Once upon a time in the golden days of the music world, there were female singers who were known primarily for their songs and their voice. Those were the days my friends. No gyrating around like a porn star in barely-there costumes and thigh-high hooker boots. It was all about the music.
On New Years Day CNN aired a documentary special, Linda Ronstadt – The Sound of My Voice which takes a look back at the forty year career of this music icon, one of the first female rock stars. Here’s the trailer:
While I was not a big fan back when she was popular, I found the documentary interesting for its take on this trailblazing woman who flourished in what was basically a male universe. Although I remember her mostly from her 70’s rock songs, her 80’s American standards phase, and her legendary performance in the operetta The Pirates of Penzance, I found her early folk days in LA during the sixties to be the most interesting. Not yet famous, she toured with the likes of Neil Young, Jackson Browne and Glenn Frye and Don Henley of Eagles fame. By the late 1970’s she was referred to as The First Lady of Rock and voted the Top Female Pop Singer of the decade, appearing six times on the cover of the Rolling Stone.
She arrived in LA at the age of 18, joined a band called the Stone Poneys, and was on her way after their first hit, “Different Drummer” which was written by Mike Nesbitt of The Monkees. I always liked that song, but if you listen to the lyrics, it’s certainly an ode to the early days of women’s lib. The LA music scene was basically a man’s world, but shortly thereafter came an onslaught of popular female singers, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Emmy Lou Harris, Carly Simon and Stevie Nicks. Of course, even back then, good looks and costumes helped with the performance (think Stevie Nicks floating around the stage in her gauzy creations singing Rhiannon), but can you imagine any of them prancing around the stage dressed like a porn star? How about Ella Fitzgerald, Barbara Streisand or Julie Andrews? Linda Ronstadt was a cutie and she wore cute outfits (it’s worth a fashion look back) but she didn’t rely on her looks – her voice was the star. Eventually she got tired of playing in big arenas and the “rock chick” image they packaged her into (including some racy magazine covers she didn’t approve of), and branched out to different genres – country, old classics, light opera and the Mexican music of her childhood.
LR didn’t write her own songs, but she had a knack for picking good ones and could basically sing anything, and while Dolly Parton may have called her the Beyonce of the days, IMO there is no comparison. I am probably one of the few people in the universe who thinks Beyonce is highly over-rated. An okay voice but no good songs to show for it. Strutting around in high boots and black leather at the Superbowl does not a memorable performance make – well maybe for the guys. My Canadian TV station refused to air one of her award show performances (the one with her equally over-rated husband), as it didn’t meet the Canadian Broadcasting Standards for decency on a Sunday night. Maybe we’re prudes up here in Canada.
I used to think Taylor Swift was a classy gal, (good songwriter, not so good voice), but lately even she seems to have succumbed to the racy trend. Is Lady Gaga, ladylike? Would a real lady sit at the piano in her underwear? As for Miley Cyrus, Niki Manaj and all the rest – do they need attention that badly? (It must be difficult to raise daughters and sons, these days if these are their musical idols). While female singers may argue that it’s their choice and they now have the freedom and right to act as they please, is it a choice or is it just what is expected now. Show the most skin possible has become the new norm. Is that how they want to be remembered some day? I recall Prince’s brilliant performance at the Superbowl but Beyonce’s skimpy outfits. Whatever happened to just standing in front of the mic and singing the song in the best voice possible. Oh yea, that’s just for the guys. It’s still a double standard folks.
When is it time to hang it up? Would you still want to be shaking your booty at fifty even if you’re in great shape? Are you listening Madonna? Jennifer Lopez? Shaina Twain? The last one is the most disappointing based on the snippet of her Vegas show I saw during the New Years Eve countdown. Slithering around in a tight leopard skin outfit detracts from the music, unless you’re in a production of Cats, and even then it’s distracting! Sorry ladies, but past a certain age it just gets to be an embarrassment. Whatever happened to growing old gracefully? While you might argue that no one cares if wrinkled old Mick is still prancing around the stage at age 75, the stage moves of the Rolling Stones were never the focus of their show – it was the music. Personally I think Mick should hang it up too, same with Paul McCartney – his voice is gone – I cringe every time I hear him sing as I am comparing it his glory days.
LR seems like a grounded, level headed person. It was interesting to hear her discuss the pitfalls of the business even back then, and why music idols often self destruct. She’s a class act all the way.
Sadly, she has developed a form of Parkinson’s disease and has not sung professionally for the past decade. She may no longer be able to hear the sound of her voice, but we can as her music legacy will live on.
PS. If you missed it, CNN tends to show their specials over again, but it ‘s also available on Amazon and Apple Music. It’s worth viewing if only for the clothes. I do wish shag haircuts would come back in style, but those 80’s perms – never!
PS. In 2013 she published her memoir, Simple Dreams A Musical Memoir (link) which looks like it would be an interesting read for music fans. (1000 words)