Category Archives: 1977

The Essentials: Linda Ronstadt’s Simple Dreams

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

In September 1977, Linda Ronstadt released her eighth album, Simple Dreams. Although not her best work (Heart Like a Wheel is that), it’s a sublime masterpiece. It captures her at the peak of her creative powers, melding yesteryear classics and contemporary offerings into a delectable whole. In a sense, it follows the formula she and producer Peter Asher established with Heart Like a Wheel – but it strays from it, too, by expanding the palette several hues. There’s pop, rock and country, in other words, but also two songs from the dawn of true Americana music – the Carter Family’s “I Never Will Marry” (1933) and “Old Paint,” which dates back even further, to the late 1800s.

In some ways, the set epitomizes what I like to call Southern California soul – it’s tasteful and tuneful, emotive, and never slick. Linda is a singer in service to the songs. Oh sure, her voice is on full display – but every note she sings is aimed at putting the songs over; she doesn’t show off. Her rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou,” which topped out at No. 3 on the singles chart, is one example…

… and her cover of Buddy Holly’s “It’s So Easy,” which topped out at No. 5, is another.

Because of my age and ignorance, I was unaware of Linda Ronstadt until the following autumn and Living in the USA, and didn’t become a fan in earnest until 1980, when I bought Mad Love.  And as a kid on a tight budget, I didn’t pick up Simple Dreams until March 1st, 1983 – not because I didn’t want it, but because four of its songs were featured on her Greatest Hits Vol. II, which I got in October or November of 1980. These two, for instance:

But I quickly wished I’d bought it sooner. Its strength comes not just from the hits and those two radio staples, but such exemplary tunes as the aforementioned “I Never Will Marry” and “Old Paint,” not to mention the Eric Kaz-penned “Sorrow Lives Here.”

Here’s the track list of the album:

Side One:

  1. It’s So Easy
  2. Carmelita
  3. Simple Man, Simple Dream
  4. Sorrow Lives Here
  5. I Never Will Marry

Side Two:

  1. Blue Bayou
  2. Poor Poor Pitiful Me
  3. Maybe I’m Right
  4. Tumbling Dice
  5. Old Paint

Aside from its contents, the LP is notable for selling 3 1/2 million copies within its first year of release; knocking Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours from the top spot of Billboard’s album chart, a position that album had held for 29 weeks; and being home to two singles (“Blue Bayou” and “It’s So Easy”) that were in the Top 5 at the same time – a feat that hadn’t been achieved since the Beatles in the ‘60s.

So why spotlight Simple Dreams now? The Rhino label has reissued the album in honor of its 40th anniversary, that’s why. The set features remastered sound and three bonus tracks from Linda’s 1980 HBO concert – “It’s So Easy,” “Blue Bayou” and “Poor Poor Pitiful Me.” I can’t speak for the CD, but the LP sounds great; and the bonus material is a delight – if you purchase the LP, they come on a separate 45-sized single (though it plays at 33 1/3 RPMs).

But it does beg the question: Why not release that live set in full – on both DVD and CD? It just seems a no-brainer to me. Someone uploaded the entire show to YouTube a few years back…a tad dark, but enjoyable all the same. Enjoy it before it goes away!

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Today’s Top 5: April 23, 1977 (via My Desk Diary) – aka The Monkees!!!

Forty years ago today, I was three months shy of 12 years old. I won’t go too in-depth about the wider world or even mine, as I covered both just a few weeks back, but know this: I was not music savvy. I liked The Sound of Music, enjoyed Donny & Marie and The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, and even had a few Brady Kids LPs. That was it.

Of the Bradys: Like many of my generation, thanks to its endless loop of reruns, The Brady Bunch became a series that I knew (and still know) like the back of my hand – better, in fact, because I never stared at my hand the way that I stared at the TV in those days. It didn’t matter that I never saw the show on Friday nights (we moved to Saudi in 1970, after all, so it was never an option); it was on every day, just like The Partridge Family… and The Monkees.

The Monkees made me laugh. And, too, I liked the songs – quite a bit. So, after school at 5pm, I tuned in (I think) Philadelphia’s now-defunct Channel 48, WKBS, which aired back-to-back episodes of it. And, as I noted in my desk diary this day in 1977, picked up their Greatest Hits, which had been released the previous year. (I’m actually surprised that I forgot about this LP when writing about my first tentative steps into music fandom, but so it goes.)

In the years since, I should mention, I’ve picked up more of their albums and the Listen to the Band box set, and even enjoyed their Head feature film both in an actual movie theater (the TLA on South Street, back when the TLA showed movies) and on video. But this collection, for me, is their best collection…

And, with that: Today’s Top 5: April 23, 1977 (via my Desk Diary) – The Monkees!!!

