|This article is from the Dirty Linen magazine #106 (June / July 2003). The magazine is available on newsstands and by subscription.|
Silver Threads & Golden Needles
by T.J. McGrath
Talking to Linda Ronstadt on the phone about her recently released The Very Best of Linda Ronstadt is an exercise in keeping both ears open. A natural-born conversationalist, she can easily discuss thematic underpinnings of popular songs from the 1950s while giving explicit instructions to her adolescent daughter on how to barbeque a chicken. Her career in music, four decades long, has embraced a wide assortment of styles and genres, including folk, country, rock, jazz, pop, Cajun, Broadway, Spanish language, and, lately, bluegrass. One of her talents is picking the perfect song to suit her vocal abilities, and, in the process, she has given her fans selections from the best songwriters out there: Jimmy Webb, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Chuck Berry, Warren Zevon, Karla Bonoff, Randy Newman, Elvis Costello, Smokey Robinson, Jackson Browne, and dozens of others. With more than 32 albums under her belt, many of them certified gold and platinum, and an armload of Grammy awards, she must be doing something right.
The Very Best of Linda Ronstadt
Back in the 70s, Linda Ronstadt's voice was ubiquitous. As the disc jockeys used to say: The hits just kept on coming. "When Will I Be Loved," "Heatwave," "It's So Easy," "You're No Good," "Blue Bayou," "Just One Look," "Poor Poor Pitiful Me," "Tracks of My Tears," "That'll Be the Day," "Ooh Baby Baby," "Long Long Time," "Back in the U.S.A.," "Love is a Rose," "Hurt So Bad," and "Heart Like a Wheel." Never mind that almost every one of these was a cover version of a song first made popular by a famous and influential 1960s artist. With help from producer Peter Asher, Ronstadt updated these tunes with a formulaic sound that relied on punchy guitar hooks. In doing so, though, she introduced a slightly younger generation to people like Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers, and Smokey Robinson. And she popularized others, such as Warren Zevon and the McGarrigle Sisters, whose songs she helped make into classics. That's what's great about this greatest hits collection. Unfortunately, it omits two of her best tracks, ones that she recorded early in her career and helped establish her sound - "Silver Threads and Golden Needles," and "Love Has No Pride." Both of these can be found on the first greatest hits album released two decades ago. Instead of these time-worn gems, we get a few of her outings in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including some duets with Aaron Neville and James Ingram. These ballads were nice and charted quite high. So it's logical they show up here. But at a price. Perhaps the thing to do would have been to release a two-disc best-of with every one of her well-known songs, including a few other covers that didn't make this one. This collection is pretty darn good, but incomplete. Call it the almost very best of.
-Ed Silverman (Short Hills, NJ)