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Music / Linda Ronstadt

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The Queen of Remakes

"Cause I've done everything I know to try and make you mine
And I think I'm gonna love you for a long long time
Linda Ronstadt, "Long Long Time"

Linda Maria Ronstadt (born July 15, 1946) is an American pop singer from Tucson, Arizona, who started her career in the 1960s and has gone on to sell over 60 million albums worldwide. Casey Kasem described her as "the queen of remakes" for her uncanny ability to transform long-forgotten oldies (or songs from relatively unknown artists) into modern pop hits.

She got her start in the band The Stone Poneys, who scored a big hit with the Michael Nesmith song "Different Drum" in 1967. She immediately garnered attention from record executives - too much attention, actually - which led to tensions that brought about the band's breakup. Ronstadt then went solo, departing from the folk-rock sound of The Stone Poneys to a Country Rock sound on her debut solo album Hand Sown...Home Grown. While it was a commercial failure, she emerged at the forefront of the West Coast Country Rock movement in the early 1970s. She built a following and found some commercial success with her fourth album, 1973's Don't Cry Now. She finally broke out with 1974's Heart Like a Wheel, driven by two massive hits, "When Will I Be Loved" and "You're No Good". While Heart Like a Wheel was a hybrid of Country Rock and a more mainstream Rock/Pop sound, Ronstadt moved in a more mainstream Rock direction with her next two albums, Prisoner in Disguise (1975) and Hasten Down the Wind (1976). She reached her commercial peak in the late 1970s/early 1980s with Simple Dreams (1977), Living in the U.S.A (1978) and Mad Love (1980), in which she was one of the best-selling and highest-grossing musicians in America. The success of her concert tours of the era was unprecedented for a female solo act, as she was the first to sell out stadiums and arenas.

After 1982's Get Closer performed below her previous three albums - which has been attributed to Ronstadt struggling to adapt to the new music video format popularized by MTV - she went in a more experimental direction. She released three consecutive big band ballad albums with The Nelson Riddle Orchestra, What's New (1983), Lush Life (1984), and For Sentimental Reasons (1986). She then released an album of Spanish-language Mariachi music, Canciones de Mi Padre (1987), in celebration of her Mexican ancestry.note  With 2 million copies sold in the US and 10 million sold worldwide, it is the most successful non-English language album in American history. She again found mainstream commercial and critical success late in the decade. First with the massively successful single "Somewhere Out There" from the An American Tail soundtrack, which peaked at #2 in 1987, then with the highly acclaimed and successful album Trio (1987) which she recorded in a trio with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. She fully won back the crowd in late 1989 with Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind, which was a major critical and commercial smash. It sold well through 1990 and its two lead singles Don't Know Much and All My Life, duets with Aaron Neville, were both top 20 hits in 1990 and won Ronstadt and Neville the Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance With Duo or Group With Vocal for two consecutive years, in 1990 and 1991, respectively.

Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind would end up being Ronstadt's last hurrah, as her 1993 follow-up Winter Light ended up being an Acclaimed Flop, and she was subsequently relegated to being a legacy act. She continued to record and tour, releasing her last solo studio album Hummin' to Myself in 2004 and performed her last concert in 2009. She confirmed her retirement in 2011, subsequently revealing that she has Parkinson's disease which left her unable to sing. Deteriorating health has forced her to generally withdraw from public life - she was sadly unable to attend her 2014 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a result - but still occasionally appears as a public speaker, discussing her career and the evolution of rock music. Her memoirs, Simple Dreams, were released in 2013.

Ronstadt is regarded is one of the greatest vocalists of the Baby Boomer generation and is considered a groundbreaking and influential act, as her solo album sales and concert ticket grosses were unprecedented for a female solo act, let alone a Hispanic one. She was the first female solo act to regularly sell out stadiums and arenas, and her high standing in the previously male-dominated world of rock music paved the way for the massively successful female solo pop/rock acts of the 1980s and beyond. She has won 11 Grammy Awards, sold over 60 million albums and was both inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and awarded a National Medal of Arts and Humanities in 2014. Living in the U.S.A. was the first album in history to ship double platinum, and Canciones de Mi Padre is the best selling non-English language album in American history. She can be credited with launching the careers of the Eagles, who served as her backup band in the early 1970s, and the solo career of Aaron Neville from him being her duet partner on Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind. She was also a childhood crush of Barack Obama.

"Tropes Like a Wheel":