1) “Last Train to Clarksville.”

2) “Listen to the Band.”

3) “I’m a Believer.”

4) “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”

5) “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone.”

And one bonus…

“Shades of Gray.”

Okay, two. Here’s the entire LP, which consisted of 11 songs:

Today’s Top 5: April 9, 1977

Where has the time gone?! It seems just like yesterday that I was a studious sixth-grader (yes, that’s me to the left) successfully navigating the rigors of academia at Loller Middle School, the first of the Hatboro-Horsham school district’s two middle schools (6th-7th grades; 8th-9th grades). I was on my way to achieving the Honor Roll yet again on this day 40 years ago, and would continue to do so until 8th or 9th grade, when I ran into problems with math. X plus Y equals what?!

According to my old report card, my homeroom teacher was Miss Goldeman – but, sad to say, I have no memories of her beyond a vague feeling that she may have been an art teacher. In fact, I have few in-school memories of any kind from that spring. I do remember a fire drill that found us kids lined up outside on a dreary day for what seemed like forever, but it could well have been the previous fall or sometime during the next school year; regardless, it turned out that it wasn’t a fire drill but a locker search. (The only thing they would have found in mine: gum.) I watched far too much TV, and read and collected pro wrestling magazines.

One book that I read around this time: The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins, about a Nazi plot to kidnap Winston Churchill. I remember that because I decided I wanted to read it after seeing the film of the same name, which was released in the States on April 2nd.

In the wider world: Jimmy Carter was president. Unemployment was high at 7.2 percent, but on a downward slope; and inflation was unseemly, too, at 7.0 percent. No president deserves acclaim or blame for the economy three months into their first term, of course; their policies have yet to be implemented, and even if they have, it takes time for those changes to reverberate beyond the bureaucracy. So I’ll save my criticisms of Carter for another day.

As I write, the temperature outside is 69.6 degrees, the sun is out and few clouds dot the blue, blue sky. It’s a beautiful day. This day in 1977, a Saturday, wasn’t quite as nice: though the sun was out, the high peaked at a mere 48 degrees. The low was 25. We likely visited one or both sets of grandparents, or the great-aunts & uncle, as that’s what we did most weekends.

In the sports world, the Flyers, who racked up a 48-16-16 record during the regular season, were two days away from beginning their first-round playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. They’d lose the first two games before winning four straight, but were then swept in the next round by the Boston Bruins. The 76ers, in the penultimate game of their season, defeated the Washington Bullets 125-93, improving their record to 50-31; they’d make their way to the NBA Finals—and lose to the Portland Trailblazers. The other team in town, the Phillies, began their season with a 4-3 lose to the Montreal Expos.

Anyway, enough of the preamble. Here’s today’s Top 5: April 9, 1977 (via Weekly Top 40)

1) Abba – “Dancing Queen.” Debuting at No 1 is this dollop of unadulterated pop, which some folks hate with a passion. Not me, though. It never fails to put me in a good mood.

2) David Soul – “Don’t Give Up On Us.” The No. 2 song of the week is this kitschy number from the actor better known as Richard “Hutch” Hutchinson on Starsky & Hutch. Along with Charlie Rich’s “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” it was often a featured song on TV commercials for love-themed compilation LPs during the late ‘70s.

3) Thelma Houston – “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” Clocking in at No. 3: this disco tune from Ms. Houston, which would top out at No. 1 in a few weeks and earn her a Grammy for Best Female R&B Performance.

4) Hall & Oates – “Rich Girl.” Falling from No. 1 to No. 4 is this classic from the blue-eyed soul duo, who met while students at Temple University in Philadelphia in 1967.

5) Glen Campbell – “Southern Nights.” Years ago, in my TV GUIDE days, I interviewed Campbell (via phone) for a Nashville Network special that he was in – and he was nothing but nice. Super nice, actually. He even sang snippets of different songs to me, including Bob Dylan’s “Lay, Lady, Lay.” Of this song, this week it jumped from No. 9 to No. 5 and was on its way to No. 1.

And two bonuses:

6) The Steve Miller Band – “Fly Like an Eagle.” I don’t believe I ever bought anything by Steve Miller. I never felt the need. Not because his songs weren’t catchy or good, but because they were played so often on Philly radio stations that I came to know them like the back of my hand. Of this song: Having already hit No. 2 a month a change earlier, this week it held steady at No. 13 for a second week.

7) Rod Stewart – “The First Cut Is the Deepest.” The No. 22 song this week is this classic, which many folks, nowadays, consider a Sheryl Crow song. And while I love her version, I can’t help but to shriek a little inside when she’s credited for the Cat Stevens-penned tune, which was a U.K. hit for P.P. Arnold in 1967 and, a decade later, a sizable hit for Rod Stewart in the U.S.