Saturday, March 26, 2016

"Heart Like a Wheel," Linda Ronstadt (1974)

One of my Christmas presents in 1974 was an AM/FM clock radio, on which I began my slow transition from listening almost exclusively to AM radio over to the more adventurous climes (at least in those days) of FM.  I wasn't quite ready for the "free-form" format of KZAP, which went deep into album cuts (in many cases, of artists that I'd never heard of), but embraced "K-108 FM" which wasn't quite as adventurous but did introduce me to such classics as Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks."  

Even though it was Christmas vacation, just for the heck of it I set the alarm on Christmas night, and the song that woke me up the next morning was Linda Ronstadt's "You're No Good" - one of the best singles of its time, and the song that really turned Ronstadt from a popular cult artist into a massive superstar.

I'm not sure that Ronstadt really gets her due today, but I think part of the reason for that was her turn towards Sinatra-style ballads in the early 1980s.  While very popular, her versions of such classics as "What's New" paled in comparison to the originals - her wonderful voice was as beautiful as ever, but she brought little in the way of emotions to her interpretations.

"Heart Like a Wheel," on the other hand, is a great album; one that demonstrated Ronstadt's ability as an interpreter of other people's songs as well as anything she ever recorded.  I actually prefer her version of the title track to the original by the McGarrigle sisters, and on the record she proves that she's up to covering both Hank Williams ("I Can't Help It If I'm Still in Love With You") and Lowell George ("Willin').  She even breathes life into an old Paul Anka song, for cryin' out loud.

Christgau: A-.  "For the first time, everybody's sexpot shows confidence in her own intelligence. As a result, she relates to these songs instead of just singing them. It's even possible to imagine her as a lady trucker going down on Dallas Alice--and to fault her for ignoring the metaphorical excesses of Anna McGarrigle's title lyric just so she can wrap her lungs around that sweet, decorous melody."

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