  • Actor Allusion: Not only does she sing harmony on the track "Under African Skies" from Paul Simon's Graceland, Simon has confirmed that one of the verses is about her as well.
    In early memory
    Mission music
    Was ringing 'round my nursery door
    I said take this child, Lord
    From Tucson, Arizona
    Give her the wings to fly through harmony
    And she won't bother you no more
  • All Love Is Unrequited: "Long Long Time" is a Torch Song sung by a woman in love with someone who doesn't love her.
    Caught in my fears
    Blinking back the tears
    I can't say you hurt me when you never let me near
  • Arch-Enemy: "Enemy" may be too strong, but, suffice to say, critics have had a generally mixed opinion of her and her work for quite some time.
  • Award-Bait Song: The Award-Bait Song. Her version of "Somewhere Out There" with James Ingram from An American Tail hit #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and received two Grammy Awards, and both Golden Globe and Oscar nominations.
  • Autobiography: 2013's Simple Dreams
  • Breakout Character: Her early 1970s backup band went on to become the Eagles. You might have heard of them.
    • Ronstadt herself could count as this in the context of The Stone Poneys. All the extra attention Ronstadt received compared to the rest of the band led to their break up.
  • Canon Discontinuity: Some of her albums, including Get Closer, Winter Lights, We Ran, Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind and Dedicated to the One I Love, are out of print.
    • Physically. They are all still available online for streaming and download.
  • Celebrity Crush: She is Barack Obama's, as he revealed when he awarded her the National Medal of Arts and Humanaties in 2014.
  • Christmas Songs: 2000's A Merry Little Christmas
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Her declining health has prevented her from appearing at many ceremonies and tributes, including her 2014 induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. When she was unable to appear alongside Dolly Parton and EmmyLou Harris in promoting a new Trio box set, some of the TV shows they appeared on arraigned for fans to send their well-wishes to her, even displaying them on air.
  • Coattail-Riding Relative: Many of her family members are also musicians. Most notable are her brother Michael and the few who perform in the band "Ronstadt Generations". While neither have achieved national notoriety, they both became successful regional acts and are supported by segments of Ronstadt's fanbase.
  • Cover Album: Technically all of them, since she wrote few of the songs she sang, but she moved toward themed cover albums later in her career:
    • Her trio of albums of jazz standards in the 1980s (What's New, Lush Life and For Sentimental Reasons) with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, followed in 2004 with another album of jazz standards (Hummin' To Myself) with a jazz combo.
    • Her 1987 album Canciones de Mi Padre was a collection of traditional Mexican folk songs, followed by two more Spanish-language albums, Mas Canciones and Frenesi.
  • Cover Version: All of her songs. Of special note is that she had multiple hit covers of Buddy Holly and Motown songs.
  • Game-Breaking Injury: Claimed that Parkinson's disease has taken away her singing voice.
  • Genre Roulette: Country, folk, jazz (her trilogy of What's New, Lush Life and For Sentimental Reasons), rock, mariachi (Canciones de mi Padre)... Enforced by Ronstadt herself, as all the different styles were all music she grew up listening to starting in her childhood.
  • Greatest Hits Album: Her first was in 1976, titled Greatest Hits.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: With Aaron Neville on Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind
  • Iconic Item: Her large, sliver, dangling hoop earrings. Associated enough with her public image that in America they're now commonly known as "Linda Ronstadt earrings".
    • To a lesser extent, her roller skating outfit sported on the cover and promotional materials for Living in the U.S.A.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Her debut album was called Hand Sown...Home Grown, her second album was Silk Purse, and starting from that she seemed to have a preference for album titles that were either four words (Heart Like a Wheel, Hasten Down the Wind, Living in the USA, Canciones de Mi Padre, A Merry Little Christmas) or two words (Simple Dreams, Mad Love, Get Closer, What's New, Lush Life, Mas Canciones, Winter Light, We Ran). The four-word titles got a Serial Escalation with Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind.
  • Ink-Suit Actor: As Herself on the "Mr. Plow" episode of The Simpsons.
  • It's Not You, It's Me: "Different Drum"
    "Now I ain't saying you ain't pretty
    All I'm saying is I'm not ready
    For any person place or thing
    Trying to pull the reins in on me"
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Poor Poor Pitiful Me.
  • Mentor Archetype: The Eagles owe their careers to her.
  • Motor Mouth: Talks a mile a minute in interviews and concerts, often giving blunt and candid opinions on a variety of topics. See for yourself!
    • Got her in trouble in 2004 when during a concert at the Aladdin Theatre in Las Vegas she criticized then-President George W. Bush and praised Michael Moore and his documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. While it drew a mixed reaction from the crowd, it got her evicted from the theatre and became a national controversy. Not that it stopped her, as she continued giving the monologue at her summer concerts through 2006. At one 2006 Canadian concert, she called Bush an idiot and a racist.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: With Jackson Browne, who she's been close friends with since their salad days in the 1970s. This is on full display in the documentary "Linda and the Mockingbirds".
  • Politician Guest-Star: Dated California Governor Jerry Brown for a few years in the late 70s/early 80s, which brought greater public scrutiny on both of their personal lives. During Brown's campaign for president in 1980, buttons were distributed which encouraged a vote for Brown to bring about First Lady Linda Ronstadt.
  • Prefers Going Barefoot: She frequently went barefoot both on stage and several of her early album covers.
  • Record Producer: The vast majority of her albums were produced by Peter Asher (of Peter and Gordon fame) and/or John Boylan.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" provides an In-Universe example:
    "You can't buy my love with money cause I never was that kind"
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: After performing with Chuck Berry on "Back in the USA" during the latter's 60th birthday concert, she was so frustrated with the song that she decided to not come back for the second concert occuring that night.
  • Self-Titled Album: 1972's Linda Ronstadt
  • "Sesame Street" Cred: Hosted an episode of The Muppet Show in 1980. Also appeared on Sesame Street in 1987/88 when she was promoting Canciones de ma Padre.
  • Silly Love Songs: Many of her songs fit somewhere in this category.
  • Something Blues:
    • (Stone Poneys)
    • "Some of Shelley's Blues"
    • (Solo)
    • "Lovesick Blues"
    • "White Rhythm and Blues"
    • "Morning Blues"
    • "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues"
    • "I Feel the Blues Movin' In"
  • The Something Song: Both from her days in the band the Stone Poneys: "Song About the Rain", on Evergreen Vol. 2 and "Golden Song", which is part of "Fragments" on Stone Poneys Vol. III.
  • Spinoff: One version of her backup band became the Eagles.
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: While with The Stone Poneys, Ronstadt received much more attention over the rest of the band, including where record executives had her record the commercial single Different Drum with session musicians without telling the rest of the band. This led to tensions that brought about their break up and Ronstadt going solo.
  • Token Wholesome: Varied. She did not like the sexy image Time tried to give her on the cover of its February 28, 1977 issue. She originally shot the cover for Simple Dreams in a mini-slip, though she didn't like how much skin was showing and redid it in a robe. The cover to Hasten Down the Wind did not seem to bother her though.