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The 10 best Bonnie Raitt songs

on February 11, 2023 No comments
Tyler Golsen and Tim Coffman

Across more than 50 years in the music industry, Bonnie Raitt has stood toe to toe with the giants of rock and blues. With a smokey voice and a shock of red hair, Raitt could have easily just been another roots-infused singer who faded into the background of the 1970s rock scene. For the first two decades of her career, she largely did.

But Raitt had something that set her apart: she was one of the most talented slide guitarists in the world. Able to conjure the same lonesome tones as Duane Allman while taking cues from classic Chicago bluesmen, Raitt had quietly carved out two decades of incredibly engrossing music while figures like Robert Cray and Stevie Ray Vaughan were getting most of the attention.

Then, something strange happened. In an industry that treats women of a certain age like they’re invisible, Raitt became a superstar at the age of 40. When her tenth studio album – Nick of Time – hit number one in the US, Raitt was suddenly among the industry elite. It had only taken two decades for most people to notice.

In the time since, Raitt has accrued an incredible collection of originals, covers, blues standards, and guest appearances across her storied career. Bonnie Raitt’s songs are kind of like chocolate bars: even if you’re not in the mood or don’t really know what’s in them, you’re still going to enjoy them.

Here are ten of the best songs recorded by Bonnie Raitt across her discography.

10. ‘Love Has No Pride’

Bonnie Raitt came out of the late 1960s folk scene at the perfect time. The Band had kickstarted the roots rock movement, and Raitt’s mix of folk, blues, country, and rock fit perfectly within that mould. With a soulful voice and a killer bottleneck guitar talent, it seemed like only a matter of time before the entire world knew who Bonnie Raitt was.

That’s not how it happened. Although her first few albums were met with critical praise, Raitt never saw any real commercial success during her earliest years as a professional musician. It’s not like the material wasn’t there, either. When you revisit the closing track to her sophomorealbum Give It Up, ‘Love Has No Pride’, it really makes you wonder how the hell Raitt was missing out on mainstream success.


9. ‘Sweet Home Chicago’

For most of Raitt’s catalogue, all roads lead back to the blues. Although she has expanded her horizons into the world of heartland rock, nothing is better than hearing her play the guitar like she’s performing at a blues club in downtown Chicago. Blues is all about tradition though, and Raitt bore her soul when she performed ‘Sweet Home Chicago’. After performing with legends like Buddy Guy during different sessions, Raitt’s own turn on this classic blues tune is much rawer than her more mainstream material.

While the original version has its place in blues history, it’s all about how you interpret different blues songs, and Raitt is absolutely manic on this track. While honouring Guy at the Kennedy Center, Raitt stood out among the all-stars of rock and roll, from Tracy Chapman to Jeff Beck. It’s nearly impossible to play any type of guitar next to someone like Jeff Beck, but Raitt holds her own, relying on her voice and getting that lowdown and dirty grit that comes with years of experience. Raitt might be far away from blues rock these days, but this is the kind of blues that made acts like Led Zeppelin so exciting back in the day.


8. ‘Sweet Forgiveness’

1977’s Sweet Forgiveness was the first time that Raitt saw anything resembling commercial success. Poking into the top 30 of the Billboard album chart, the album was the first time that many fans first heard the smokey tones of Raitt’s voice. The album is overflowing with bluesy charm, but no song is as sultry as the album’s title track.

With a loose groove and some stinging guitar lines filling out its verses, ‘Sweet Forgiveness’ suddenly lifts into a gospel-infused chorus. Not many artists can excel at fusing multiple genres, and even fewer can do it within the space of a single song. Raitt does it effortlessly.


7. ‘Just Like That’

When Raitt beat out superstars like Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, and Adele for the 2023 ‘Song of the Year’ Grammy, it seemed like just another out-of-touch decision from the Academy. At best, it might have seemed like a legacy vote for a legendary artist. But here’s the thing: ‘Just Like That’ really is a fantastic song.

Blending ethereal country with old-school folk-blues and Americana, ‘Just Like That’ is a bittersweet look back on a life of longing. Even better, it was completely written by Raitt alone. As an artist known for reinterpreting other writers’ songs, Raitt’s win for ‘Just Like That’ rounds out her legacy as a multi-talented artist. The kids might be more interested in ‘As It Was’ or ‘Bad Habit’, but you can’t listen to ‘Just Like That’ and believe that Raitt wasn’t worthy of her award.


6. ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’

Every rock and roll star has a sensitive side. Even though we might not like to admit it, the best moments from our favourite artists are when they’re able to be vulnerable around us without having to rely on the loud guitars. And when all of the protective walls came down around Raitt, we saw the brokenhearted woman watching her relationship crumble. While ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ reads like a typical breakup song, this is the tale of unrequited love that happens all too often in rock and roll.

