As I’ve done before for Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Lou Reed and Stevie Wonder, I am currently sharing a song a day, on Facebook, from each Bonnie Raitt album in chronological order. I started with her self-titled 1971 debut album on Aug. 22, and should be done in just a few weeks (Raitt has not been as prolific as the artists I have previously done this for).
I will be compiling the videos here, adding each one after it is posted online.
I will include tracks from some (but probably not all) of Raitt’s compilations, live albums, soundtracks, side projects and so on.
I’m not making the argument that each selection is the “best” song from that album; it’s just my favorite, or something that I felt like sharing that day. I also won’t allow myself to choose a song twice, so if I have already chosen a song, it will be out of contention if it reappears in the same or different form on another album.
So here are the videos. Enjoy!
Raitt released her first, self-titled album in 1971, at the age of 22, sounding relaxed and confident on an eclectic collection of songs (from sources ranging from Robert Johnson to Buffalo Springfield and The Marvelettes) with tasteful folk and blues arrangements. Here she is sounding wise beyond her years on Sippie Wallace’s “Women Be Wise.”
Raitt’s self-titled debut album was solid, but I think her second one, Give It Up (1972), was a big step forward, with better original songwriting (though she was still mostly covering others’ songs) and a looser, more lively feel. She sounded just a bit tentative previously — here, she sings and plays with more abandon. Here’s the propulsive album-opener, “Give It Up or Let Me Go.”
Raitt covered a 1965 Marvelettes single (“Danger Heartbreak Dead Ahead”) on her 1971 debut album, and remade another 1965 Motown single, Martha & the Vandellas’ “You’ve Been in Love Too Long,” with scintillating results, on her third album, 1973’s Takin’ My Time.
Raitt covered John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” (from his 1971 self-titled debut album) on her 1974 album, Streetlights, with sensational results. It became one of her signature songs, and help bring Prine to the attention of many new fans. “I think ‘Angel from Montgomery’ probably has meant more to my fans and my body of work than any other song, and it will historically be considered one of the most important ones I’ve ever recorded,” Raitt said, decades later. “It’s just such a tender way of expressing that sentiment of longing … without being maudlin or obvious. It has all the different shadings of love and regret and longing. It’s a perfect expression from (a) wonderful genius.”
Raitt sang on Little Feat’s 1973 Dixie Chicken album and memorably covered that album’s “Fool Yourself” (written by Fred Tackett) on her 1975 album Home Plate. To my ears, at least, her weary but warm vocals make the song top the original.
Raitt, who covered Jackson Browne’s “Under the Falling Sky” on her Give It Up album, and Browne’s “I Thought I Was a Child” on Takin’ My Time, completed the hat trick with a luminous version of his “My Opening Farewell” (from his 1972 self-titled debut album) on her 1977 release, Sweet Forgiveness.
The standout track on Raitt’s 1979 album The Glow was its title track, a moody ballad about drowning your sorrows in alcohol that she delivers with great power and sensitivity. In the liner notes, she called the song “a real stretch for me” and said that she knew its writer, Veyler Hildebrand, as a bassist who had played with her friend Danny O’Keefe and had briefly played with her as well. “He played me this song one day and I was so blown away I had no choice but to record it,” she wrote. “One of the most starkly honest songs about feeling this particular way.”
Raitt performed at the “No Nukes” concerts in New York in September 1979, and later that year, her “Angel From Montgomery” and “Runaway” were included on the three-LP live album. Here’s “Runaway,” featuring John Hall (on guitar) and Little Feat’s Bill Payne (on keyboards), among others. She had recorded the Del Shannon classic on her Sweet Forgiveness album and had her first Billboard Top 100 hit with it.
Raitt, who memorably sang “Love Has No Pride” (co-written by Eric Kaz and Libby Titus) on her Give It Up album, finds another great Kaz song to perform with “River of Tears,” on 1982’s Green Light. Richard Manuel of The Band adds his distinctive voice as a backing vocalist.
Raitt’s 1986 album Nine Lives came during a time when she was having problems with her record company, and misguided production on some tracks made her sound like an MTV wannabe. But she still sounds good at times, such as on her simmering cover of Toots & the Maytals’ “True Love Is Hard to Find.”
Raitt was one of many featured artists on the Hal Willner-produced 1988 album, Stay Awake (Various Interpretations of Music From Vintage Disney Films). Backed by Was (Not Was), she sings a gorgeous, understated version of the lullaby “Baby Mine” (from “Dumbo”).
After sounding lost on Nine Lives, Raitt turned things around in stunning fashion on her next studio album, 1989’s Nick of Time. Abetted by producer Don Was, she returned to the rootsy sounds of her past in a simple, tasteful, unpretentious way that resonated with her now older and more mature fans. The album peaked at No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s album charts and won three Grammys, including Album of the Year. Here’s its title track, one of two songs from the album that Raitt wrote herself.
Nick of Time came out in early ’89, and later in the year, Raitt was featured on The Healer, an album by legendary bluesman John Lee Hooker that also featured collaborations with Carlos Santana, Los Lobos, Robert Cray and others. Raitt and Hooker displayed a lot of chemistry on their duet, “I’m in the Mood,” and they won a Grammy for it in the Traditional Blues Recording category in 1990 (in addition to Raitt’s three for Nick of Time).
