Deeply immersed in the mid-1970s, we encounter another of the most influential singers of that time frame, the powerful and remarkable voice of Linda Ronstadt. On her fifth album, “Heart Like A Wheel”, she reached her biggest success and broke through after years of collaborating with artists like the Eagles, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Crosby, Stills and Nash, among others. This impressive collection of songs is rated #490 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums of All Time.
The album opens with what I consider to be her hallmark song, and the best song on the record, “You’re No Good”. Written by Clint Ballard Jr, and originally performed by Dionne Warwick’s sister Dee Dee Warwick, Ronstadt certainly had the most success with this song, even though some rock fans may recognize it from Van Halen II. Anyway, the true power and depth of her voice shines through on this version, and it is a true classic. Next is a soothing Paul Anka ballad, “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”. Ronstadt was informally mentored early in her career by Janis Joplin, and I wish Janis had also explored more of the soft side of her vocal prowess for contrast as well. Perhaps if she had more time…
Anyway, while the rest of side one is less memorable, side two kicks it back up with the Everly Brothers classic, “When Will I Be Loved”, another song that Linda makes her own. Two songs later, she does a gorgeous version of “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You)” by Hank Williams. One, I love that someone from Day Two of this blog is still influencing the path of musical evolution, and two, you can hear a lot of Patsy Cline-caliber country vocals here, complete with the crying steel guitar. Another country ballad follows, “Keep Me From Blowing Away”, that is a more modern take on country music while equally captivating. The album ends on a high note with a James Taylor track, “You Can Close Your Eyes”.
Like Elvis Presley many years ago, Linda Ronstadt was frequently given the high praise of a being a white vocalist who sang with the soul, passion, and quality of a black woman. I don’t think any of that matters, but no matter her appearance, at her peak, she could sing like very few others, and was so versatile and capable in many different styles and genres.