Is it really only Wednesday, the oftentimes dreaded middle day of the week that can be a drag? It is but it also depends on what you make of it. One small thing I hope will give you some joy is to read another installment of Song Musings, my weekly feature that takes a closer look at a tune I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. Today, I have a real treat from an artist I’ve loved for many years: Bonnie Raitt.
Raitt is primarily known for her great interpretations of songs by other writers and of course for her dynamite guitar skills, especially on the electric slide guitar. From time to time, she also pens her own songs. One of the best she’s written to date is the title track of her 10th studio album Nick of Time released in March 1989 – a great song by a great lady!
The album came at the right time for Raitt who had struggled for years due to personal and professional reasons. Both led to depression, excessive eating, drinking and partying. A skiing accident and resulting hospitalization gave her the necessary time to reflect and fortunately, she managed to turn her life around and get sober. She also met Don Was who agreed to produce her next album and was able to get a new record deal with Capitol Records. Raitt’s previous label Warner Bros. Records had dropped her in 1983 over lackluster sales of her 1979 and 1982 albums The Glow and Green Light, respectively.
Nick of Time, which appeared in March 1989, enjoyed significant chart success, becoming Raitt’s first album to top the Billboard 200 in the US. It also was her first record to chart in various foreign countries, including the UK (no. 51), The Netherlands (no. 65), Germany (no. 68) and Australia (no. 58). By comparison, the title track, released as the album’s third single in May 1990, fared more moderately, reaching no. 92 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, no. 82 in the UK, no. 67 in The Netherlands and no. 73 in Germany. However, it did peak at no. 10 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart. Nick of Time is one of the few songs featuring Raitt on keyboards as the following great live clip shows.
Following are additional insights from Songfacts:
Bonnie Raitt wrote this reflection on love and aging after enduring a personal and professional slump. The decade had been a tumultuous one: She was dropped from her record label, shattered by a failed romance, and addicted to drugs and alcohol. Fast approaching 40, she decided it was time to turn her life around and got clean and sober – just in the nick of time. Not only did the album revive her career, but it was also her first #1 hit on the Albums chart and earned three Grammy awards, including Best Female Rock Vocal Performance and Album of the Year. The title track, a Top 10 Adult Contemporary hit, won Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
She told Anatomy of a Song author Marc Myers the midtempo ballad “came from a part of me that hadn’t yet seen the light of day. I wanted to dig deep and honor the changes in my life. Writing it gave me a sense of confidence and self-awareness that helped me break through some stifling self-doubt. While writing the song, instead of comparing myself to greats like Jackson Browne and Randy Newman and then giving up, I was just writing for myself, as a gift for the miracle that had happened.”
The song was inspired by a culmination of observations about aging. The first verse (“A friend of mine, she cries at night…”) was taken from a conversation she had with a heartbroken friend who was nearing middle age and desperately wanting a baby. “At one point she said she saw babies everywhere she went and would just burst into tears in the grocery store,” she explained.
The second verse (“I see my folks are getting on…”) was inspired by observing her elderly father sleeping in the car during a road trip. She recalled: “In his vulnerable state I could see he was getting older and could really feel what it was like for a body to age. This whole idea of time and it being more precious as you age, I realized this would be what I’d write about.”
The third verse (“You came along and showed me…”) pulled Raitt back from the edge of the abyss when love came to the rescue but, she said, it wasn’t about anyone in particular. “It was about a bigger, more universal love.”
As for the song title, Raitt said, “The double-edged meaning was apparent. ‘Nick,’ as in just in the nick of time, and also the wear and tear of time and the nicks it leaves on the body and the spirit.”
Raitt wrote most of the song during a week-long cabin retreat in Mendocino, California, so she had to get creative when it came to recording a demo. Her makeshift setup included her guitars, a portable electric keyboard balanced on a chair, a four-track cassette recorder, a microphone hung from a lamp, and an old compact drum machine that churned out hilarious disco effects.
Nick Of Time was Raitt’s debut album with Capitol Records and was produced by Don Was, co-founder of the group Was (Not Was). The pair met the year before when they collaborated on “Baby Mine,” a cover of the song from Dumbo for the Disney tribute album Stay Awake.
Ricky Fataar, an original member of the Beatles spoof band The Rutles and occasional drummer for the Beach Boys, played drums on the track. Raitt wanted a beat similar to heartbeat pulse on Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” There were no hand drums in the studio, but there were burlap sandbags used to hold down mike stands. Fataar miked one of the bags and played the heartbeat of the song with his hands.
Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube