Bob Lefsetz: Welcome To My World - "Linda Ronstadt"

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Thursday, August 29, 2013
80s
Linda Rondstadt
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Bob Lefsetz: Welcome To My World - "Linda Ronstadt"

MAD LOVE

The album seen as a sell-out back then and completely forgotten today is Ronstadt stripped raw and gone punk and if you don't like it I don't care. And if you don't know it, you should.

"Justine"

Written by Mark Goldenberg and ultimately done better by his band the Cretones (not on Spotify, but you can listen here: http://bit.ly/1ciLDMn) that does not mean Ronstadt's version is not top-notch and special in its own way. Goldenberg emotes from deep down in his soul, he's got something to say and damn you're gonna listen, whereas Ronstadt is manipulating you! She's doing little tricks with her voice and making the lyrics come alive. Not long hereafter she morphed into a Broadway star, the oldsters' favorite, but this is pure rock and roll, everything Grace Potter is trying to do but is unable to achieve. Yes, Ronstadt looked like a dish, but not only did she have a pure instrument, she knew how to use it!

"Look Out For My Love"

Yes, the Neil Young song from his comeback album "Comes A Time" that really didn't achieve its goal, which was to recapture the magic of "Harvest." You can never go back, you can only go forward. Which Mr. Young did right thereafter, with "Rust Never Sleeps," ensuring he truly never faded away. Yup, one album, with a sound no one expects, can do that for you.

But unlike with "Justine" above, "Look Out For My Love" rocks harder than the writer's version. I learned to love "Look Out For My Love" via Ronstadt, even though I heard Neil's version first.

"Girls Talk"

Yes, the Elvis Costello song. One of two on "Mad Love." And Linda's rendition is far from sacrilegious. You hear the song, the performance does not dominate, like it did on so many early Costello records.

And there's not a bum note on "Mad Love," I love it. It's probably the Ronstadt album I spin most.

GET CLOSER

A return to the classic sound after the punk/new wave "Mad Love," "Get Closer" was seen as a disappointment and is, but there are two cuts so special that you'll be thrilled if you don't know them.

"Easy For You To Say"

A Jimmy Webb original long after his heyday as the songwriter of Top Forty hits, this track is so intimate and meaningful it almost creeps you out.

"Well that's easy for you to say
That I don't know what I'm doing
When you've thrown our love away
Left my life in ruin
That's easy for you to say"

Easy for you to say? Left my life in ruin? These are the lyrics of a great songwriter. It's not about complicated, but right. Because when they leave your life is in ruin in a way you never could have contemplated previously. And it's easy for the cavalier to say so much, as we sit on the sidelines so devastated we're unable to lick our wounds.

"Mr. Radio"

Listen to the original, by Roderick Taylor Falconer, which I've never ever heard before but discovered on Spotify, it's a completely different record! Good in its own right, but the feel is serious, whereas Ronstadt's take is haunting.

Ronstadt's version is a movie! You can see them taking the radio off the truck, the only entertainment in a world off the grid, long before the Internet, when the only people you came in contact with lived in your village.

HASTEN DOWN THE WIND

The Karla Bonoff album. And if you don't have Karla's Columbia debut with these three songs and so much more your life is not complete, certainly if you're a sensitive girl or boy with more questions than answers.

And at some point when I'm in the right, reflective mood I'm gonna write about that album, but it's so special I want to do it justice, which means I may never get the opportunity.

So, I'm not gonna write about "Lose Again," "If He's Ever Near" and "Someone To Lay Down Beside Me."

"The Tattler"

Once upon a time Ry Cooder had a sense of humor, was not crippled by the expectations of his audience and released album after album of stuff so far from the radar screen that if you bought it and enjoyed it you couldn't stop talking about it. Start with "Into The Purple Valley" and buy the self-titled, slickly produced first, just to hear "One Meat Ball." Then after misfiring with "Boomer's Story," Cooder came back with what is probably his best album, "Paradise and Lunch." After you spin it a few times, you'll find yourself singing "Married Man's A Fool" while walking to the bathroom and "Jesus on the Mainline," with its refrain to "call him up," at odd moments throughout the day, and even though "Tamp 'Em Up Solid" is so solid and "Mexican Divorce" is exquisite, the absolute killer on "Paradise and Lunch" is "Tattler."

