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Bonnie Raitt Essentials: 11 Songs That Showcase The Breadth And Depth Of The 2023 GRAMMYs Song Of The Year Winner

on February 9, 2023 No comments
by David McPherson

Following Bonnie Raitt’s big night at the 2023 GRAMMYs — where she won three golden gramophones, including the coveted Song Of The Year — GRAMMY.com looks at 11 tracks that showcase the blues icon’s talent.

When first lady Dr. Jill Biden announced the GRAMMY winner for Song of the Year at the 2023 GRAMMYs, attendees exchanged surprised looks throughout the Crypto.com arena — even winner Bonnie Raitt included. 

“I’m so surprised, I don’t know what to say,” Raitt said as she took the podium, her hand over her face. After all, her song “Just Like That” beat compositions written by such modern pop stars as Taylor Swift, Lizzo, Harry Styles, Adele, and Beyoncé

A day later, with three more GRAMMYS in her collection (Raitt also won golden gramophones for Best Americana Roots Song and Best Americana Performance that night) that now totals a lucky 13, the singer was still reeling. The reality? This win was no fluke. It affirmed what longtime fans, critics and many behind-the-scenes already knew; Raitt is the real deal. The significance of this win — and what made it truly special — is it was the artists’ first GRAMMY in the Song Of The Year category.    

For more than 50 years, Raitt, 73, has been making records and following her passion. The blues maven is a modern trailblazer — and bandleader — in a genre men traditionally dominate. A 10-time GRAMMY winner and 30-time nominee before this year’s awards, Raitt’s career was already legendary. Not a bad legacy for someone who did not want stardom and did it her way.

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Raitt grew up in Los Angeles to parents who both worked in the arts; her dad was a Broadway star and her mom a pianist. Later, she headed east to attend Harvard where she majored in Social Relations and African Studies. Here she met promoter Dick Waterman, who introduced her to the famed Delta Blues singer Son House. During her college days, a worn vinyl copy of Blues at Newport served as her education outside the classroom; Raitt honed her sound playing the coffee houses and folk clubs in the New England area. At 21 years old, she signed a record deal with Warner Bros., and in 1971 released her self-titled debut to critical acclaim. Eight albums followed in the 1970s alone.

Mainstream success — and her first GRAMMYs — came in 1989 with Nick of Time. The record, which just last year the Library of Congress added to its National Recording Registry, won three golden gramophones: Album Of The Year, Best Rock Vocal Performance, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Three decades later, her latest GRAMMY victories solidify her place as a timeless music legend. 

In honor of Raitt’s big night at the 65th GRAMMY Awards, here are 11 Essential songs from the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer — a mix of originals, covers, deep cuts and duets.

“Thank You,” Bonnie Raitt (1971)

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One of two originals Raitt penned on her self-titled debut. (The other was “Finest Lovin’ Man.”) The rest of the record was mostly covers: folk, rock and blues artists Raitt admired. This piano ballad is an early indication of Raitt’s talent to pen a song that lingers long.

“Nothing Seems to Matter,” Give it Up (1972)

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Recorded at Bearsville Studio in New York, Raitt’s second album showcased more original songs (three of the 10 are self-penned) from the maturing artist whose confidence was growing. “Nothing Seems to Matter” is one of the best. With the singer’s soothing vocals, finger-picking and backed by rich orchestration, Raitt tugs at your heartstrings with this universal love song.

“Angel From Montgomery,” Streetlights (1974)

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Written by her good friend John Prine — who she toured with regularly early in her career, which forged a lifelong friendship — this signature song about longing to escape an unsatisfactory life almost became more famous for Raitt than Prine’s original that appeared on his 1971 self-titled debut. The tune is a fan favorite and one Raitt has stated is one of the most important songs she has ever recorded. Her version adds a gospel feel to Prine’s storied song.

“That Song About the Midway,” Streetlights (1974)

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Another stunning reimagination, this gorgeous Joni Mitchell song — from the nine-time GRAMMY-winner’s Clouds — was the opening track on Raitt’s 1974 album Streetlights. The blues singer’s version drips with soul. She takes this storied song (inspired by Mitchell meeting Leonard Cohen at the 1967 Newport Folk Festival) and gives this folk masterpiece a new spirit — injecting it with a full band sound that makes Raitt’s version almost outshine the original.

