Song 255: Bonnie Raitt, “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (1991)


Bonnie Raitt is an immensely talented songwriter and guitarist, so I feel somewhat guilty choosing a Raitt song written by someone else and that doesn’t feature her on guitar. But it’s sung so beautifully, and it was such a wise song choice as a performer, that she deserves a lot of credit.

“I Can’t Make You Love Me” was written by Allen Shamblin and former Cincinnati Bengal (!) Mike Reid. The idea for the song reportedly came from a court appearance at which a man who had been arrested for drunkenly shooting his girlfriend’s car, when asked what he had learned, replied, “I learned, Your Honor, that you can’t make a woman love you if she don’t.” I wonder if that guy knows that he won Bonnie Raitt a Grammy.

Raitt sang this vocal in one take, which I think is both extraordinary and unsurprising: it’s very impressive that she nailed it on the first try, but it also sounds so raw and fresh, as if heartbreak had just happened. It’s really beautiful.


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