Raitt followed up Nick of Time with the very solid, and very much in the same vein, Luck of the Draw (1991). With it, she entered the U.S. Top 20 singles chart for the first time — twice, with the fun “Something to Talk About” and the not-fun-at-all but extremely powerful “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” a ballad (written by Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin) about accepting the fact that someone you love is never going to love you.
I see 1994’s Longing in Their Hearts as part of a trilogy. It, Nick of Time and Luck of the Draw represent Raitt’s commercial peak, and though they aren’t necessarily Raitt’s “best” albums — different people have different preferences — I think most Raitt fans would put them at or near the top. Like Luck of the Draw, Longing in Their Hearts featured one of Raitt’s greatest ballad performances, on Richard Thompson’s “Dimming of the Day.”
After releasing three multiplatinum studio albums in a row, it’s not surprising that Raitt caught her breath, in a way, by following them up with the first live album of her career, the 2-CD Road Tested (also available as a DVD). Guests included Jackson Browne, Bruce Hornsby, Bryan Adams and, on “Never Make Your Move Too Soon,” blues/R&B legends Ruth Brown and Charles Brown, plus Kim Wilson of The Fabulous Thunderbirds on harmonica.
In May 1995, Raitt joined Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Buddy Guy and others in paying tribute to the late Stevie Ray Vaughan at a “Austin City Limits” taping that was later released as a DVD and a single CD that included 10 highlights. The CD opened with Raitt’s fiery version of one of Vaughan’s signature songs, “Pride and Joy,” featuring backing by members of Vaughan’s band, Double Trouble.
Raitt worked with a new (for her) production team on 1998’s Fundamental: Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake, known for their ability to create dark, unconventional, richly textured musical atmospheres. The approach works best on “Cure for Love,” co-written by Los Lobos members David Hidalgo and Louie Pérez and featuring Hidalgo on guitar, bass and backing vocals.
One of the standout tracks of 2002’s Silver Lining was an Afropop experiment that really worked: A uplifting cover of Oliver Mtukudzi’s “Hear Me Lord,” with some glorious guitar playing by Andy Abad.
The soundtrack of the 2004 animated movie “Home on the Range” featured songs written by Alan Menken (“The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin”) and lyricist Glenn Slater, sung by artists such as Tim McGraw, k.d. lang and Raitt, who is featured on the wistful ballad, “Will the Sun Ever Shine Again.”
Written by Emory Joseph, “Trinkets,” from Raitt’s 2005 album Souls Alike, is an unusual song for her to choose to record: A quirky little spoken word song. But she sounds like a natural telling its story, and her low-key, swampy, funky music is hypnotic in its own right.
In 2005, Raitt performed at a concert at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City that was filmed as part of VH1’s “Decades Rock Live” series. The idea of the series was to have veteran artists perform on their own and with a series of younger guests; Raitt’s guests were Norah Jones, Ben Harper, Alison Krauss and Keb’ Mo. The music was released in CD and DVD form in 2006. Here are Raitt and Krauss performing “You,” a bittersweet love song that had been one of several hits from Raitt’s 1994 Longing in Their Hearts album.
For the all-star 2007 compilation album Goin’ Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino, Raitt contributed a rollicking medley of Domino’s “I’m in Love Again” and “All by Myself,” performed as a duet with keyboardist Jon Cleary, a mainstay of her backing bands as well as an accomplished singer-songwriter in his own right.
At the 25th Anniversary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concerts at Madison Square Garden in 2009, various inductees presented sets filled with guest appearances by other inductees; in 2010, the music came out in CD and DVD form. Crosby, Stills & Nash invited Raitt (who was inducted into the hall in 2000), James Taylor and Jackson Browne to perform with them, and one of the highlights was Raitt’s aching rendition of “Love Has No Pride” (co-written by Eric Kaz and Libby Titus and originally recorded by Raitt on her 1972 album Give It Up). David Crosby and Graham Nash sang backing vocals. Introducing her to the crowd, Crosby called her “my favorite singer in the world — and I’m totally serious.”
Raitt’s 2012 Slipstream album included covers of two songs from Bob Dylan’s 1997 masterpiece Time Out of Mind, including a version of “Million Miles” that really opened my eyes to the brilliance of this often overlooked song.
Raitt’s last studio album to date, 2016’s Dig in Deep, has some deeply moving ballads, but I’ll go in the other direction here, sharing her scorching cover of Los Lobos’ “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes.
“When I was 17, the first woman I’d ever seen come out and rock an electric guitar was Bonnie Raitt,” said Sheryl Crow when introducing Raitt to the crowd at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival at the American Airlines Center in Dallas in 2019. “Bonnie’s changed my life. I was gonna be, like, I don’t know, Elton John before that. And then I was like, ‘No, I’m gonna be Bonnie Raitt.’ ” Here are Raitt and Crow performing Bob Dylan’s “Everything Is Broken.” Highlights from the festival, including this song, were released in CD and DVD form in 2020.
Feb. 6, 2022 Update: I put this post together in 2021 but am happy to add the title track of Raitt’s 2022 album Just Like That …, just named Song of the Year and Best American Roots Song by the Grammys!
Here is a Spotify playlist of these selections, minus a few songs that weren’t available on spotify.