Who Sang It Best? "I Can't Make You Love Me"

Updated on February 8, 2019
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Music enthusiast FlourishAnyway introduces some fun competition into the songs that have been covered by many artists by ranking them.

Some of the most beloved songs have been covered by a variety of artists over the years. We look at Bonnie Raitt's classic tune, "I Can't Make You Love Me" and rank 14 contenders. Who do you prefer?
Some of the most beloved songs have been covered by a variety of artists over the years. We look at Bonnie Raitt's classic tune, "I Can't Make You Love Me" and rank 14 contenders. Who do you prefer? | Source

The Anguish of Loving Someone Who Doesn't Love You Back

Being involved in a one-sided romance can provoke feelings of despondency like nothing else. You adore your sweetheart with all of your being, but they don't feel the same way. Sadly, we can't make others love us back.

This song was inspired by a newspaper article the songwriter spotted. A man appeared before a judge, having been arrested for getting drunk and shooting at his girlfriend's car. When the judge asked him what he had learned from the incident, the fellow quipped, "you can't make a woman love you if she don't." This wisdom became the cornerstone of this moving song.

"I Can't Make You Love Me" is a sorrowful ballad of heartbreak that depicts rejection at its most intimate level. In this somber tune, the narrator spends one last night with a romantic partner. Having finally internalized the unrequited nature of her love, she just wants to be held close a few hours longer before the relationship ends forever. She implores him to avoid lying and patronizing her as she quietly relinquishes her struggle to be loved in return. This intimate song about rejection is a truly heartwrenching song, but not every artist sings it that way.

"Who Sang It Best?": Here's How It Works

In the "Who Sang It Best?" series, we start with the original version of popular songs that have been covered multiple times. Then we present a set of contenders, artists who have released cover versions in any genre. Some cover versions honor the original artist's style while others are reinterpretations.

Since the original song version is typically considered "the standard," we don't include it in our overall rankings. Instead, we display it first for comparison, with up to 14 contenders presented next in ranked order. Vote on your preferences:

  • Do you prefer the original song or a cover version?
  • And which of the cover versions do you prefer?

The Classic Song

"I Can't Make You Love Me" by Bonnie Raitt (1990)

Just as physical pain hurts, so, too, does a lover's rejection. When you hear Bonnie Raitt's 1990 original, you have no doubt of that fact. She recorded it in one soul-sucking take, and like a wet washcloth wrung dry, Raitt rendered every drop of emotion she had into its delivery.

The result is raw vulnerability on display, a narrator who suffers the slow, sorrowful resignation of defeat before final surrender as she admits to herself that this is a lop-sided love affair. Raitt's slow ballad is a blues-influenced mixture of resignation and forgiveness. There is forgiveness of self for staying too long, and forgiveness of her lover for withholding what she needs—what she craves— most of all.

Bonnie Raitt was inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 and was named to Rolling Stone's list of the "100 Greatest Singers of All Time." She sets a high bar for other musicians who seek to cover the classic song. Her version of "I Can't Make You Love Me" is on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time" and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Reader Poll

Which version would you rather listen to -- Bonnie Raitt's original song or your favorite cover version?

See results

The Contenders

Cover Versions in Ranked Order

1. "I Can't Make You Love Me" by George Michael (1997)

I confess that George Michael could sing the ingredients off a box of cereal, and I'd think it was magic. While his voice here doesn't convey the level of hurt that Bonnie Raitt's does, it softly tiptoes through the early morning hours as the narrator struggles to give up unrequited love.

Particularly as he sings the lines "I won't sleep" and "I'll do what's right," one can feel the narrator wondering, crestfallen, why he's unworthy of his lover's affection. Rejection by a lover carries with it a sense of shame as well as disappointment. George Michael's version of this song takes us right to his bed as he lays in the arms of the lover who has broken his heart.

2. "I Can't Make You Love Me" by Tank (2010)

Accompanied only by piano, American R&B singer-songwriter Tank delivers an emotionally authentic performance that convinces the audience just how much his narrator has wrestled with letting go of this love affair. As the song continues, his voice becomes more pained. Vibrato emphasizes his suffering. At one point, he even seems to choke up in disbelief ("If you don't -- huh"). Particularly towards the end of the song, Tank persuades his listener that his narrator has struggled mightily with what to do about not being loved in return and has no other answer but to let go.