Now the song has three writers. Cooder and his producer Russ Titelman and Washington Phillips, whose original is the blueprint.

But very few people knew either of these versions, Phillips's or Cooder's. And then Ronstadt blew the song into the stratosphere. That was her power, taking the unknown and revealing it to the masses, she was that big a star, one of the absolute biggest.

And Linda's take is smoother but just as intimate as the other two.

"Give One Heart"

A white reggae track written by John and Johanna Hall for the band Orleans, it appeared on their giant smash album "Still The One." And that rendition is good, but Linda's is spectacular! Orleans's is a bit overwrought, Linda's take is a bit lighter, with a bigger emphasis on the reggae beat and a magical chorus. It's the sleeper on "Hasten Down The Wind," you start to love it the sixth or tenth time through and then it's the one you wait for.

PRISONER IN DISGUISE

The second Geffen album, the one after the Capitol smash "Heart Like A Wheel," "Prisoner In Disguise" was a sales and artistic disappointment, it was just a bit too intimate when the audience was expecting something more upfront. You listen to "Prisoner In Disguise," whereas you feel part of "Heart Like A Wheel." You could play the latter at a party, you wouldn't do that with "Prisoner In Disguise," it was more for you alone, at home, in your bedroom.

"Prisoner In Disguise"

Yes, the title track, it's truly the best on the album, because of the harmony vocal of its writer, J.D. Souther. It brings tears to your eyes. The side would end, the tonearm would return to its resting place and you'd be sitting there in the darkness, contemplating your life. You just wished you had someone there to sing harmony with you.

And the song choices are amazing. Everything from the certified hit "Heat Wave" to "Hey Mister, That's Me Up On The Jukebox" to "Many Rivers To Cross," but although all are good, none are up to the standard set by the original. Although Ronstadt does make "Tracks Of My Tears" her own. It's my favorite of the famous covers.

As for the less famous... Lowell George might not have had the power or range of Ronstadt, but he was every bit the singer, and it's great that Linda cut "Roll Um Easy," but the original is far superior.

Then again, "You Tell Me That I'm Falling Down" only suffers from being inferior to the previous record's McGarrigle sisters' "Heart Like A Wheel."

"Love Is A Rose" preceded Neil Young's recording of his own song, unfortunately it's minor Young, and is a disappointment as an opener.

SIMPLE DREAMS

"Hasten Down The Wind" put Ronstadt back on top, and "Simple Dreams" maintained the momentum, it was every bit as big as its predecessor, it had even greater cultural impact.

If "Hasten Down The Wind" is her Bonoff album, "Simple Dreams" is her Warren Zevon record. And even though Zevon evidenced a personality absent from Ronstadt's take of "Poor Poor Pitiful Me," and a sense of humor, Ronstadt's is a far superior record, with the syndrums and Ronstadt's powerful vocal making an insider track positively powerful and mainstream.

And the track everybody remembers from "Simple Dreams" is "Blue Bayou," which honestly never penetrated me. I just don't love the song that much. And it seemed too much a showcase for her vocal abilities.

Once again, it's the J.D. Souther title track that's most memorable to me, it's the opposite of "Blue Bayou," totally heartfelt and meaningful, with a stunning instrumental coda. It's a keeper.

LIVING IN THE USA

I didn't buy this when it came out, I was burned out, I was pleasantly surprised by the follow-up, "Mad Love," this just seemed a repetition of the formula, with an inferior to Bonnie Raitt cover of "Blowing Away," a superfluous cover of Elvis Costello's "Alison" and a too obvious rendition of "Just One Look."

Still... Little Feat's original "All That You Dream" is superior, but Ronstadt's version has its own merit.

Meanwhile, nobody writes stuff like this anymore, never mind being able to sing it... Lowell George wasn't afraid to write from underneath as opposed to on top. And that's when we're truly interested, when you lose. But it was Paul Barrere and Billy Payne who wrote "All That You Dream," yet you'd never know it by listening to Lowell George sing it. Listen to it and know why even though he never really broke through himself, he was revered by all the L.A. insiders.

