What a Voice! Radio listeners first heard Linda Ronstadt’s strong clear singing voice in 1967 on “Different Drum” by the Stone Poneys. It wasn’t until 3 years later that she was back in the top 40 with “Long Long Time”.
Linda was putting out albums and touring during the early 70’s, but it wasn’t until late 1974 when Peter Asher produced Heart Like A Wheel (one of the best albums of the decade) that her career took off. By 1975. The single “You’re No Good” (with great guitar work by Andrew Gold) went to #1. At the same time, she had the #2 song on the Country Chart “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You), the #1 album on the Billboard Top 200 chart, and the #1 album on the Country chart. Linda Ronstadt had arrived!
Heart Like A Wheel is terrific. Backing her on the record was a vast list of talented performers…including J.D. Souther, Glenn Frey, Don Henley, David Lindley, Timothy B. Schmidt, and (with beautiful harmonies) Emmylou Harris. “When Will I Be Loved” was another big hit. “Willin’ (by Little Feat), and “It Doesn’t Matter Any More” got lots of airplay. The LP also has my favorite recording by her…”Fathless Love”…a duet with the man who wrote the song, John David Souther.
From there, she was trail-blazing for female artists. She had 8 straight Platinum Albums, no woman had ever had more than 2. The 7 platinum albums that came after Heart Like A Wheel were: Prisoner In Disguise, Hasten Down The Wind, Simple Dreams, Greatest Hits, Living In The USA, Mad Love, and Greatest Hits 2. In 1982, Get Closer fell just short of becoming her 9th straight Platinum album (sales of at least one-million copies). In total, she had 13 solo platinum albums. Ronstadt also had 21 Top 40 singles, and won 11 Grammy Awards.
Linda Ronstadt was on countless magazine covers. Rolling Stone, which had her on the cover 6 times, declared her The Queen Of Rock & Roll.
We were lucky to see Linda Ronstadt in concert in 1980. Her voice and her performance were absolutely amazing! The moment I remember best was her final encore. She came out with only pianist Bill Payne of Little Feat. Then she filled the auditorium with a beautifully clear and soulful rendition of “Desperado”. Update: Now a concert from that 1980 tour has been preserved.
In February 2019, Ronstadt’s 1980 concert performance was released as Live In Hollywood. That tour featured some of L.A.’s best musicians, and the 12-song set is a great listen all the way through. What an excellent record of that time in her career!
In 1983 she starred in the musical “Pirates of Penzance” on Broadway. She was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Musical Actress, and the show won a Tony Award as Best Musical Revival.
Ronstadt had conquered pop and country (4 #1 country albums), and had success on Broadway, so what was next? An album of Jazz/Pop standards. People thought she was crazy and bound to fail.
In 1983 her first album of standards What’s New sold 3.7 million copies! She did two more…Lush Life and For Sentimental Reasons…both Platinum selling.
Linda Ronstadt grew up in Tucson, Arizona. Spanish was spoken and sung in her family. Linda decided she wanted to do an album of traditional Mexican Folk songs. No one would have predicted that it would sell, but Canciones de mi Padre (Songs of my Father) sold over 2-million copies…making it the biggest-selling non-English-language album in U.S. music history!
Linda Ronstadt had success into the ’90’s (back in Pop music) with “Somewhere Out There”, a duet with James Ingram, “Don’t Know Much” and “All My Life”, both duets with Aaron Neville. All three songs won Grammy Awards. Also, her album Cry Like A Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind went triple-platinum.
After three decades of unprecedented success in so many areas, her career slowed down. In 2011 she announced her retirement, and later she revealed she has Parkinson’s Disease, and is “unable to sing a note”.
Finally, in 2014, she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame…20 years after she had become eligible! There are male performers who got in the hall for having one or two hits! Shame on the voters for waiting until one of America’s greatest and most successful voices had been silenced.
Update: Here’s a bonus recent photo of Linda Ronstadt at age 73. It comes from an excellent interview in the Los Angeles Times.
The interview was done just before a documentary about her, “The Sound Of My Voice”, was released in September of 2019. There’s a review of the film on this site.