3. "I Can't Make You Love Me" by Kelly Clarkson (2011)

There is a raspiness to Kelly Clarkson's voice that signals the intimacy of the classic tune she is covering. The former American Idol winner persuasively conveys that the couple in this song has been up for hours talking about their feelings. They've argued, they've cried, they've discussed how they want different things from one another. They've finally arrived at this heartwrenching moment of clarity, defeat, and rejection for the narrator.

While Kelly Clarkson delivers this ballad with more energy and skill than others who cover it, she is more emotionally reserved in the way that she connects with the lyrics. Unrequited love doesn't simply hurt. It feels like your heart is being ripped out of your chest while everyone is looking.

4. "I Can't Make You Love Me" Dave Thomas Junior (2016)

Full of grief, this modern folk cover of "I Can't Make You Love Me" captures the ethereal nature of early morning. The artist's voice is tentative and filled with anguish. His narrator feels thoroughly dejected. "Don't even try, don't even try," he repeatedly tells her about attempting to make herself love him back.

Their love is just not meant to be. This cover version is haunting. It left me wondering if he's going to come out of this okay (or at all).

5. "I Can't Make You Love Me" by Boyz II Men (2009)

When the now-grown 1990s boy band recorded "I Can't Make You Love Me" as a group R&B number, they demonstrated that sometimes less is more. While there isn't anything wrong with the quality of their vocals, they overplay the part and what you get is an overproduced, overly seductive rendition of Raitt's song. This should be a narrator who is feeling the ache of rejection, but the tempo feels too quick and there is too much background music overshadowing the vocals.

Then there is the puzzling addition of lyrics in the song bridge. They change the meaning of the song from a narrator who is giving up the fight to one who has yet to concede he has lost the fight:

Just let me hold you, baby, one more time
And maybe tonight I can change your mind
And make you love me like you did before
Leave a feeling in your heart you can't ignore
I feel that baby, we can make this right
If you just give me one more night
I think that we're worth it and I feel we deserve it
If you feel that we don't have a chance.

6. "I Can't Make You Love Me" by Prince (1996)

Prince gets bonus points for creativity.

Lay down with me, tell me no lies
Just hold me close between your thighs ... .

Leave it to the audacious Purple One to paint this sad song raunchy. In Prince's version, the narrator's partner may not love him back, but he'll give her such a sexually electric sendoff that she'll be coming back for a friends-with-benefits arrangement.

Prince's sensual rendition has the effect of a seedy lounge act with its saxophone, background singers, and finger snapping. Then there are Prince's sultry utterances and modifed lyrics. He sings the line, "I can't make you love me" like it hurts, but apparently, it's the good kind of hurt. There may not be a love connection between the narrator and his partner but there sure is a physical connection:

Talk to me, tell me where you wanna be kissed
Talk to me, tell me how you want me to do this
In this bedroom/church, you can guess the offering.

7. "I Can't Make You Love Me" by Adele (2011)

Where's the intensity of heartache in this version? Although "I Can't Make You Love Me" seems like a song that could have been written for Adele, I was surprised to discover how her rendition lacked the emotional expressiveness of some of her best ballads: "Someone Like You," "When We Were Young," or "Hello." Perhaps the current number falls short of expectations because Adele performed this before a live audience. Or maybe we've grown entitled, expecting her to knock every song out of the park.

Unfortunately, this version is plagued by some sour notes, and Adele delivers it at a pace that is altogether too quick. The narrator wants to linger, to savor these last moments with her lover because she'll never be together with her lover like this again. She doesn't want to rush through it. Adele instead hurries her along.

8. "I Can't Make You Love Me" by Nancy Wilson (1994)

Grammy Award-winning jazz singer Nancy Wilson offers up this cover version of "I Can't Make You Love Me" with a jazz flair. There is aching in her voice as she utters the somber lyrics, and she portrays just the right emotional temperature although there is a bit of a "lounge act" or "dinner show" feel to it.

