Linda Ronstadt

TrackAlbum
Different DrumEvergreen Vol.2
Long, Long TimeSilk Purse
You're No GoodHeart Like A Wheel
Willin'Heart Like A Wheel
Poor Poor Pitiful MeSimple Dreams
Tumbling DiceSimple Dreams
Blue BayouSimple Dreams
I've Got A Crush On YouWhat's New
To Know Him Is To Love HimTrio
Tú Sólo TúCanciones De Mi Padre

Linda Ronstadt photo 1

 

 

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Linda Ronstadt playlist

 

Contributor: David Lewis

Those dark eyes that stare into you. That voice that covers seemingly every vocal style from hard country to soul to rock to swing to light classical. Those songs that seat themselves into your memory. Linda Ronstadt is one of the great female vocalists of the rock era. She came out of that late sixties California scene and her original backing band became the Eagles. An excellent round up of the LA music scene in the 1960s can be found in Andrew Hickey’s “California Dreaming”. For all the talk of feminism and a new world, Linda had to make her mark in a sexist and misogynist industry. That she succeeded speaks volumes of her talent and strength of personality.

Her first big band, Stone Poneys, had a hit with Mike Nesmith’s Different Drum. She claimed in an interview with Terry Gross that they’d performed it differently to how they’d worked it up live, so she wasn’t happy with her phrasing. The producer, band and later audience were very happy and it stamped her name. But much more was to come.

Long, Long Time, her 1970 top twenty hit, is a gorgeous elegy which points towards her later orchestral work. Linda’s control of her voice makes this song shine, though in lesser hands it might not have been as strong. Rolling Stone praised the album, Silk Purse, and noted “it’s Linda’s voice that makes the record”. Very few voices are able to not just make but carry an album.

Linda is a superb interpreter. You’re No Good was a cover of a song which Betty Everett had a hit with. Linda described her version as an afterthought and not a great performance. I respectfully disagree. It’s an incredible performance. It was her first No.1 and it set the template for her career through the seventies. I’m gonna say it again … it’s superb.

I’ve probably harped elsewhere on growing up the son of a coach driver and travelling through eastern Australia in large diesel vehicles. As a result, I love truck songs. And I’m pretty convinced Little Feat’s Willin’ is the best of them all. OK, it’s a rewrite of Six Days On The Road, slowed down, and with a melancholic triumphalism rather than triumphant tone. But Linda makes you believe she’s that people smuggling, pill addicted, alcoholic truck driver.

The bitter, self loathing brilliance of Warren Zevon appealed to Linda. She forms, with Jennifer Warnes, part of the greatest white female backing vocals of all time on Zevon’s Excitable Boy, obscuring the sickeningly disturbing lyrics of the penultimate verse. But she’s an excellent interpreter of his songs. I’ve picked Poor Poor Pitiful Me. When Zevon does it, he’s trying to be tough. But the contempt, the misogyny, the arrogance and the self pity don’t hide his low self esteem and weakness. When Linda does it she’s cynical, sick of your nonsense, strong and ultimately victorious. Whereas Warren probably did lay his head on the railway track, not realising that the railway don’t run, Linda knows the railway didn’t. Not only does she change the pronouns, she changes the interpretation. When she sings ‘he was a credit to his gender’, it’s cynical, and she’s in charge. When Zevon sings it, he’s helpless, hopeless and lost. Waddy Wachtel plays on both tracks but the parts are not identical. It was also, if I remember rightly, the first pop song I ever learned the lyrics to.

Taking another band not known for its progressive views on women, Linda’s take on Tumbling Dice works beautifully. Jagger doesn’t like the song, apparently, but I think it’s a standout on Exile On Main Street. Linda’s band, including the aforementioned Wachtel, roll nicely with just enough rock to create a great swagger. Linda wanted to demonstrate that she was as good as any man. Taking on Jagger is not something one does lightly, but Linda acquits herself nobly and well.

When Roy Orbison did Blue Bayou he was Siegfried returning to Valhalla, the heads of his enemies trailing behind. When Linda sang Blue Bayou she found the melancholy and poignancy of missing home. I love Roy’s version but Linda’s pips him. I know this is not a majority view, and it’s a photo finish, but the yearning she brings to it …

Linda stretched out in the 1980s. I guess once you’re the highest paid female rock star on the planet, you get an itch to see what else you can do. Her trilogy of albums with Nelson Riddle are sublime. Gone are the rock songs with that country twang. Instead we get magnificent jazz standards, arranged by the man who helped create the modern album. I’ve Got A Crush On You is excellent. Sinatra had done it, and she keeps the mood and feel, but adds her own spin to it. The world will pardon my mush, but I just melt into this one.

When she teamed up with Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton the results could be electrifying. The three greatest female country voices of the 1970s melded perfectly. Seemingly ego free, they let the songs breathe and show just how masterful they are with harmonies. To Know Him Is To Love Him, Phil Spector’s first hit, may have come out of cynicism; the phrase was on his father’s gravestone, so he wrote a teenage exploitation ballad around it. As you do. Even so, it’s a beautiful song, and they transcend it, taking it to a place of innocence.

Linda is also proud of her Mexican roots. Her family were all musicians, and she really just continued the tradition. She has released Spanish language albums. The one I like best is Canciones De Mi Padre on which she sings Spanish standards as her father played. Sublime, beautiful, and heartfelt. I’ve picked Tú Sólo Tú to represent this facet of Linda’s work. A love song, its gorgeous lyricism and lovely melody make me wish I knew Spanish. Ah well. I can just enjoy it for what it is.

Linda Ronstadt has now retired. Parkinson’s has robbed us of that voice. There is a documentary that will hopefully be seen by a whole bunch of people who haven’t heard her, or who may have forgotten her. Nonetheless, one of the great rock and country vocalists was more than just that. This toppermost could not begin to cover her career. She also did The Pirates Of Penzance for example. But here’s a start.

 

Linda Ronstadt poster 1

 

 

Linda Ronstadt poster 2

 

Linda Ronstadt official facebook

Linda Ronstadt Blog

The Linda Ronstadt Homepage
“An Unofficial Website dedicated to America’s Greatest Female Singer”

Linda Ronstadt Albums

Linda Ronstadt Blog

“Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice” (2019 documentary)

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Linda Ronstadt

The New Yorker interview September 2019

Linda Ronstadt biography (Apple Music)

David Lewis is a regular contributor to Toppermost. A professional guitarist, mandolinist, banjoist and bassist, he plays everything from funk to country in several bands and duos. He is a professional historian and a public speaker on crime fiction, adventure fiction, philosophy art, history and popular culture. More of his writing can be found at his rarely updated website.

Read the Toppermosts of some of the other artists mentioned in this post:
Eagles, Little Feat, Mike Nesmith, Dolly Parton, Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra, Warren Zevon

TopperPost #833

2 Comments

  1. Alex Lifson
    Jan 23, 2020

    Thank you for posting this. I have always been a fan of hers, although I had never had any of her records nor had I seen her in concert. On New Year’s Day, CNN aired a two hour biography on her life and career that was quite engrossing. Once again, thanks for taking the time to put it together and posting.

  2. Andrew Shields
    Jan 23, 2020

    David, thanks for this fine toppermost. Through my older brother, I grew up with several of Linda’s records. They introduced me to many fine songs, even if I gradually came to find her interpretations lacking in something I can’t quite put my finger on. Nevertheless, she is a really fine singer.

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