I Can't Make You Love Me

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"I Can't Make You Love Me"
Single by Bonnie Raitt
from the album Luck of the Draw
Released October 22, 1991
Format Cassette single
Recorded 1990
Genre Country pop, blues rock
Length 5:33
Label Capitol
Writer(s) Mike Reid, Allen Shamblin
Producer(s) Bonnie Raitt, Don Was
Bonnie Raitt singles chronology
Something to Talk About
"I Can't Make You Love Me"

"I Can't Make You Love Me" is a 1991 popular song, written by Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin and recorded by Bonnie Raitt for her album Luck of the Draw (1991). In August 2000, Mojo magazine voted "I Can't Make You Love Me" #8 on its The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time list.[1] The song is ranked #339 on the Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[2]

Writing and Raitt recording[edit]

The idea 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 had learned anything, to which he replied, "I learned, Your Honor, that you can't make a woman love you if she don't."[3] Reid and Shamblin were both country music songwriters, who according to some accounts originally wrote the song as a fast, bluegrass number. Upon slowing down the tempo considerably, they realized the song gained considerable power. It then made its way to Raitt.

A pensive ballad, "I Can't Make You Love Me" was recorded against a quiet electric piano-based arrangement, with prominent piano fills and interpolations supplied by Bruce Hornsby. The singer depicts a now one-sided romantic relationship about to end in soft but brutally honest terms:

Turn down the lights, turn down the bed
Turn down these voices inside my head
Lay down with me, tell me no lies
Just hold me close, don't patronize... don't patronize me
'Cause I can't make you love me if you don't
You can't make your heart feel something it won't.

Raitt recorded the vocal in just one take in the studio, later saying that it was so sad a song that she could not recapture the emotion: "We'd try to do it again and I just said, 'You know, this ain't going to happen.'"[4]

The song was a big hit for Raitt, reaching #18 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #6 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.[5] The song placed on the Billboard Year-End chart for 1992,[6] and the song's popularity helped solidify her remarkable late-in-career commercial success that had begun two years before. In the time since, "I Can't Make You Love Me" has gone on to become a pop standard and a mainstay of adult contemporary radio formats.

For Raitt, the song was notoriously difficult to sing, due to its required vocal range, difficult phrasing and breathing, and the emotional content involved. At the televised Grammy Awards of 1992 Raitt performed it in an even more austere setting than on record, with just her and Hornsby highlighted. As she negotiated the final vocal line, she let out a big audible and visible sigh of relief that she had successfully gotten through it. Her live performance of the song was released on the 1994 album Grammy's Greatest Moments Volume III.[7]

Raitt has continued to sing the song in all her concert tours:

I mean, 'I Can't Make You Love Me' is no picnic. 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.
— Raitt, 2002 NPR interview[8]

Hornsby use[edit]

Although Bruce Hornsby had no hand in writing the song, his piano part on it became associated with him (Phil Collins described it as instantly recognizable as Hornsby's work).[9] On his own subsequent tours, Hornsby has included the song in some of his set lists, sometimes letting a female backing singer in his band take on the vocal and sometimes singing it himself.

Other versions[edit]

Mike Reid himself recorded the song on his 1992 album Twilight Town and taped a live version that appeared on Austin City Limits in 1993. Actress Maria Bello sings the song in the 2000 film Duets as a character with a past reminiscent of the song's story.

"I Can't Make You Love Me" has also been recorded by a number of other artists, including Bon Iver, George Michael, Will Downing, Prince, Kevin Mahogany, Bonnie Tyler, Mary Coughlan, Kenny Rogers, DJ Tomski, Nancy Wilson, Kimberley Locke, Patti LaBelle, Sophie Milman, Boyz II Men, Tank, Ester Dean, Venice, Nelson Rangell, Jimmy Sommers, Candy Dulfer, Nina Girado, Arnee Hidalgo, Sarah Bettens, Piotr Żaczek featuring Kuba Badach, Jill Johnson,[10] Heather Peace, Adele, Gina G, Paul Carrack, Kate Ceberano, Mathai, Kelly Clarkson, Cameron Mitchell,Ian Moss and Charlotte Jones to name some.

It has become a popular selection for contestants in televised singing competitions such as American Idol, The Voice (U.S. TV series), Canadian Idol, Nashville Star, and Rock Star: INXS. This song was performed by Idol contestants Kimberley Locke in Season 2, Constantine Maroulis in Season 4, Amy Krebs in Season 6, and Allison Iraheta in Season 8; moreover, Season 4 Idol winner Carrie Underwood and Season 6 finalist Haley Scarnato sang this song during their initial auditions. The tune was taken on by Nashville Season 5 winner Angela Hacker and Canadian Idol season 3 contestant Amber Fleury, who also recorded it for the Canadian Idol: High Notes album. Contestant Stacey Solomon sang the song during Season 6 of The X Factor.[11] Dutch X Factor finalists Adlicious sang this song in the final X Campus show. The Voice of Holland season 2 winner Iris Kroes released the song as her first single in January 2012.[12] Hollie Cavanagh sang it with four contestants left on season eleven of American Idol. Luke Edgemon used the song for his Blind Audition on Season 4 of the Voice. Klarisse de Guzman performed the song during The Voice of the Philippines season 1's fourth Live Show.


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