Her intonation for key phrases differs from that of other singers, providing a dreamy, head-shaking quality. One can imagine that Wilson's narrator is in disbelief that she could love someone so much but not have the attraction returned in kind. (Unrequited love is enough to make you ponder both your own judgment and that of your beloved's.)

9. "I Can't Make You Love Me" by Union J (2014)

Their youth may give some folks pause about their ability to carry off the mature theme of this love song. However, this former British boy band did a respectable job conveying the narrator's pain. Backed by a choir, they allow their voices to soar for effect, thus conveying the intensity of their narrator's internal conflict.

True, they were rushed from the start. Yes, some of the harmony parts were off. But at least they didn't try anything super weird.

The band rose to fame after appearing on The X Factor, a British reality television music competition created by Simon Cowell. They had several hits in the UK but disbanded in 2019.

10. "I Can't Make You Love Me" by Bon Iver (2011)

With a super slow tempo of someone bogged down by depression, Bon Iver offers this bare-bones version of "I Can't Make You Love Me." Accompanied only by piano, the voice is high pitch and reminiscent of someone who's been weeping way too long. The delivery is all wrong. While there is certainly mourning packed into this song, it's in the wrong key and as a result, this effort represents a missed opportunity.

11. "I Can't Make You Love Me" by Kenny Rogers (1999)

In this cover version, Kenny's singing it but he's not feeling it. The song feels flat, and his emphasis on certain words is misplaced. It also has a sing-song quality. Given that he member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and winner of not only multiple Grammys but also many other prestigious awards, we're going to pretend this didn't happen.

12. "I Can't Make You Love Me" by Patti LaBelle (2005)

Patti LaBelle issues strong sighs in the first few bars of the song. One must wonder whether they telegraph the narrator's emotional misery or instead foreshadow LaBelle's less-than-stellar performance?

The level of sensuality that she pours into this song suggests that LaBelle's narrator is still trying to convince her lover to stay. It resembles garish mood music with its background singers, backup vocalists, and overdone vibrato. Then the substance of LaBelle's song disintegrates into a rambling stream of consciousness tune, crammed with ineffective verbal filler. What happened here?

13. "I Can't Make You Love Me" by Maoli (2018)

This cover version starts out slow with a piano introduction that fails to impress, and the listener believes they're going to get a fairly standard interpretation of Bonnie Raitt's song. They're sadly mistaken.

The song inexplicably bursts into a reggae beat thereafter. If you're an overthinker, perhaps you wonder whether this rendition is a display of the contrast in emotions between the rejected lover and his beloved. But really, reggae is too cheerful a genre for this crushing song. The combination is like a weird, unwanted surprise. It doesn't honor the song's emotional depth. Not good.

14. "I Can't Make You Love Me" by Priyanka Chopra (2014)

Combining sad, soulful lyrics with the hyped-up energy and excitement of electronic dance music is about as appropriate as mixing minty toothpaste and orange juice. The background music of this terrible cover version overpowers Priyanka Chopra's vocals. It's just as well, however, because for all the energy of the electropop sound, there's zero emotion in her voice.

The Indian actress and former Miss World who sang this cover of "I Can't Make You Love Me" had no problem making singer Nick Jonas love her. The couple was married in 2018.

Readers Weigh In

Reader Poll: Your Favorite Cover Version

So which CONTENDER do you think sang it best?

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 FlourishAnyway

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      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 weeks ago from USA

        Shannon - Thanks for the idea and information! I appreciate you!

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Shan - That sounds like a winner!

      • shanmarie profile image

        Shannon Henry 

        2 months ago from Texas

        Vince Gill and Jennifer Nettles? Lots of people could pull it off. Assuming it sounds as well with people singing it out loud, instrumentals and all, as it does in my head. LOL

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Shan - I'll see if there are enough cover versions of Desperado. Thanks for that idea! On the mashup song, I think you're on to something. Maybe a duet by Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood?

      • shanmarie profile image

        Shannon Henry 

        2 months ago from Texas

        Flourish, what do you think about "Desperado" as a song for this series? I heard Clint Black's version on the radio today. I think I may prefer his to the original. Definitely my favorite cover of the song. I don't know how many official cover versions are out there. It was just a thought since it's such an iconic song.

