It’s criminal Linda Ronstadt’s not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. If she were ugly, she’d have been in eons ago. But the east coast establishment can’t fathom that a hedonist from the west coast could be beautiful, live the free and easy rock and roll lifestyle and end up the darling of both the cognoscenti and the supposedly ignorant.
It’s not like she didn’t pay her dues. She even had a monster hit with the Stone Poneys. But her solo career never gelled until this.
And it’s all about “You’re No Good.”
Like “Tainted Love,” it was a cover of a track no one ever heard. Still, when you heard the original, it paled in comparison to Ronstadt’s remake, her version was the kind of cut you heard on the radio that forced you to go to the record store to buy the album just so you could hear it again…and again…and again.
There’s that pregnant intro. Like a door has opened and you’re gonna hear some secrets.
And then that silky voice that doesn’t play the victim but ultimately evidences power. With the chorus of female voices making the point. Hell, the backup vocals are a key element throughout. Listen, they’re baked in so perfectly they don’t stand out, they just add emphasis.
And then there’s the way the track breaks down almost ninety seconds in and there’s that twinkly guitar and then that explosive, bending guitar and if you weren’t sold before, if you thought the track was too wimpy, sans testosterone, you’re hooked now.
And then comes the piece de resistance, two and a half minutes in, the outro, that goes on and on, for over a minute, with the strings entering from the side of the stage and then swooping and you just hope and pray the track will never end.
And “You’re No Good” sounded like nothing else on the radio. And that’s why it was so special, such a hit. Because perfection cannot be ignored.
Then there’s “Faithless Love,” the first well known version of the J.D. Souther classic, who sings backup here.
It’s the bridge that convinces you…
Well I guess I’m standing in the hall of broken dreams
That’s the way it sometimes goes
Whenever a new love never turns out like it seems…
Ain’t that the truth. You’ve got such hope. And then you hit a dead end. Sometimes love fades, more often it crashes into a wall and you’re left picking up the pieces for months, sometimes years, wondering what went wrong.
Of course, the other gigantic hit was “When Will I Be Loved,” the Everly Brothers tune. A two minute tear, you’d hear Linda Ronstadt pouring out of stereos, in the canyons, in your car, she was part of the soundtrack of the summer.
And, of course, there’s the cover of “Willin’,” the Lowell George classic. I still miss Lowell. And you do too, if you’re familiar with Little Feat.
And did you know that “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” was written by Paul Anka?
And then there was “Heart Like A Wheel.”
Some say the heart is just like a wheel
When you bend it you can’t mend it
Whew! That’s the genius of Anna McGarrigle. I bought the McGarrigles album on this one cover. I had to. I had to get closer to this truth.
And it’s only love and it’s only love
That can wreck a human being and turn him inside out
Ain’t that the truth. That’s why we listen to music, to hear and feel our emotions expressed in a way no other medium is capable of doing.
And then there’s the cover of “You Can Close Your Eyes,” the masterpiece from James Taylor’s “Mud Slide Slim.” And Linda’s take is not as good. Hell, I’ll argue J.D. Souther’s version of “Faithless Love” is superior. But the curation on “Heart Like A Wheel” is so incredibly stellar its magic cannot be denied.
This was our introduction to Andrew Gold.
It was a coronation of Peter Asher’s production skill.
But first and foremost “Heart Like A Wheel” was the album that made Linda Ronstadt a star, who didn’t falter, but continued to deliver for the rest of the decade, delivering tunes that are now indelibly inscribed in the DNA of every baby boomer who was privy to electricity.
The music still sounds crystal clear and fresh almost forty years later.
More people listened to it and were affected it by anything Patti Smith ever did.
And I give Patti credit for being a writer.
But her biggest hit was written by Springsteen.
Just because someone’s a singer, not a writer, that does not mean they deserve no credit. Especially when they’re so skilled and respect the material.
Linda Ronstadt was “Star Wars.” She was a superstar loved by men and women alike. And like too many from that era, she survived. If she were dead, we’d be canonizing her. Just because she’s still alive that does not mean she should not get her due.
1. I’ve included the original Dee Dee Warwick rendition of Clint Ballard, Jr.’s “You’re No Good” as well as Betty Everett’s hit take. Everett’s version peaked at number 51 on the Pop chart. Knowing the history of music pays dividends, it allows you to unearth gems like this.
2. “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” was first a hit for Buddy Holly, I’ve included his 1959 hit version.
3. J.D. Souther’s version of “Faithless Love” appeared on his 1976 album “Black Rose,” along with his versions of ultimate Ronstadt favorites like “Simple Man, Simple Dream” and “Silver Blue.”
4. “Dark End Of The Street” hit number 10 on the Black Singles chart and number 77 on the Pop chart. Sung by James Carr, it was composed by Dan Penn and Chips Moman.
5. Listen to the McGarrigles’ “Heart Like A Wheel,” and search out their original “Talk To Me Of Mendocino,” which Ronstadt covered on “Get Closer.”
6. The Everly Brothers were giants in the U.K., but if you came of age with the Beatles, you probably know of them but are not entranced. They got a good shot opening for Simon & Garfunkel in 2003, but this is music that needs to be rekindled for the echo boomers.
7. Little Feat cut “Willin” on both of its first two albums, but my favorite cover is by Seatrain. Alas, their Capitol debut is not on Spotify.
8. “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You)” is a Hank Williams original. Funny thing about Williams, either your parents exposed you to him or they didn’t. East coasters tend to be in the dark on Hank, their parents didn’t cotton to the country sound, and it wasn’t until acts like Ronstadt, Gram Parsons and the rest of the SoCal mafia brought it to the forefront that they heard it.
9. Paul Craft wrote “Keep Me From Blowing Away.” Ronstadt made it famous. He also wrote “Midnight Flyer” on the Eagles’ “On The Border.”
10. Although uneven, “Mud Slide Slim” has absolutely stellar moments, some of its songs are still featured prominently in JT’s live sets today. “You Can Close Your Eyes” is the best. But I love “Riding On A Railroad” and “Machine Gun Kelly” almost as much. And listen to “Highway Song”… One of those days the highway song does lose its appeal and you want to settle down. Our rock stars were always a bit advanced, they always got the memo before we did.