In Ten Tracks: Linda Ronstadt

In Ten Tracks is a selection of tracks that have meaning to me and have stuck with me through the years, appearing frequently on mixtapes and playlists. Not necessarily stuff you’ll find on an artist’s Greatest Hits collection.

In 10 Tracks: Linda Ronstadt YouTube playlist

Rock Me on the Water  Linda Ronstadt began her solo recording career at Capitol Records. Capitol had a reputation for taking on young singers, such as Lou Rawls and Tanya Tucker and nurturing their talent until they became well-known recording artists. This album, Linda’s third, didn’t sell much at all, but it helped her establish her niche as a pleasant combination of rock and country music. The nucleus of the album’s backup band became The Eagles a short time after her debut album was recorded. “Rock Me On the Water” is from her third Capitol outing and the songwriter, Jackson Browne, released his version of the song on his debut album, Saturate When Wet only months after Linda’s. Immediately Ronstadt’s clear, strong voice establishes itself as a force to be reckoned with as well as her ability to pick out the best songs and songwriters from among the many talents of her generation.

In 10 Tracks: Linda Ronstadt Spotify playlist

Faithless Love  This track comes from Heart Like a Wheel, Linda’s final Capitol recording, just as her brand of country-pop and Southern California rock was catching on. JD Souther, a songwriter who debuted in ’72 and recorded this song himself in 1976, plays acoustic guitar and lends harmony vocals. It’s a great song choice for Ronstadt, sounding like a traditional folk song–already the standard that it was to become. Note: Spotify playlist contains the studio version, YouTube playlist has live 1977 performance.

You’re No Good–This hard-rocking 1974 live performance comes from the Johnny Cash recording A Concert Behind Prison Walls. The performances were recorded as part of a television special, and other performers include Roy Clark and Foster Brooks. Ronstadt is backed here by Cash’s own Tennessee Three band and they provide some roadhouse grit that is missing from the cool sheen of her studio version. Linda responds, growling and soaring through one of her best-known songs. Incidentally, the concert was recorded for television and the music was never released separately until 2009.

Many Rivers to Cross  Prisoner In Disguise (1975) Linda Ronstadt’s next album, applied the formula of Heart Like a Wheel–great songs, many by friends, and a band of familiar and supportive musicians, as well as the production work of Peter Asher. Jimmy Cliff’s “Many Rivers to Cross” has been recorded an untold number of times by artists as diverse as Harry Nilsson, UB40, Eric Burdon, and Annie Lennox, but few versions are as heartfelt Linda’s. Nice piano and organ work by Andrew Gold on this one.

Carmelita  Ronstadt recorded several Warren Zevon songs over her career: “Hasten Down the Wind,” “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” “Mohammed’s Radio,” and this lilting ballad about a heroin-addicted lover. The album Simple Dreams displaced Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors after it had spent 29 weeks at the top of the album charts. Linda was at the height of her rock arena career at this time–she guested as a backup vocalist on Warren Zevon’s Excitable Boy album at the same time she enjoyed a huge hit with his “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” (also from Simple Dreams). A Linda Ronstadt concert appearance was also featured in the film FM where she performed “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” and the Rolling Stones’ “Tumbling Dice.”

All That You Dream  Linda recorded a few Lowell George songs over her career and often as not George himself sat in on her recording sessions of his songs. When Lowell passed away in 1979 at the age of 34, his friends and fellow musicians organized a tribute concert to him. The event sold out LA’s Forum and featured Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, JD Souther, Emmylou Harris, Nicolette Larson and many others from the Los Angeles rock community. Linda performed “All That You Dream,” a performance included on the Little Feat two-record release Hoy! Hoy! that included a lot of unfinished material, B-sides and other odds and ends from the band’s final years. She had recorded a decent version of the song on her 1978 album Livin’ In the USA, but the band and production didn’t rock as hard as this live version, which shows that Linda wasn’t merely a powerhouse in the studio, but truly had the goods live. 

Hobo’s Meditation In 1986 Linda Ronstadt recorded the album Trio with Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton. The release quickly became #1 on the Billboard Country chart where it remained for five consecutive weeks. The three singers had wanted to make an album together since the mid-70s but were unable to complete a project due to scheduling conflicts, recording contracts and other obstacles of the music business. Nonetheless, the girls had collaborated, singing together in various combinations on tracks from their various solo albums over the years. Linda takes the lead on Jimmy Rodgers’ “Hobo’s Meditation,” displaying her deep country roots once again.

Loving the Highway Man From the 1999 album of duets with Emmylou Harris Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions, which I can’t recommend highly enough. This spare, quirky song was written and originally recorded by Andy Prieboy, who was Wall of Voodoo’s post-Stan Ridgeway lead singer from 1983-88. Ronstadt’s opening lines–“The wind is a warning/these fields turn to sand” sets the tone for this collection of American music shared by two women who are superlative musical interpreters and trailblazers. It doesn’t hurt that they are backed by musicians like Neil Young, Andy Fairweather Low, and the McGarrigle Sisters.

 New Partner Waltz  This is a duet Linda performed with bluegrass musician and songwriter Carl Jackson on the Louvin Brothers tribute Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’. Jackson also produced the Grammy Award-winning tribute album which featured duets by many country and popular artists. The Louvin Brothers’ wistful song about going to the dance with someone you know won’t be going home with you gets a beautiful, direct reading by Jackson and Ronstadt. Linda did a lot of backup singing on projects of friends, including Warren Zevon, Neil Young, JD Souther, Nicolette Larson, Andrew Gold, and others, and it’s because her voice, while strong and distinctive, could meld so well with the voices of others.

Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues Linda’s 1998 album We Ran was pretty much her last rock-oriented project and it was a commercial failure, so much so that Elektra put the CD out of print in 2009. That’s a shame because it provides a good selection of songs by some great rock songwriters and features the backing of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers. Linda Ronstadt was always good at singing ballads and songs about people who were down on their luck or looking for redemption. Here she tackles Dylan’s song with the heart of a poet and the voice of an angel. 

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