Armed with her trusty Fender Strat nicknamed “Brownie,” and a custom-made glass bottle slide, singer-guitarist Bonnie Raitt has been a bastion of blues-rock since the early ’70s.
The California native has had one of the longest careers in music, and her accomplishments and accolades would take an entirely separate article to list. The slide guitar queen has won a slew of Grammys and sold millions of copies of her 18 albums released over the decades. She’s performed with greats like Buddy Guy and B.B. King and has masterfully redone some of the blues’ best standards.
But her time in the limelight hasn’t always been glamorous. Throughout her extensive career she’s had to weather a falling out with her label, failed relationships, addiction, and the trials that come with aging in an entertainment industry obsessed with youth. She’s conquered it all, proving like the blues she plays so silky-smooth, she’s got an indomitable spirit. Learn more about Bonnie Raitt’s best songs below.
- 14. Thing Called Love
- 13. Walking Blues
- 12. Just Like That
- 11. I’m In the Mood (with John Lee Hooker)
- 10. Runaway
- 9. Baby I Love You (with B.B. King)
- 8. Nick Of Time
- 7. Dimming of the Day
- 6. Feels like Rain (with Buddy Guy)
- 5. Love Me Like a Man
- 4. Thank You
- 3. Angel from Montgomery
- 2. Something To Talk About
- 1. I Can’t Make You Love Me
14. Thing Called Love
When Bonnie Raitt’s album Nick of Time was released in 1989, the Grammy Award-winning project represented a major comeback for the blues artist. She was 40 years old when it debuted, and had spent the previous 20 years falling out of favor with her record label, going through a failed relationship, and fading into the abyss of the music industry so much so that she had to book a string of acoustic-based, solo gigs just to pay the bills. ‘Thing Called Love’ was one of three singles from this monumental record. The song documented a change for Raitt, who after getting a little older and a little wiser wanted to leave sappy romance songs behind and focus on life’s bigger picture. The single helped sell a ton of album copies, despite limited promotion. The music video was key. Featuring Bonnie playing with a house band in a bar, actor Dennis Quaid plays the role of flirtatious patron. The smooth rocking song coupled with the slick video made it a popular spin on MTV.
13. Walking Blues
Released in 1971 on her debut, self-titled album, ‘Walking Blues’ is one of those deep south standards that is hauntingly “delta.” Reverend Son House is credited with its beginnings, all the way back to 1930. But Son House jammed with delta blues legend Robert Johnson, so Johnson himself had a heavy hand in the creation of this classic as well. With a rhythmic, screaming acoustic riff perfect for Bonnie’s slide guitar technique, the swampy track is full of prideful mourning and poignant regret. Raitt delivered this clean, brassy-polished version for her first major label effort.
12. Just Like That
Raitt’s discography is full of brilliant interpretations of blues standards and contemporary blues favorites written by some of the industry’s best writers. Though she’s not known as a prolific songwriter, when she does put pen to paper, the results are momentous. Case and point being, ‘Just Like That,’ a 2022 release on her album by the same name. She wrote the narrative song after watching a news story about a woman who donated her late son’s heart to a man in need of one. The moving real life tale centers around the mother and man meeting for the first time, and her gaining closure after putting her ear to his chest and listening to his heartbeat. The tearjerker of a track (you’ve been warned) was a surprise Grammy winner at the 2023 awards show. She took home the trophy for Song of The Year.
11. I’m In the Mood (with John Lee Hooker)
Bonnie teamed up with one of the blues’ finest for her collaboration with John Lee Hooker, a sexy slow-burner called ‘I’m In The Mood.’ The two had been longtime friends, and their chemistry showed in the recording and music video. Appearing on Hooker’s album The Healer, which features a slew of grade A duets, this single won the slide queen and blues king a Grammy at the 1990 awards show. Raitt would go on to score four Grammys total that night, marking the first wins of her career at the premiere music event for her buttery smooth work in the blues genre.
One of classic rock’s timeless hits, ‘Runaway’ was originally written by singer-songwriter Del Shannon. Released in 1961, the tune put Shannon on the map, reaching number one on the charts in both the US and the UK. A moody breakup song with an easy beat, Del’s soaring vocal performance makes this hit a hard one to cover. But Raitt was up for the challenge. She released her bluesy version in 1977 on her album Sweet Forgiveness, and aside from Shannon’s original, Bonnie’s has been the go-to version ever since.
Recommended: This appears on our list of best songs with harmonica.
