Appreciating all that makes America special

Song: "I Can't Make You Love Me"

Rolling Stone put I Can't Make You Love Me as number 331 on its 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It was only off by about 325 spots. Uploaded by rockpix.com.

“I Can’t Make You Love Me” is a virtually perfect song. It combines incredibly powerful lyrics with an arrangement that captures the song’s emotions, and amazing performances by Bruce Hornsby on piano and singer Bonnie Raitt. Rolling Stone named it number 331 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. I have a lot of respect for that list, but it only got this one wrong by about 325 spots.

I remember the first time I heard “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” like I remember where I was when I heard that Kennedy was shot and learned that Elvis was dead. That’s some impact for a song to make, but this one delivers the goods.

Songwriter Mike Reid. Uploaded by berklee.edu.

Songwriter Mike Reid read about a man who was sentenced to jail after getting drunk and shooting up his girlfriend’s car. The judge asked if he’d learned anything. The man said, “I learned, your honor, that you can’t make a girl love you if she don’t.” He then penned the song with Allen Shamblin. Reid, if you don’t know, was the 1969 winner of the Outland Trophy as the best defensive player in college football, and an all-pro in the NFL. Hard to believe such sensitive and powerful lyrics from a former jock, isn’t it?

Raitt recorded the vocal in just one take. Not only was it a difficult song to sing due to its range, but she couldn’t maintain the emotional intensity it required. As for performing it in concert, she said, “I love that song, so does the audience. So it’s almost a sacred moment when you share that, that depth of pain with your audience. Because they get really quiet, and I have to summon … some other place in order to honor that space.”

As the song says, “Turn down the lights” and listen to this song “here in the dark.” It’s still extremely moving, no matter how many times you’ve heard it.

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2 Comments

  1. Allen’s a friend of mine, I just saw him again at the BlueBird Cafe in Nashville on Saturday Jan
    I’ve heard allen tell this story several times. He read in the paper about a man who was homeless and his wife wanted to divorce him, they finally found him and took them to court. then Mike and allen worked on the song, at first it was leaning toward being an uptempo blue grass song, then allen came to visit mike.

    Mike said “Alen I want to play something for you, he played the instrumental, not telling him what it was.”

    Mike Played it & finished

    Mike said “what do you think”

    Allen “said it’s perfect, beautiful. don’t change a thing”

    then Mike played it again singing the lyrics they wrote.

    Here’s Allen playing it http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&VideoID=9793065

    Here’s mike playing it

  2. This song is so powerful, you can feel what it’s like not to be loved back, even if you haven’t experienced that. The music and lyrics blend to create a sense of being in a dark and lonely place.