Listen to this track by redheaded guitar slinger and roots and blues ingenue turned American music matriarch Bonnie Raitt. It’s “Love Me Like a Man” as taken from her second album Give It Up, released to the world in the summer of 1972, when she was a fresh-faced 22 year old.
Bonnie Riatt is known today particularly for the work she created in the late ’80s and into the ’90s. Albums like Nick Of Time and Luck of the Draw, plus songs like “Something To Talk About”, and “I Can’t Make You Love Me” led to armfuls of Grammies. They also reveal Raitt’s superior command of emotional tone, arrangement, and great chops, even if they were created with a polished, adult contemporary sound in mind. But, her career began well before that work was created, upon a sturdy foundation of the blues.
The idea of “contemporary blues” is off-putting to some. It’s a bit of a red flag for me, if I’m honest. But, this song is certainly one that can be called contemporary although maybe in a different way then one might expect.
This song is a rough-hewn blues tune played and sung during a time when gender roles were still rooted in the “dad is the head of the family” tradition, and when mainstream understanding about healthy dynamics between men and women as we understand them today were only in their formative stages. Those dynamics are evolving today still, of course. But, in the early ’70s, even the language of equality betweeen the sexes was still pretty new. So, under the sexy surface of this song, and there’s plenty of sexy to be had here, there is something of a political statement being made, too.
This is a tune that demands that a man, and maybe all men, take a good look at what it means to be masculine. What makes this “contemporary” is that it’s a culturally pertinent question, particularly as it relates to how real men treat women, or how they should. This song was actually written by a man, and regular Raitt collaborator at the time; songwriter and guitarist Chris Smither. So, that’s another level of its contemporary nature; that gender equality wasn’t just about women, and still isn’t.
The “blues” part of this equation is made obvious with Raitt’s amazingly dextrous acoustic blues guitar lines, matched with the soulful liquidity of her voice. In some ways, this is another aspect of its contemporary nature, with Raitt laying down blues licks and talking about masculinity in a genre that has historically traded on a quite a different version of what it is to be a man, from Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man”, to Muddy Water’s “Hoochie Coochie Man”, to Howlin’ Wolf’s “Backdoor Man”. Raitt’s tune provides some important perspective with a woman performing it, sure. But also as a way of presenting her as a guitarist and singer who can wail. That’s what really establishes her authority.
Raitt’s ideal man in this song knows when to speak, and when to shut up and just hold her without asking so many questions about “why?”. He’s a guy who can love someone because he can love himself, and not in a egotistical compensating sort of way. He doesn’t trade on machismo, or feelings of superiority over women. He knows that rocking someone’s world isn’t just about sexual prowess. It’s about empathy, understanding, courage, and respect.
“Love Me Like A Man” would be a stalwart live staple for many years for Bonnie Raitt, and through a number of periods in her career. And the assertions it makes are the same for men everywhere when it comes to loving anyone: “Baby I know you can/Believe me when I tell you/You can love me like a man”.
Bonnie Raitt is an active musician and songwriter. You can catch up to her at Bonnieraitt.com.