MOJO Time Machine: Bonnie Raitt Returns In The Nick Of Time

On 7 April, 1990 Bonnie Raitt escaped career doldrums to top the US charts


by Fred Dellar |
Published on

7 April, 1990

Bonnie Raitt glanced at that day’s U.S. album chart and felt both elated and little relieved to see that her debut album for Capitol Records, Nick Of Time, was at No.1 and looked set to hang on for a few weeks at least.

During the ‘70s Raitt had ruled the roost with such albums as Sweet Forgiveness and The Glow, which blues-cruised their way into America’s Top 30. Equally in those days, she booze-cruised, acquiring a serious drinking problem.

Additionally, it seemed the daughter of Broadway star John Raitt had an unlucky number. For Nine Lives, her ninth album for Warner Bros, stalled at 115, and Raitt was unceremoniously dumped as part of a cost-cutting exercise that also saw Van Morrison, Arlo Guthrie and several other artists of repute hung out to dry.

Her live work suffered as result and she recalled, “I was down to playing acoustic concerts and just touring with a band in the summer for a few weeks.” After a proposed collaboration with Prince fell through, in 1988 Capitol Records came calling and Don Was, then primarily regard as a member of Detroit's Was (Not Was), was assigned to produce her debut for the label. Raitt had earlier worked Was (Not Was) on Baby Mine, a track that appeared on Stay Awake, Hal Willner’s star-studded album of vintage Disney songs.

Nick Of Time was completed, essentially, in five days, with no overdubs. One track that did require extra mileage was I Ain’t Gonna Let You Break My Heart Again, on which Raitt was accompanied by pianist Herbie Hancock. The song proved an emotional experience for the singer, who began to shed tears a few bars into recording. “That was one of the tracks we had to do over,” recalled Don Was. “She got caught up in the song and couldn’t get through it.”

The title song also found Raitt digging deep emotionally: “I was touched by a friend’s dilemma, running out of time to have a child. The whole subject of aging hadn’t really been written about in a pop song. In many ways, that song changed my life.”

David Crosby, Graham Nash, Swamp Dogg and Sweet Pea Atkinson...

Recorded at Ocean Way Studios, Capitol Studios, Hollywood Sounds and The Record Plant, the album boasted an impressive cast that included David Crosby, Graham Nash, Swamp Dogg, Arthur Adams, Sir Harry Bowens and Sweet Pea Atkinson. And it was generally well received, the Los Angeles Times observing “The adult world Bonnie Raitt sings about is light years away from the black and white pains and pleasures of teen rock. It’s where people run out of time, out of patience and out of luck but never out of hope and compassion. There’s nary a trace of calculation or false emotion.”

This was my first sober album.” 

Bonnie Raitt

Released in April 1989, the album sold well, but peaked at 22 in June of that year, eventually falling to 119 by the close of the year. However, sales rallied following the Grammy award ceremony at the Shrine, Los Angeles in February 1990, when Raitt not only received the award for Album of the Year, but also bagged the awards for female Pop and Rock vocals, along with best Traditional Blues recording for I’m In The Mood, her collaboration with John Lee Hooker on his album The Healer. Variety reported: ”Bonnie Raitt stole the show and the hearts of the audience at the 32nd annual Grammy Awards. To the astonishment of critics and fans alike, Raitt defeated Don Henley, Tom Petty, Fine Young Cannibals and the Traveling Wilburys for the coveted Album Of The Year.”

In her acceptance speech, she told the audience: “This was my first sober album. I made a lot of changes in my life but I don’t take responsibility for that.” Instead she thanked God for her sobriety, which, she said, “means I’m going to feel great tomorrow morning.”

Backstage Larry Henley, co-writer of Song Of The Year Wind Beneath My Wings told the press “I’d Like to thank Bonnie Raitt for not being in my category,” while Bette Midler, who recorded Henley’s song, accepted her award and yelled “Hey Bonnie Raitt, I got one too.”

All of which left Billboard to report: “Raitt’s victory in the album of the year is considered as the biggest upset in Grammy history,” while The Washington Post, commenting on the success of a record that had taken a year to reach the chart pinnacle, mused: “Good things happen to good people, though sometimes only in good time. Maybe that’s why Raitt, 40, called her album Nick Of Time.”

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