AUK’s Chain Gang: one of the most emotionally raw songs ever written, “I Can’t Make You Love Me”

So we finished a fascinating chain in the last piece with Shirley Collins and ‘Adieu To All Judges and Juries’. So, there were two routes to potentially go to follow that track – ‘legal’ or ‘au revoir’. Let’s go for the latter.

Goodbye songs are a rich source for songwriters and there’s surely none better than a song that Mojo magazine voted the eighth best track on it’s ‘The 100 Greatest Songs Of All Time’ list and a song that’s ranked number 339 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of ‘The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time’.

I Can’t Make You Love Me’ was penned by Nashville writers Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin – originally as a fast bluegrass number. They decided to slow the pace down considerably and realised the song gained power and effectiveness in the process. Having worked on this one song for over six months, they decided, in it’s final form, it was best suited to one of three singers – Bonnie Raitt, Bette Midler or Linda Ronstadt. The former was the lucky recipient and it was included on her sublime eleventh studio album ‘Luck Of The Draw’ – Raitt co-produced the song with Don Was and Bruce Hornsby supplied the suitably atmospheric piano accompaniment.

The inspiration for the song came to Reid while reading an article about a man arrested for getting drunk and shooting at his girlfriend’s car. The judge asked him if he’d learned anything, to which he replied, “I learned, Your Honour, that you can’t make a woman love you if she don’t”. Raitt recorded the vocal in just one take in the studio, later saying that it was so sad a song that she couldn’t recapture the emotion.

It’s a truly stunning song and it re-energised Raitt’s later career – a bona fide classic.

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