"I've been down, but not like this before!"

And Linda does sing backup vocals on the Little Feat original, but even better on "Living In The USA" is her cover of Warren Zevon's "Mohammed's Radio," unfortunately Zevon's original is a killer.

But my favorite song on "Living In The USA" is J.D. Souther's "White Rhythm & Blues." That's what we're all truly looking for, someone who cares when you lose.

DON'T CRY NOW

Wherein David Geffen liberates Linda and gives her creative control and she misfires. This was right before Peter Asher and Andrew Gold moved in and perfected the formula. "Sail Away" is truly laughable, like singing the phone book, it's got none of the humor of the Randy Newman original, it was excoriated at the time, but very few people ever heard it. But Ronstadt does cover "Desperado" before it became a national anthem. And there's a good cover of Rick Roberts's "Colorado" and a good rendition of Neil Young's "I Believe In You," but "Don't Cry Now" is for fans only, and even they can live without it.

AND now I'm running out of gas.

Yes, you've got to have "Different Drum" and "Long Long Time" from the initial Capitol albums, and there's a cover of Paul Siebel's "Louise" on "Silk Purse," but I never listened to those albums back then, didn't even own them, and few other people did either.

And the Nelson Riddle stuff was not my cup of tea and the Trio albums lacked superior material and...there's so much material that I can't cover it all.

And I already Rhinofied "Heart Like A Wheel."

But, I do want to point out there's a good cover of Karla Bonoff's "Goodbye My Friend" on "Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind," but the Linda Ronstadt track I play most, which I've also written about before, comes from her 1995 return to her classic sound, "Feels Like Home."

"The Waiting"

"Oh baby don't it feel like heaven right now
Don't it feel like something from a dream"

That's what it's like, coming home from the record store with the vinyl record of your favorite artist under your arm. You break the shrinkwrap, pull out the inner sleeve, drop the record on the platter, lift the needle and...

"Well yeah I might have chased a couple women around"

That was what was special about Linda Ronstadt. She was both a girl's girl and a guy's girl. In an era where people were still questioning whether to have premarital sex, she not only flaunted her sexuality, but went through an endless series of desirable boyfriends, truly living the rock star life when that was more about attitude and everyday living than cash. If you were a star, you had a golden ticket to the smorgasbord of the entire world, and Linda Ronstadt partook.

"The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card"

Ain't that the truth. You think you know the future, but you don't. You're just humming along and then you fall into an unforeseen ditch, you get cancer, you get Parkinson's. But the amazing thing about the ride is despite all the negatives, there's always a silver lining.

"Oh don't let it kill you baby, don't let it get to you
Don't let it kill you baby, don't let it get to you
I'll be your bleedin' heart, I'll be your cryin' fool
Don't let this go too far"

That's right, don't let this go too far. It's sad that Linda Ronstadt can't sing anymore, but she's not dead. Don't put her six feet under yet, like that old Broadway chestnut says, she's got a lot of livin' to do.

But the truth is a small fraction of the world ever saw her sing live. But the records, they are not buried treasures, but living artifacts that are not only in our memories but are spun on a regular basis.

And the truth is what was evidenced in every Linda Ronstadt track was life. The pure joy of being alive. Of course there was introspection, downers, but isn't that how it really is?

That's art. The full panoply of life.

And it's embodied in Linda Ronstadt's canon.

And now she's gonna get a victory lap in which everybody who decried her is going to try and glom on and glorify her. She'll be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, there are already tons of tributes.

But it's never about awards. It's about every day, it's about life.

So I say Linda, give Jann Wenner and his cronies the middle finger! Keep spouting your left wing positions! Keep evidencing that three-dimensional personality that got the conservative in both political position and emotional condition so tied up in knots.

You are truly a rock star.

SCREW 'EM!

We always loved you and still do. You were our Jane Russell, our Ava Gardner, you were every boy's heart's desire and a role model for all females. But unlike those two dimensional movie stars, you had a full-bodied personality, you were everything we wanted to be.

And still are.