You Ain’t No Prince Charming

‘Thing Called Love’ was written by John Hiatt for his 1987 album Bring the Family.  John Hiatt is not well known, but his songs that have been performed by other artists are.  One musician who covered a Hiatt song is Bonnie Raitt.  Raitt was well regarded in blues-rock circles but in 1989 at age 39, she had yet to have mainstream success.  Bonnie covered this song for her 1989 tenth album Nick of Time, which became her breakthrough album and this song peaked at #11 in the Billboard 100.  After years of endless touring and making albums it all paid off as Nick of Time peaked at #1 in the Billboard Album Charts and went 3× Platinum in Canada and sold more than 6 million copies in the U.S.  Many had written Raitt off till she teamed with producer Don Was and recorded this album, which seemingly appeared out of the blue, but went on to win a handful of Grammys, including Album of the Year, and overnight she was a superstar.  Rolling Stone ranked John Hiatt’s Bring the Family album as the 53rd greatest album of the 1980s, and they ranked Bonnie Raitt’s Nick of Time as the 492nd greatest album ever.

I guess love is a thing, because it is definitely hard to describe and it can mean many different things to various people who encounter this phenomenon in their lives.  Love is an emotion, a momentary state that takes over your brain and controls your body.  Love can surface at a moment’s notice and it can change like the weather, because it is a subtle and ever-shifting force.  Love is a positive emotion, that brings delightful inner feeling which are exquisitely pleasant.  Love should feel extraordinarily good, the way a cool drink of water might feel when you’re parched on a hot day.  We all have some idea about what love should be, and some people seem to be drawn into it, while others will do whatever it takes to resist these emotions.  Love can confuse the boundaries between who you are and who you want to be, as it lies beyond our skin and it is infused into our ability to see others for who they are.

The lyrics in this song are clever and witty epitomizing Hiatt’s ability to write great lines like, “Baby we can choose you know we ain’t no amoeba”, but recently researchers have discovered that amoebas are more sexually active than what they first thought.  Amoebas are blob-like creatures which have been around for about a billion years and it turns out that single celled organism can have sex by turning itself into a gamete and fusing its nucleus with that of a neighbor of the opposite sex, a process that is called conjugation.  Another line that I like is, “I ain’t some icon carved out of soap, sent here to clean up your reputation.”  Soap carving is considered to be good clean fun that is satisfying, relaxing, cheap, and fragrant and this can be used to create sculptures which are safer and easier to carve things out of than wood, stone, ivory or metal.  Icon carvings refers to spiritual images that could be displayed in churches, but using soap to clean a person’s reputation is a really nice play on words.  Love has a way of changing your perspective making you see things through rose colored glasses and another interesting line says, “Ugly ducklings don’t turn into swans and glide off down the lake.  Whether your sunglasses are off or on, you only see the world you make.”  This is a biological reality that people who are in love see things optimistically and therefor they feel better because they have love in their lives.

Raitt is the daughter of Broadway singer John Raitt, and she started playing guitar at an early age, although she didn’t become serious about music until the late ’60s where she got involved in the folk scene and blues revival.  Bonnie rediscovered bluesmen like Bukka White, Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Skip James, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Robert Johnson, Fred McDowell, Sippie Wallace and Big Boy Crudup.  Raitt immersed herself in the blues, learning what she could from these living legends, and soon was opening for them on occasion.  Her powerful voice and ability to play slide guitar, allowed the beautiful redhead artist, to interpret traditional blues and folk in her own way.

She started playing tunes by up-and-coming songwriters such as Jackson Browne, Chris Smither, Eric Kaz, J.D. Souther, Karla Bonoff and John Prine while adding and a sprinkling of a couple of her own compositions in the mix.  From her earliest days, she was politically active, giving her time and energy to many causes.  Her first minor hit was a bluesy reading of Del Shannon’s ‘Runaway’ in 1977, but she was unable to follow it up and Warner Bros. decided to drop her in. Raitt said this was a particularly low time for her and that both her health and personal life were in bad shape, but during the next couple of years, she managed to pull everything together, going on tour and playing a number of major benefits.