        Anyway, just a thought. Have a great night!.....Oh, and thanks a lot. Since I read this post, I've had a mashup of this song and a George Strait song of similar sentiments stuck in my head. Imagine that. "I Can't Make You Love Me" and "You Can't Make a Heart Love Someone" with all the lines all mixed together. It works surprisingly well. Maybe someone should record it. What do you think? LOL

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Paula - That is a strange coincidence! I'd like to claim credit for them playing it again, but well, you know. Ha. It is a fantastic song! Thanks for stopping by!

      • fpherj48 profile image

        Paula 

        2 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

        Flourish....Gosh! I hadn't heard this song in a really long time! Since reading this & commenting with my opinion, it has played not once but 3 times on the station I listen to all the time!!

        This sort of stuff SPOOKS me out!! LOL

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Mona - Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you had a chance to listen to these. I sometimes have insomnia too!

      • grand old lady profile image

        Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

        2 months ago from Philippines

        This is the first time I heard this song. The video of the original didn't sound very clear so it was hard to appreciate it. I liked the Kelly Clarkson version and Don Iver and Union J and Nancy Wilson. Yes, I listened to all versions. I kinda think it would be nice to hear James Taylor sing it. Anyway it was a lovely musical experience on an insomniac's night.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Linda - I appreciate your stopping by. I've always wanted to do this series so now I'm trying to sneak in one or two between playlists.

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        The description and analysis of each song is interesting, as always. "Who Sang It Best?" is a great idea for a series of articles!

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Peg - Thank you so much for your comment. I am glad you enjoyed this!

      • PegCole17 profile image

        Peg Cole 

        2 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

        This song has long been a favorite. It brings back vivid memories of a certain time in the past and reminds me how far things have come since then. Love, love, love the standard by Bonnie Raitt (I own the album and nearly wore it out) but I do so admire the version by Kelly Clarkson.

      • shanmarie profile image

        Shannon Henry 

        2 months ago from Texas

        I know! If she can make a listener sympathize with "the other woman," she can most definitely do justice to this song.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Shannon - With the way she sang "Stay," we know she channel emotion into a song." She's missing an opportunity!

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Bill - Thanks for stopping by! There are some songs that are hard to pull off because the original was so amazing, and I think this is one of them. Have a great weekend!

      • shanmarie profile image

        Shannon Henry 

        2 months ago from Texas

        Funny you should say that. After I listened to your versions, I tried to find one on YouTube that Jenifer Nettles did and came to the conclusion that she hasn't covered it, at least not officially and/or with any sort of video posted online.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Heidi - He was such a beautiful piece of work, and I have to admit that I didn't want to know back in the 80s that he was gay despite it being so so obvious (really it didn't matter in the grand scheme). Gorgeous person, amazing voice. Singing in the stars now.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Shannon - I'd love to hear Jennifer Nettles or Tim McGraw record this. I think they could really do it justice. Glad this article sparked your imagination. Thanks for reading!

      • heidithorne profile image

        Heidi Thorne 

        2 months ago from Chicago Area

        Yes, Bonnie Raitt is the best. But love George Michael's cover, too. Also love how you said he could sing the ingredients off a box of cereal. "Carbohydrates... 6 grams... sugar... oh, sugar, 2 grams..." I definitely would have loved to hear that.

        Another great playlist, as always!

      • bdegiulio profile image

        Bill De Giulio 

        2 months ago from Massachusetts

        Hi Flourish. Bonnie Raitt’s will always be the best version, but I have to admit I had no idea there were so many cover versions. Great job, have a nice day.

      • shanmarie profile image

        Shannon Henry 

        2 months ago from Texas

        I've heard some pretty decent versions of this song, but out of your contenders here, I'd have to say that George sang it best. This song is such a tear-jerker. If done right, it always makes me cry if I'm feeling sad and this song comes on. However, some of these versions would no doubt not have the same effect on me, I'm sure. Most of these versions I had not heard until now. Adele's version is a real disappointment. She's capable of so much more feeling. So is Kelly Clarkson.

        Oh, and thanks, by the way. You just gave me an idea.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Liz - I appreciate your stopping by!

