Category Archives: Linda Ronstadt

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: March 1983 (via Weekly Top 40)

fullsizeoutput_13a4I’m tripping the memory fantastic to the magical month of March 1983 this morning. On this exact day that year, a Saturday, I hopped on my 10-speed bicycle and pedaled my way to one of the record stores that I often haunted – Memory Lane Records in Horsham, as it was a great day for a bike ride: 52 degrees (Farenheit) and relatively sunny.

The biggest story in the news was M*A*S*H, which aired its final, 2 1/2-hour final episode the previous Sunday. On the sports front, the Flyers were in the midst of a winning streak – 21 wins, 3 losses and 3 ties since the New Year – while on their way to an early playoffs exit. The night before, the 76ers had suffered their first loss (to the hated Boston Celtics) since February 4th; they were 26-3 since the New Year, and headed for the NBA Finals, where they’d sweep the Lakers.

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All things considered, life was good; and it was only made better by that day’s purchase: Linda Ronstadt’s 1976 album Hasten Down the Wind, which features “That’ll Be the Day” and three Karla Bonoff-penned songs, including the wondrous “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me.” It instantly became one of my favorite Ronstadt songs.

As I mentioned in my Top 5 for April 1983, I was in the midst of something of a Ronstadt deep-dive this month: I purchased Simple Dreams on the 1st, and followed it with a succession of her other albums, including Get Closer on vinyl. I’d bought it on cassette the previous fall, but felt the need to observe the platter spinning ’round and ’round. Linda, I should mention, had just appeared on The Tonight Show on March 3rd. Among the songs she sang was the wondrous, Jimmy Webb-penned “Easy for You to Say.” (And, yes, I’ve featured this clip before.)

I also picked up Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours on vinyl, and four Lou Reed albums, including the classic (and oft-overlooked) Coney Island Baby.

Anyway, enough about me. Onward to today’s Top 5, as drawn from Weekly Top 40’s charts for the week ending the 5th.

1) Michael Jackson – “Billie Jean.” The No. 1 song this week was this propulsive piece of pop music. Say what you will about his latter life and music, but at this stage MJ was sheer brilliance on vinyl – and, as importantly, video.

2) The Pretenders – “Back on the Chain Gang.” Cracking the Top 10 is this classic single from Chrissie Hyde and Company, which would eventually land – along with its brilliant b-side, “My City Is Gone” – on the 1984 album Learning to Crawl.

3) Golden Earring – “Twilight Zone.” The Dutch band that gave the world one of the greatest driving songs of all time, “Radar Love,” also hit the charts with this 1983 single, which inched up from 18 to 16 this week.

4) Don Henley – “I Can’t Stand Still.” Former (and future) Eagle Don Henley’s first solo flight was with the solid I Can’t Stand Still album, which was released the previous August. It’s probably best known as the original home of “Dirty Laundry,” but this power-play track (at No. 48), the title song, is quite good, too.

5) Robert Hazard – “Escalator of Life.” Nowadays, Hazard is probably best remembered for writing the Cyndi Lauper classic “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” But he was also a big deal in the Philly rock scene, where he and his band, the Heroes, headlined area clubs and had songs played (and played and played) on Philly’s radio stations. In fact, though he had a few videos (including this one) featured on MTV, I’d wager 90 percent of the sales for “Escalator of Life,” a new entry at No. 83, came from his Philly-area fans.

And, as a bonus: Harzard & the Heroes on American Bandstand performing the same song…

Today’s Top 5: Linda Ronstadt – Duets

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Diane and I watched Smokey Robinson: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize on PBS this past Friday night. In my estimation, it was a good, not great, affair, due primarily to the lack of A-list talent on hand to sing Robinson’s classic songs. Then, this morning, Diane started a Facebook thread for folks to post favorite Smokey performances –

I posted the first clip below, Smokey’s 1983 duet with Linda Ronstadt on the Motown 25 TV special. I just find it a fantastic performance, with both obviously thrilled to be singing with the other. And me being me, that clip quickly led me down the YouTube rabbit hole in search of other cool Linda duets – of which there are a figurative ton. Here’s a few:

1) With Smokey Robinson – “Ooo Baby Baby” & “Tracks of My Tears.”

2) With Johnny Cash – “I Never Will Marry.”

3) With Aaron Neville – “Don’t Know Much.”

4) With Bonnie Raitt – “Blowing Away.”

5) With the Muppets – “Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss).”

And two bonuses – one cool and one kitsch. (I’ll let you decide which is which.)

6) With Hoyt Axton – “Lion in Winter.”

7) With Cher – “Drift Away” & “Rip It Up.”