#496- Bonnie Raitt- Give It Up- 1972

The Artist:

Bonnie Raitt was born in Burbank, California in 1949.  The only daughter of Broadway star John Raitt and pianist Marjorie Haydock.  Her music talents were not just inherited from Marjorie, but John had a famous baritone singing voice which helped him get the lead roles in Broadway classics such as Carousel, South Pacific, and his most famous leading role as Sid in The Pajama Game. That part he later carried over to the movie version, playing opposite Doris Day.

John Raitt with Doris Day

Bonnie grew up loving the blues, and at a young age she learned to play the guitar.  She studied at Harvard and while there she began playing in the blues clubs around Boston. During this time she became friends with blues promoter Dick Waterman, and she moved to Philadelphia to work with him. He helped her get gigs opening for many legendary blues musicians such as Howlin’ Wolf, Sippie Wallace, and Mississippi Fred McDowell.

Even before she had a record deal, she accepted an offer to open for The Rolling Stones during part of their 1970 US tour.  One of the reporters from Newsweek (the name of the reporter I cannot seem to locate) began spreading the word of her musical ability to record company executives.  In 1971, Bonnie was signed by Warner Brothers Records.

Her first album, titled Bonnie Raitt, was released in November of 1971.

Many critics were blown away.  She was something new, a 21-year-old white, female, blues guitarist with a great singing voice.  The album itself was mostly filled with cover songs, although it did contain one original song called “Thank You.” The album got almost universally positive reviews, but it was not commercially successful at all.

A few months later, Raitt went back into the studio to record her follow-up album.  While she would maintain her blues edge, she wanted to add in a mix of other genres, too.  Recording commenced in June of 1972 in Woodstock, New York with her backing musicians comprised of some of the best players around at the time. They were the musicians that had backed artists like The Band, Van Morrison, and Taj Mahal during their recent recording sessions in Woodstock.

The Album Cover:

This is definitely the most basic cover I’ve reviewed yet.  A picture of a young, pre-Bride of Frankenstein-esque hair streak, Bonnie Raitt standing in a garden or something.  It kind of looks like a member of the class of ’72’s senior yearbook picture.  It is framed in a purple border with the album title and her name in cursive.  I’m trying to think of something interesting to say about it, but there isn’t anything.

Well, the back cover isn’t any more interesting.  Now, Bonnie is lounging on a bench outside a house or train station or Cracker Barrel or somewhere.  It has the usual stuff, the track listing, the credits, and a long paragraph telling which other albums the musicians have played on in the past, which actually sounds more interesting than it actually is.

Nothing much of note here…wait what’s this?

Oy.

This is the first album that I’ve reviewed that has a gatefold cover.

It’s also the first time we get to see the ol’ “candid photos of the artists in the studio” collage.  I’m willing to bet that we’ll see many more of these collages as I trek through the Rolling Stone 500.

The Album:

I am reviewing the 1972 vinyl release of Give It Up on Warner Brothers Records.

(Note: All song titles are linked to Youtube clips of the songs.  One minor word of warning, most of the songs that are linked here sound pretty lo-fi.  As always, I most recommend buying the vinyl version for best listening experience.)

The album opens with “Give It Up Or Let Me Go” a fantastic, bluesy, New Orleansy sound.  One of the things that I am noticing while doing these reviews is the trend that the “500 Greatest Albums” all seem to have great opening tracks.  This song reminds me a lot of something by The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, with the tinny piano and the tuba. The tuba is played by someone wonderfully named Freebo, no first or last name given. The song also has a touch of the Delta blues with Bonnie’s steel guitar playing.  A really great song.

I was afraid that I’d be disappointed by seeing a picture of someone named Freebo. That’s him on the left.
I’m not disappointed.

Nothing Seems To Matter” is the first time we hear how beautiful Bonnie Raitt’s voice can be. I find the guitar playing quite beautiful, too. It is a very sweet song.

I recognize the album’s third track “I Know,” but the version I have heard is by someone else.  A quick Wiki search tells me the one I’m thinking of was a #3 hit for Barbara George in 1961.  Raitt’s version is not quite as good as the original, but it is solid in its own right.  There are times when the music reminds me of something off of The Band’s Moondog Matinee.  Also, there is a bit of a nod to The Big Bopper at the end.

Hellllllllooo Baaaaby!

If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody” is another cover of an early 60’s R&B song.  It’s a good song and Bonnie’s vocals are nice, but it isn’t quite up to the quality of the rest of the album.  To be honest, it sounds a little generic.

On “Love Me Like a Man” we get the first, real, hard-driving blues song on the album. It is pure blues both musically and lyrically. This became one of Bonnie’s long time staples of her live performances.  It is a cool ending to side one of the album.