Despite Raitt trying so hard to have some connection with her other half, she has to admit defeat and realise that she’s never going to get through to this person, no matter how hard she tries. From one line to the next, you can hear every emotion pore out of her voice, from feeling like a fool for trying to finally make some peace with her broken heart. This song isn’t just reserved for the rock and roll crowd, with Brendon Urie of Panic! At the Disco performing a version of the song live for a while. Rock and roll might thrive on loud guitars, but who needs guitars when the lyrics already cut like a knife?


5. ‘Runaway’

Reworking other people’s music is a talent. Anyone can be a great singer or musician, but to embody the heart and soul of someone else’s lyrics is a delicate balancing act. You need to be honest and truthful enough to come off as genuine without simply regurgitating whatever came before. Plenty of artists have “covers”, but when Bonnie Raitt takes on your song, you better be prepared not to own it anymore.

You would think that a number one hit couldn’t be beaten, but Del Shannon’s early 1960s hit ‘Runaway’ was in desperate need of revamping. Enter Raitt, who turned the goofy original track into a strutting lust-filled class. Whereas Shannon had to get silly in order to his high notes, Raitt’s throaty contralto is perfectly suited to add a necessary layer of grit to ‘Runaway’.


4. ‘Nick of Time’

One of the biggest hurdles in rock and roll is the concept of time. Pete Townshend hoped that he’d die before he got old, and some of the best rock ever made comes from being young and green. With time comes wisdom, and Raitt had a lot more miles on her belt by the time she made Nick of Time. Having already worked with blues legends like Buddy Guy, the title track of her late-period masterpiece has everything you need to know about who she’s become. Although there are a few rough edges to her sound in the late ’80s, you can still hear the blues legend hidden behind all of that reverb.

‘Nick of Time’ sound good, but the fact that this turned into one of her greatest ever is a miracle. After a falling out with her label and losing her backing band, this period of Raitt’s life was a wake-up call; checking into Alcoholics Anonymous and sounding like she’s finally ready to have some peace on this song. So when you’re listening to the sour side of this song, this isn’t a woman without conviction. This is the tale of a survivor who lived through one of the darkest periods of her life.


3. ‘Something to Talk About’

Raitt was always born out of the blues. Her signature brand of Americana rock and roll comes from a long line of stories of people who’ve gotten their hearts broken. Then again, you can’t get your heart broken until you’ve been in love first, right? While ‘Something To Talk About’ has that same bluesy foundation, the main crux of the song comes from Raitt hearing BS from some friends that talk too much.

After hearing these so-called ‘friends’ whine on and on about whether she’s seeing this platonic friend, this is the first time that she seems ready to act on her feelings. Any rootsy rock song wouldn’t be complete without an amazing guitar solo, and this is the same magic that Raitt thrives on, almost sounding closer to classic southern rock players like Derek Trucks and Duane Allman. The blues might be where this all originated, but you have to have your heart full before you sing about it being broken.


2. ‘Thing Called Love’

The late ‘80s were a bit of a strange time for rock and roll. Even though the likes of hair metal still dominated the charts, the more interesting brands of rock music were waning, waiting for grunge to take over in the next decade. When you’re someone as seasoned as Raitt was though, the solution to changing trends is to keep pushing forwards. On ‘Thing Called Love’, Raitt offers up her own version of a country-tinged ballad by John Hiatt. While Raitt might not have written these lyrics, she may as well be pulling these words out of her soul based on the way she sings them, letting her partner know that she isn’t looking to pass judgment on them for the wrongs they’ve done.

There might be a dark streak running through this song, but the message behind it is more about making the best of the situation you’re in. Both people in this song know that they’re never going to be perfect from the skin to the core, but that’s okay because they have each other. Even though love might exist between the two of them, there’s some spiritual force at play here that brings Raitt and her lover together. Love can make you do crazy things, but it’s songs like this that make that emotion a reason to live.


1. ‘Angel From Montgomery’

The great John Prine was America’s best-kept secret for decades. Although his own solo recordings never gained much traction, Prine’s songs were slowly trickling into the country and folk canon through covers and reinterpretations. A song like ‘Angel From Montgomery’ just doesn’t work as well when a man is singing it: it needs someone who can fully embody all the heartache and regret that comes from marrying a man who wasn’t right.

Raitt didn’t just bring ‘Angel From Montgomery’ to life: she completely took it over as the voice of a jilted woman scorned by the passing of time and a lifetime of lost promise. As it became her signature song early in her career, Raitt might have felt closer and closer to the song’s central character as the years went by. Luckily, she rose above that fate while still being able to add real emotion to a song as beautifully sad and moving as ‘Angel From Montgomery’.


Source: © Copyright Far Out Magazine

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