Bonnie Raitt: 25 Years Of Heartbreak And Strength

Bonnie Raitt: Luck of the Draw recording

Bonnie Raitt’s I Can’t Make You Love Me turned 25 years old yesterday.

Bonnie Raitt I Can't Make You Love Me

The third single from Bonnie Raitt’s album, Luck Of The Draw, turned 25 yesterday. It’s hard to believe this song has been around that long. It’s even harder to believe it still carries the same emotional impact as it did the first time I heard it. Why?

Earlier today, I read this wonderful article from Stereogum which chronicled the making of I Can’t Make You Love Me. Throughout the article, it was clear that the reason the song took off was its honesty. They weren’t trying to make a hit single (or multi-platinum record). Every time they thought to add more – instrumentation, vocals, production, whatever – they immediately stripped it out. The song works at its finest when the instrumentation is minimal and it’s just Bonnie’s raw vocals leading the way. Her emotion is what connects the listener to the song. Who among us hasn’t heard it and felt the very same pangs or wanted to reach out to protect her? Yes, Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin wrote the song, but Bonnie Raitt gave it life.

Music fans would do well to read the entire article. Not only do they give you a multi-viewed account of making the song, but there are plenty of links to the artists who followed in her footsteps and the versions they created. I found the demo version by Mike Reid intriguing when compared to the final version. Not to diminish the original, but I have to admit, Bruce Hornsby’s piano phrasing is far preferable to Mike Reid’s.

Justin Vernon (leader of Bon Iver) has a compelling version of this song. Hell, several people have created excellent covers, but they all still pale compared to the original. If you can listen to this song and not get choked up, I daresay you’ve never truly lived. Why?

This song epitomizes heartbreak and strength in the same breath. Every time you think Bonnie has reached her lowest point, the next lyric evokes this inner strength that makes you believe she’ll persevere. Then the cycle starts all over again. Haven’t we all faced this same heartbreak at one point or another? Since you’re still reading this, we can only assume you’ve made it through the heartbreak more or less intact. Or maybe you’re a robot.

I would like to dedicate this post to one of my best friends who is going through a difficult time right now. You WILL get through this and you WILL be stronger for it.

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