“When A Man Loves A Woman”

’90s No. 1s Revisited: “When A Man Loves A Woman”

The fifty-first No. 1 song of the 1990s was “When A Man Loves A Woman” by Michael Bolton. This was Bolton’s second and final No. 1 song, following “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You?” the prior year. “When A Man Loves A Woman” is a remake of a Percy Sledge classic, and Bolton’s version is largely faithful to the original. The instrumental arrangement is improved; the vocal performance is more ambitious, which in Bolton’s case means it’s strained. Bolton is not at his best when singing loudly, and unfortunately loudly is his favorite way to sing.

As we mentioned previously, Time, Love and Tenderness, the album off of which “When A Man Loves A Woman” was the third of five singles, is a good CD. All four of the other releases are better than this trite remake, even “Missing You Now” featuring Kenny G, which may sound like a recipe for awfulness but is actually a tremendously lovely ballad, co-written by Diane Warren. Bolton was a consistent hit-generator on Adult Contemporary radio, and thus on VH1 (which at the time was the AC counterpart to MTV). He sent three songs to No. 1 on the AC chart in 1991, an unmatched feat that year. How this particular track captured a broader audience and shimmied up to No. 1 on the Hot 100 is somewhat mysterious.

Let’s listen to “When A Man Loves A Woman”:

So boring. This recording has no audience outside the AC format, or even outside a white, female subset of that audience. Are we unfairly generalizing? Look at the audience members in the performance video above and let us know. We loved Adult Contemporary in the ’90s, and in 1991 there was a lot of crossover between AC and Top 40, but we never liked this song. At all.

Does it hold up? No and yes. On one hand, this song’s theme and message seem woefully antiquated. It’s about how a man will tolerate abuse because he’s in love. In the 21st century, men (and women) have too many options to put up with that kind of crap. But for those who celebrate the blandest entries in the catalog of American music, it may hold up OK. You’ll never catch us voluntarily listening to this song again, though.

Dopeness: 1 out of 5 Birkenstocks


Michael Bolton
“When A Man Loves A Woman”
1 week at No. 1, starting Nov. 23, 1991
Preceded by: “Cream,” Prince and the New Power Generation
Followed by: “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss,” P.M. Dawn

’90s No. 1s Revisited is a regular feature on “Was It Dope?” where we walk through every No. 1 song of the 1990s on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in order, give it another listen, and answer two critical questions: Was it dope? And does it hold up?

 – John

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