9. Baby I Love You (with B.B. King)
A genuine showstopper of a track, ‘Baby I Love You’ is another collaborative effort, featuring the sensual work of Bonnie and blues great B.B. King in fine form. A temperamental love song at its core, Chicago blues elements King not only grew up on but perfected effortlessly drive the song. The foundational piano work is especially enjoyable. The polished tune appears on King’s critically-acclaimed album Deuces Wild, which featured quite a few duets. Released in ’97, its debut marked the 35th studio-recorded album by the blues legend. Talk about giving people something to talk about! More on that later 😉
8. Nick Of Time
The title track to her ’89 comeback album, ‘Nick of Time’ is one of Raitt’s most sophisticated songwriting efforts of her career. Themes from the album represented everything from universal love to the realities of aging. The title itself is a play on words, not only representing the common saying of someone just being in the “nick of time,” but also, according to Bonnie, “the nicks” that come along with time passing. She wrote the tune while staying in a secluded cabin in California, and the soulful track is a rare one that finds her focusing more on the story of the song rather than her silky blues sound.
7. Dimming of the Day
A spiritual song originally written in 1975 by couple Richard and Linda Thompson after discovering the mystic Sufi faith, Raitt covered the moving contemporary hymn for her ’90s album Longing in Their Hearts. ‘Dimming of the Day’ was written from a place of “universal love,” and the Thompsons’ version has been a favorite among listeners since its first appearance. Country stars like Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris have also taken turns covering the mighty song over the years, noting the gravity that comes with interpreting such a beloved tune. While some approached it with timidity, Bonnie threw herself right into the fire, laying down a bold, stirring rendition that highlights just how talented of a vocalist she is. Coming from the blues tradition, she has that learned ability to let loose and be free with what you’re performing, and it shines with her version of this Richard Thompson treasure.
6. Feels like Rain (with Buddy Guy)
Bonnie participated in the star-studded recording of ‘Feels like Rain,’ a Buddy Guy hit and the title track on his ’93 album. Other notable musicians to contribute to it include the piano work of John Mayal from the popular band The Bluesbreakers and the vocal accompaniment of country songwriting great Travis Tritt. With Hendrix-inspired guitar work by Buddy, and a gospel-inspired chorus that will revive your spirit, this modern blues classic is another essential inclusion among Raitt’s top-notch collabs.
Recommended: If you dug Buddy Guy (you should, he’s awesome), then head on over to our pick of the best Buddy Guy songs.
5. Love Me Like a Man
Our blues matriarch set down her electric guitar and picked up an acoustic for ‘Love Me Like a Man,’ an impressive modern take on the traditional blues format appearing on her second album, Give It Up. Despite being just 22 years old at the time, Raitt showed immense maturity on the track, slaying acoustic blues solos and riffs with ease and singing unapologetically about her ideal lover. While the song represents a version of perceived masculinity from the rare perspective of a woman in blues, the striking song was actually written by a man. A longtime collaborator of Bonnie’s, songwriter Chris Smither penned this fun track for her.
4. Thank You
An early songwriting effort released on her debut album, Bonnie often performed ‘Thank You’ when she was just starting out. With hints of jazz thanks to a surprising horn section and her eclectic riffs on guitar, it became a fast fan-favorite among early supporters. A little less rocking than her signature sound of the ’80s and ’90s, the gentle tune gives off an air of intimacy as she effortlessly flows between her full voice and falsetto while singing about finding true love. Listen for the work of none other than Junior Wells on this recording, one of the blues’ best harmonica (or “blues harp”) players and a legend in his own right.
3. Angel from Montgomery
John Prine remains to be one of Bonnie’s all-time favorite songwriters. When she covered ‘Angel From Montgomery’ in 1974, her bluesy reimagination of the popular Prine original put her front and center among America’s growing rock-blues musical landscape. The narrative country song translated well to the blues, its melancholy but somehow still prideful tone making a perfect duplexity a serious performer like Raitt could passionately convey to audiences. Originally the product of one of Prine’s many routes as a young mailman, he thought up the relatable tune while delivering packages one day. Over the years, Bonnie and John have often teamed up and performed the song live together.
2. Something To Talk About
Arguably Raitt’s most mainstream single, ‘Something To Talk About’ is quintessential ’90s pop with a country flare thrown in the mix. The 1991 release earned her yet another Grammy, this time for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. She even beat out pop vocal icon Mariah Carey for the award. Written by songwriter Shirley Eikhard, who had done work for everyone from Chet Atkins to Cher, the sugary, groovy tune is light-hearted, a rarity for Bonnie, and deals with a gossiping town and two flirtatious friends. A hit later in her career, it is her best charting song ever, and her most commercialized effort.
1. I Can’t Make You Love Me
Pure ’90s pop with a drawn out soul undercurrent, ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ is another big hit of Bonnie’s that solidified her post-’89 comeback. Not only was her smash hit ‘Something to Talk About’ included on her album Luck of the Draw, but this single featured on the track listing, which kept her in the charts and limelight. A mainstream composition written by two top Nashville songwriters, Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin, the lifespan of this easy-listening single was spurred on when artists began covering it. Even George Michael took a crack at it, giving a shoutout to Bonnie while performing it live for an MTV Unplugged taping. That gave new life to the already well-performing release. As the years have gone on, the track born in Nashville has been given the country treatment several times over by artists like Carrie Underwood, who performed it in her fledgling days on American Idol.
Recommended: Head over to our songs about being heartbroken.