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Devika - Thank you for weighing in.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Dora - Sometimes I think that people don't listen to any of the songs and just quickly express an opinion, believing that their favorite artist nailed a certain song because s/he nails every one. An artist cannot be perfect and sometimes has "off" recordings, certainly when they are live performances. People definitely make snap judgments.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Lora - She definitely poured everything she had into that one phenomenal take! Thank you for your time in reading, listening and weighing in. Have a glorious week.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        2 months ago from UK

        I had no idea this had been covered so many times. You certainly know your music.

      • DDE profile image

        Devika Primić 

        2 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

        The original for me is always the best.

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        2 months ago from The Caribbean

        Do you find that people tend to prefer the version that's sung by the artist they prefer? Sometimes, that influences my decision.

      • Lora Hollings profile image

        Lora Hollings 

        2 months ago

        There's no doubt about it, Flourish. Bonnie Raitt in her captivating rendition of this song comes in first as the master interpreter. She puts her entire heart and soul into this song and has the quality in her voice to sweep us away with her as she sings the narrator's painful realization of coming to terms with the truth. I really enjoyed your article! It was fun listening to all the diverse styles from these popular singers. But they just don't even come close to Bonnie Raitt who just knocks it out of the park when it comes to this song!

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Paula - She totally nailed that song. It's a very high bar she's set there. I appreciate your taking a look at the rest of the article!

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Yves - I'm glad you enjoyed this and found a good chuckle here and there. Thank you for taking a look. Have a terrific week!

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Thanks, Clive.

      • clivewilliams profile image

        Clive Williams 

        2 months ago from Jamaica

        great song

      • savvydating profile image

        Yves 

        2 months ago

        Well now, George Michael did a pretty good job, but he still comes in second to Raitt. As for Priyanka.....Yikes!!! Her version is shockingly horrible. Your paragraph about Prince made me laugh. Ha! He really didn't sound heartbroken at all.

        I had to chuckle over the man's response to the judge. Lol. How pathetic, yet sadly real. "You can't make a woman love you if she don't."

      • fpherj48 profile image

        Paula 

        2 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

        Flourish.....To be totally honest, I was not even going to bother to listen to any of the contenders....simply because I can't imagine anyone totally rocking this song as Bonnie did/does. However, I realize that wouldn't be fair at all.

        Results? In my wholehearted opinion, although all the performers are fine singers & I appreciate their work~~I have not changed my mind at all. THIS is Bonnie's song....No doubt. Thanks for asking!! Paula

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Tim,

        Given the state of most of these cover versions, I'd say there's plenty of room for some talented singer to do a decent version of the song. I expected better of many of these artists. Really, I anticipated that there would be a whole playing field of cover songs so fabulous they'd be hard to rank. The first time I heard Prince's version I was a little appalled, but it grew on me and I appreciated his creativity. He was always so um ... shockingly creative which seemed so strange given his religious convictions. I guess we can't always explain the many layers of selves. I hope he's somewhere in flat shoes now, walking without canes, dressed as flamboyantly as he wishes and singing, always singing.

        Have a beautiful week, my friend.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Pamela - I agree that many were pretty lackluster at best. Some did just terrible things to that classic song and should be sorry. I don't get why some record producer didn't simply say, "No, we can't do this." Thank you for your comment. I hope you have a terrific week!

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Bill - I liked the original the best here, too. As much as I enjoy Adele, she underperformed in this one. Have a good week!

      • Tim Truzy info4u profile image

        Tim Truzy 

        2 months ago from U.S.A.

        Hi, Flourish,

        George Michael wins as my second after the original. I have to tell you: when I saw Nancy wilson's name, I thought: "Oh, Yes! Nancy and her sister from Heart are going to blow everyone away." Wrong Nancy, of course.

        I was disappointed with Bioyz II Men, thinking the Temptations should have done this song as I listened. As for Prince, he always is going to turn up the heat whether in his grave or on a stage.

        Great article with many wonderful versions of a great song.

        Much respect and admiration for all you do for our HP community,

        Tim

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        2 months ago from Sunny Florida

        I was surprised by how many sang this song and how poorly many of them did so. Bonnie Ratt did such a good job, and most of the others failed to impress me. Their were good descriptions my you of each song that I found were spot on.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        2 months ago from Olympia, WA

        Although I love Adele, nobody has done it better than the original....just my humble opinion, of course. :)

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