worth doing. The real work for this one was done by the technicians who had to pipe two city blocks on the backlot with overhead sprays, and the poor cameraman who had to shoot through all that water. All I had to do was dance."
Singin' In The Rain was well-received but it wasn't an instant classic. Moviegoers were still buzzing about Kelly's popular musical from the year before, An American In Paris, that had just taken home the Academy Award for Best Picture. Singin' In The Rain only received two nominations at the following year's ceremony: Best Supporting Actress for Jean Hagen and Best Musical Score for Lennie Hayton. Neither won.
This song did not escape the disco era unscathed: a group called Sheila & B. Devotion covered it in 1977
with a funky beat. This version was a hit in several European countries.