“Nick of Time,” Nick of Time (1989)

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The title track from Raitt’s commercial comeback and debut with Capitol Records in 1989 is a rumination on aging and the brevity of time. Inspiration came from deep conversations with friends and observations of her own parents getting older (“I see my folks are getting on and I watch their bodies change.”) Raitt wrote the bulk of the song during a weeklong retreat in a cabin in Mendocino, California. The resulting mid-tempo ballad — with undertones of the blues — is one of the most endearing compositions Raitt has ever written: relatable and honest. The song was a Top 10 hit on the Adult Contemporary charts and won a GRAMMY for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

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“Thing Called Love,” Nick of Time (1989)

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Raitt took this John Hiatt-penned song — two years after he released it himself — and, like so many other originals before (and after) made it her own. What makes the blues-rocker’s version unique is the live-off-the-floor feel of a small band jamming in a club; yet, the resulting sound is much bigger. Raitt was helped by the engineering prowess of the late great Ed Cherney, who won a GRAMMY for his work on this record. Her rendition resulted in another hit from Nick of Time, landing at No. 11 on Billboard’s Rock charts. The video, starring Dennis Quaid, also helped to ingrain this song into the pop culture canon of the late 1980s.

“I’m in the Mood,” The Healer (1990)

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Taken from John Lee Hooker‘s 1990 album The Healer, this duet with the blues legend won the pair a GRAMMY the following year for Best Traditional Blues Performance. Hooker was one of Raitt’s heroes; it was a full-circle moment getting the opportunity to record this classic 38 years after it was first a hit.

“Something to Talk About,” Luck of the Draw (1991)

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From the seven-times platinum Luck of the Draw, this catchy hit song was written by Canadian Shirley Eikhard seven years before it eventually resonated with Raitt on a demo tape Eikhard sent the singer. The hooky track served Raitt’s soulful voice seamlessly, creating a combination that resulted in her biggest chart feat to date, landing at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song also took home the GRAMMY for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1992, and more than three decades later it remains Raitt’s top-selling song — eclipsing more than seven million in sales in the U.S. alone.

“I Can’t Make You Love Me” Luck of the Draw (1991)

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Raitt followed her biggest pop hit with what would become her biggest ballad. Although Raitt didn’t write the sorrowful piano track, her pained-yet-poised delivery is as poignant as the song’s narrative of unrequited love. The song proved so moving that it has been covered by George Michael, Bon Iver, Boyz II Men and Adele, the latter of whom called it “just perfect in every single way,” and touted Raitt’s “stunning” voice. Now Raitt’s most-streamed song — and a GRAMMY Hall of Fame inductee — “I Can’t Make You Love Me” serves as a testament to Raitt’s ability to capture feeling whether or not she’s behind the pen.

“Gnawin’ On It,” Silver Lining (2002)

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Raitt co-wrote this gritty, raw slide-guitar song that oozes so much soul with blues guitarist Roy Rogers, who was named after the famed singing cowboy. (Raitt learned her slide style from one of the masters: “Mississippi” Fred McDowell.) This performance from her 2002 Austin City Limits appearance showcases Raitt’s down-and-dirty vocals, the interplay between two guitar greats and features plenty of memorable riffs. More than 20 years since this performance was captured, it is still a joy to behold.

Bonnie Raitt accepts the award for song of the year for “Just Like That” at the 65th annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023, in Los Angeles. © Chris Pizzello /AP Photo

“Just Like That,” Just Like That (2022)

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“Just like that your life can change,” Raitt softly sings in this title cut from her 2022 album. Inspired by an emotive news story Raitt saw, the narrative tells of a woman who donated her late son’s heart, and years later met the organ’s recipient. With gentle finger-picking providing the melody, Raitt relates this heartwarming tale that echoes the mastery of her mentor and dear departed friend John Prine.

Though Raitt has generated several hits by reimagining other’s songs, “Just Like That” — which she wrote on her own — shows that her own tales are just as powerful and timeless. While her Song Of The Year win may have been shocking to some, Raitt’s recent GRAMMY win confirms the septuagenarian still has something to talk about — and the world is still listening.

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