Side two opens with “Stayed Too Long at the Fair”  Oh wow, what can I say, this is a beautiful song.  The song was written by a guy named Joel Zoss who performed it on stage at a club that Bonnie’s manager happened to be at, and he taped it for Bonnie to hear.  It has incredible lyrics (ex: Jesus cried, wept and died/ I guess he went up to heaven/ I’ve been downtown such a long long time/ I’ll never make it home by seven.)

I’m really starting to realize how truly exceptional Bonnie’s vocals are.  Jon Landau of Rolling Stone said in 1972 about this album “the best thing about Bonnie Raitt is her singing, and the best thing about Give It Up is that she sings great from beginning to end.”  I totally agree.

Under the Falling Sky” is a Jackson Browne tune that is upbeat and fun.  Without looking at the album credits, I’m gonna take a wild guess and say that is Paul Butterfield on the mouth harp. (Checks album cover) Ding!  It is interesting that someone can sound so distinctive on what seems like a somewhat simple instrument.  I mean even I can play the harmonica, and I have no musical ability.  Actually, I don’t really know how to play it, I just blow in and out, but it sounds something like music to me.

The Butter Man, a much better harmonica player than me.

You Got to Know How” is a cover of a 1920’s blues song by Sippie Wallace. As I mentioned earlier, she was one of the old-time blues artists that Bonnie opened for early in her career. It has a really cool opening with the jazz piano.  Bonnie does some amazing vocal stretching here.  She has to hit some pretty high and some pretty low notes. I also like the clarinet solo, probably because it reminds of music from a Woody Allen movie.

You Told Me Baby” is a very Bonnie Raitt-esque song (if that makes any sense.)  What I mean is, this is her distinctive sound, and if someone else did a song like this, you would say they are trying to sound like Bonnie Raitt.  The jamming at the end sounds kinda Santana-ish.

No, not this Santana.

This Santana.

Love Has No Pride” is a slower, almost country song.  I see it was co-written by Libby Titus, who I only know because she was the musical guest on the Hugh Hefner hosted episode of Saturday Night Live in 1977.

I can’t find a pic of Libby singing, but I did find one of Hef crooning from the same episode.

This is a good song, and again Bonnie’s voice is so beautiful and clear that the whole song works due to her vocal ability.  My only minor complaint is that the album opened with such a rollicking song in “Give It Up or Let It Go” and yet it ends on a slow country ballad.  I would have preferred for the album to end on a faster paced tune.

Aftermath:

Critics were even more effusive over Give It Up than they had been for Raitt’s debut album.  However, the American public still had no interest buying her records.  The album did not even break into Billboard’s top 100 albums, peaking at #138.  The combination of critical praise and buyer apathy towards her albums would be repeated over and over for the next 17 years.

I will get to the rest of her story when I get to album #225.

My take on Rolling Stone’s take:

RS: “California darling Raitt headed to Woodstock to cut her second LP – only to face near-monsoon weather. “My house had sand and salamanders,” Raitt said. She took refuge in the studio and churned out gorgeous folksy blues, including a cover of Jackson Browne’s “Under the Falling Sky.”

Rolling Stone only has room for a one paragraph blurb for an album that they say is one of the greatest of all time and they insert a weather report?  That’s odd.  Also, if they had to single out one song off the album, picking “Under the Falling Sky” is kinda odd, too.  It is also strange that they call her a “California darling” when she was best known as a Boston and Philadelphia area musician at that time.  They make it sound like moving to Woodstock was her first music experience outside of California.

It seems to me whoever wrote this blurb just did cursory research on the album. They saw she was born in California, read something about rain, saw the name Jackson Browne, and wrote the paragraph without listening to the album.

Oh and…

Salamanders!

Conclusion:

I try to never assume anything before listening to an album or watching a movie, but it is human nature to have some sort of prejudice just based on what you see in the commercial or on the movie poster or on an album cover.  In this case, I will admit that I did not think this album would be up my alley, just because it is a Bonnie Raitt album.

I was never a big fan of her 80’s and 90’s hits, and those songs were all that I had been exposed to from her.  Even then, the only reason I didn’t like those songs very much is due to the fact that they were played so often Top 40 radio stations while I was growing up. I bet I’ve heard “Something to Talk About” and “Love Sneakin’ Up On You” a combined thousand times on the radio between 1991 and now. Even today I can guarantee that almost every local easy listening station still plays “I Can’t Make You Love Me” at least once a day.

But I was wrong, I found this album to be really great.

4.5 stars out of 5, highly recommended.

My ranking of the Rolling Stone 500 that I’ve reviewed thus far:

1. The Stone Roses- The Stone Roses

2. Herbie Hancock- Head Hunters

3. Bonnie Raitt- Give It Up

4. Outkast- Aquemini

5. B.B. King- Live in Cook County Jail

One Response to “#496- Bonnie Raitt- Give It Up- 1972”

  1. dorkyzard Says:

    I really enjoyed this album as well. I think that she has an amazing voice and can really hit some notes. I wrote about this album too on my blog. If you would tell me what you think that would be awesome. You can find it here

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