I Can’t Make You Love Me

May 20, 2010 at 11:14 am Leave a comment

I Can’t Make You Love Me” is a song with quite an interesting back story. Wikipedia has quite a bit of info on this, on which much of this post is based.

Written by Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin,  it was recorded by Bonnie Raitt on her Luck of the Draw album in1991. 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 #331 on the Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.Supposedly, 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.”  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.

This song is extremely well-crafted, showing incredible song-writing skill.  The music itself is relatively simple, with not that many changes. The lyrics are also simple — yet the music and lyrics together are incredibly moving. One “trick” that helps  generate the feeling of unrelenting longing is that there is never a cadence in the song on the tonic chord of Bb. There is never a root position tonic chord in the entire song. There is also a powerful climax about 60% of the way through the song — typically considered the “perfect” spot.

If you can watch this video of a live performance without your heart breaking, you don’t have a heart:

Particularly noteworthy is Bruce Hornsby’s contribution.

What is additionally very interesting is songwriter Mike Reid’s background. Mr. Reid went to Penn State and majored in music, graduating in 1969. However, he also played on the defensive line for the Nittany Lions under coach Joe Paterno. His senior year he was named All-American and won the Outland Trophy.

He was drafted 7th overall in 1970 by the Cincinnatti Bengals, six picks after the Steelers drafted Terry Bradshaw. With the Bengals, he went on to be All-Pro and retired in 1974.

It’s pretty amazing to be so talented in such different areas.

I have made a recording of an instrumental version that tracks the original fairly closely. Without a vocal, the song isn’t as powerful, but it is still quite compelling.



Entry filed under: bass guitar, Guitar, Jazz, jazz fusion, Music, Oldies, Smooth Jazz.

Cover Recordings of Two Early Fusion Classics Addendum to “Fusion Classics”

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