For the first fifteen years of Bonnie Raitt’s career, she was an under-appreciated artist who then had a late career renaissance.  Raitt released 9 albums between 1971 and 1986 with some commercial success, but she did not have a top 40 single or a top 20 album.  However, her bluesy sound and slide guitar made her a trailblazer and a critical darling.  Raitt signed with Capitol Records in late 1988 and started working with producer Don Was and engineer Cherney on Nick of Time.  Was had been the leader of the quirky but cool band Was (Not Was), before he branched into production with albums by Carly Simon and The B-52s, and then he produced a version of Raitt singing ‘Baby Mine’ from the film Dumbo for the hip 1988 album of Disney film song remakes called Stay Awake.  Nick of Time marked the first time Cherney worked with either of them, and it proved to be a turning point in his career.  Cherney worked as an assistant engineer for Quincy Jones and Bruce Swedien (among others), but by the early ‘80s he was mostly recording and mixing jingles.  He landed a Delco car-battery spot featuring music by Ry Cooder, which led to recording and mixing Cooder’s entire Get Rhythm album.  Cherney also worked with David Lindley who founded the band El Rayo-X and Linda Ronstadt

Joining Raitt on her version of this rocker was her regular touring band at the time, which included bassist Hutch Hutchinson, drummer Ricky Fataar and guitarist/harmony singer Johnny Lee Schell (augmented by Tony Braunagel on percussion).  ‘Thing Called Love’ was recorded live in the studio, and Tony’s percussion overdubbed.  The vocal take was a combination of live and maybe a couple of overdubs from other passes at it.  Bonnie liked to sing and play out in the room with the band, but they put her in a booth and it just didn’t work because she wanted to be with the musicians, allowing everyone to feed off each other, hear each other, see each other.  Johnny Lee Schell was out in the room, and they put some goboes around him (devices to shield his microphone), because he was playing an acoustic guitar.

Cherney recalled that he struggled with ‘Thing Called Love’ a bit, because he wanted the song to stand up and kick you in the ass.  Bonnie and Don were patient while he tore his hair out until he felt they had it nailed.  The finished track simmers with a rawness and intensity that fits Raitt’s voice and slide guitar perfectly.  ‘Thing Called Love’ became an immensely popular video on the still-rising VH-I network and there is no doubt that having Dennis Quaid in that video helped.  Raitt won Best Pop Vocal Performance Female and Best Rock Vocal Performance Female which was life-changing experience as the stars aligned for her.  After ‘Thing Called Love’ Raitt had multiple charting singles, including 5 top 40 songs.

VH1 was kind of new at this time, and this became the perfect outlet for Bonnie to get the exposure that her career needed.  Dennis Quaid was a good buddy of hers, and she got him to star in the video as her boyfriend, which allowed her to act flirtier than if she would have tried to act in front of the camera.  She knew that she wasn’t an actress, and she wasn’t used to videos, but the song ended up sounding so sexy, and that made her more comfortable and relaxed.

Don’t have to humble yourself to me
I ain’t your judge or your king
Baby, you know I ain’t no Queen of Sheba
We may not even have our dignity
This could be just a powerful thing
Baby we can choose you know we ain’t no amoeba

Are you ready for the thing called love
Don’t come from me and you
It comes from up above
I ain’t no porcupine
Take off your kid gloves
Are you ready for the thing called love

I ain’t some icon carved out of soap
Sent here to clean up your reputation
Baby, you know you ain’t no Prince Charming
We can live in fear or act out of hope
For some kind of peaceful situation
Baby, how come the cry of love is so alarming

Are you ready for the thing called love
Don’t come from me and you
It comes from up above
I ain’t no porcupine
Take off your kid gloves
Are you ready for the thing called love

Ugly ducklings don’t turn into swans
And glide off down the lake
Whether your sunglasses are off or on
You only see the world you make

Are you ready for the thing called love
Don’t come from me and you
It comes from up above
I ain’t no porcupine
Take off your kid gloves
Are you ready for it?

Are you ready for the thing called love
Don’t come from me and you
It comes from up above
I ain’t no porcupine
Take off your kid gloves
Are you ready for it?

Are you ready for love, baby?
Ooh yeah babe
Are you ready for love?

Written for Song Lyric Sunday where the theme is Alluring, Beautiful, Charming, Graceful, and Seductive.

23 thoughts on “You Ain’t No Prince Charming

  1. Nice song I think I may have heard before. I always thought she was a country singer, then one year she won a Rock award, and it just didn’t seem right to us.
    Thanks for the fun prompt today – happy Sunday! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bonnie Raitt songs trigger bad memories for me, but I do think she is a great performer and appreciate her music. This one is very familiar to me. Great choice for today’s prompt.

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  3. I always had a small crush on Dennis Quaid since I was little. I thought he was very cute and a bit sexy. Great song choice!

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