For her first 18 years as a recording artist, roots rocker Bonnie Raitt was essentially a cult act. The critics loved her but few people beyond a small circle of hardcore fans had even heard of her. That all changed with the release of her tenth album, Nick of Time, her first on the Capitol Records label and also the first that she made while sober (according to Bonnie herself).
Nick of Time would hit number one on the Billboard 200 chart within months of its release, and go on to sell some five million copies. It earned Bonnie Raitt four hit singles and four Grammy Awards, but more importantly, it rescued her flagging career. Nick of Time was my introduction to Bonnie, who became one of my favorite musicians of the ’90s, and its mixture of authentic, analog-style R&B, blues, pop and country pointed the way ahead for my musical interests when the pop music of the ’80s morphed into something that no longer spoke to me, and grunge emerged from the shadows to kill off rock and roll.
The album also became an unlikely soundtrack for one of the most pivotal years of my life. I was 19 going on 20 in the summer of 1989. I started my first real (and in many ways still my best) job, working at that infamous multiplex movie theater I’ve mentioned so many times. I was making new friends, I still believed in my dreams for my future… and I was in love. The first single from Nick of Time, “Thing Called Love,” was the background for these good times. And then later that year, when the weather grew cooler and the good times started to curdle, the plaintive sounds of the album’s second single “Have a Heart” articulated all too keenly what I was feeling. So keenly in fact, that I had to stop listening to Nick of Time for a while.
But let’s not dwell on that. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Nick of Time — good lord, how can it be 30 years since that summer?! — let’s instead listen to “Thing Called Love.” This was actually a cover of a John Hiatt song, but Bonnie takes full possession of it through her sassy delivery and slinky slide-guitar playing. It was her biggest hit to that point, peaking at number 11 on the rock charts. I imagine the video added a bit of lift, thanks to an unexpected appearance by Hollywood hunk Dennis Quaid and the joyful, flirtatious energy passing between him and Bonnie. God, how I loved this song. On the strength of this one song, I went to see Bonnie Raitt live that summer, when she opened for the Steve Miller Band at an outdoor show that was cut short by a torrential rainstorm. I didn’t buy the full album until after that, from what I recall.
One final observation: in the video, Quaid wears a t-shirt that sports the logo of Sun Records, which is of course the legendary Memphis recording studio that hosted Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, among others. Quaid would star as Jerry Lee Lewis in the biopic Great Balls of Fire later in that very same summer of 1989. Everything is connected, man…
If I’ve piqued your interest at all with my little rambling here, I recommend this oral history that’s all about how Nick of Time came to be… fascinating stuff for a true music lover!