Linda Ronstadt – Tribute to a Female Music Icon

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)

   

34 thoughts on “Linda Ronstadt – Tribute to a Female Music Icon

  1. www.rosesintherainmemoir.wordpress.com says:

    You mentioned Barbra Streisand. Oh, how I miss her performances, both vocal and in movies. And that purely New York Yankee accent! Love it.

    But I never was into rock stars or their music. The crooners were my favorites in pop music in those days. The other night we watched a tribute to Tony Bennett. Toward the final moments, he came down to the stage and actually sang in his beautiful “old man” voice. Ahhh….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      I have a lot of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin on my classic playlist. I like Tony Bennett too. He’s one of the older singers who has kept his voice and still sings very well. I didn’t like his duets with Lady Gaga a few years ago though, as I couldn’t handle the visual of her in an evening gown with all those ugly tatoos peeking out – not classy at all! Same thing with her performance of Julie Andrews songs at the Oscars a few years ago – she did a good job with the tribute though.

      Like

  2. Kate Crimmins says:

    I definitely was into rock during this time. Loved Janis Joplin (who did not appear almost naked to my knowledge). Linda was my favorite. She sings in my key so I could sing along without sounding super bad. I agree about the half naked female singers today. What’sup with that? Not a Beyonce fan either. She is beautiful and talented and she can dance but I can’t focus on her singing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dave says:

    Thank you for this recommendation, which I’ve added to my Amazon Prime watchlist. My wife and I saw this trailer in the movie theater (when we saw “Downton Abbey”, I think), and even just the trailer made me realize there’s a lot more to LR’s legacy than I realized. I wouldn’t know any of her music were it not for my older brother and his teenage crush on her. But “When Will I Be Loved” and “Blue Bayou” come back like they were yesterday. As for today’s “poppy” acts, they’re hardly worth mentioning in the same post as LR. Maybe that’s why my wife and I enjoy country music. The genre still has a handful of performers who are more about the music than the entertainment (i.e. Chris Stapleton).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      That’s a good point re country. I like some of the older country songs, but don’t know many new ones. I went to a country musical theatre production last summer and was surprised by how many classics I knew. I think I listened to LR songs on the radio as they seemed familiar, but never knew much about her background.

      Like

      • annieasksyou says:

        I wasn’t a huge LR fan back in the day either, but the trailer and your commentary have convinced me to look for the documentary.

        I think there are still some older women who look pretty darn good—Rita Moreno comes to mind. But you’re certainly right about the double standard.

        I’m am a Lady Gaga fan (despite the tattoos). I find her a versatile talent, and there’s something about her vulnerability that moves me. I enjoyed her duets with Tony Bennett, who’s still amazing.

        FYI: My actual post—a redo of the post that was erroneously published this morning—is now safely up with the title “The Gremlins Are Really After Me.” I hope you’ll come visit. The messed up file you saw has been trashed.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. lindasschaub says:

    I really did like Linda Ronstadt as I mentioned to you before – she was always a favorite and I was surprised when I saw an interview she had about a year ago when she insisted she was just lucky as she never wrote any songs – like you said, she was lucky, but she really downplayed her success and her abilities. I think I could sing to all her famous songs and now I di listen to her greatest hits sometimes during the day on YouTube … I don’t have any of my albums anymore as I don’t own a turntable. One thing I was surprised was how fast she spoke. Her workds just seemed to tumble out very quickly. Such a shame to lose her voice to Parkinson’s. I don’t like the modern singers – I went on YouTube to watch Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper singing “In the Shallows” – he, who took voice lessons to sing in the movie and sounded good; then she was fine, until she had to suddenly shout/scream the lyrics and her looks … I agree, a simply gorgeous gown, but all the tattoos and she looks a little rough up close. I didn’t “get” the pairing with Tony Bennett either. And all the aging singers prancing around in their outfits which don’t leave much to the imagination is something I don’t get either – think Cher trying to recapture her youth and her outlandish costumes she wore on her and Sonny’s TV show. Maybe I am just getting to be an old fuddy duddy, but Linda Ronstadt sang with a pure and good voice, without all the bells and whistles and special sound equipment, a lot of razmatazz – just good music and lots of feeling attached to those lyrics.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      An excellent summary Linda! I still have my albums packed away in the furnace room and I do have a turntable combo CD/radio thing I bought at Sears years ago, but it’s down in the basement and I seldom go down there except for laundry. I remember when we would listen to the whole record, not just the top songs.

      Liked by 1 person

      • lindasschaub says:

        Yes, I like our era better … when we were young, like teenaged years, it was just the 45s as we could afford them with our allowances … and my allowance was not much, so I raked leaves and shoveled snow to get more money to buy 45s and those yellow inserts for my portable record player. When I started working at the diner is when I believe I started buying albums from a store that specialized in low-cost albums. It is now out of business and was kind of like a KMart (E.J. Korvettes) but everyone went there to buy record albums. I may still have some 8-track tapes downstairs as when I got my first stereo system (small and nothing fancy), it had an 8-track player – CDs did not happen for a while after that, for me anyway. Ah, the good old days and we used to know all the songs on the album, whether it was a “Greatest Hits” album or not … I had a Jim Croce album of his greatest hits and I am surprised I did not wear out the grooves for it as I played it so much and I think this was after his untimely death in 1973, I remember the year as our newspaper staff had been trying to put together our first edition of “The Ford Estate” and brainstorming what would be our feature stories … that became one of them. A neighbor’s son married in 1974 in a tiny chapel at Greenfield Village and they had a simple service with a guy who came in and played guitar and sang “Time in a Bottle” … beautiful. The marriage did not last – he remarried and Lori was diagnosed with brain cancer and has since passed away. A little bittersweet but it was a beautiful song in that chapel nonetheless.

        Liked by 1 person

      • lindasschaub says:

        That was/is a beautiful song … he was very popular. I liked him and Gordon Lightfoot and I always liked Neil Diamond and saw him with friends a few times at Pine Knob, an outdoor venue. I think I mentioned that to you when you had the song “September Morn” on your blog one time. I didn’t go to a lot of concerts, but the group of us on the newspaper staff all hung around together and we went to some concerts together – always “Beach Boys” and “Chicago” too.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Anne says:

    I enjoyed reading this and reminiscing about the songs and singers of long ago. What has puzzled me for a while is how much louder the music often is compared with the voices of the singers, so they end up shouting – male or female. I agree with you completely about the outfits: the voice is the thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      It seems today women don’t know that there’s a difference between looking good and looking trashy. If you dressed too racy at work back then no one would have taken you seriously. Too sexy at night, invited the wrong kind of trouble. I guess they must feel that sexual harassment laws protect them – but do they? If they did you wouldn’t need the metoomovement.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. J P says:

    Sounds like something worth a watch. I think you may have missed Adele, who is about the music and not the skin.

    Ever the contrarian, I have difficulty with the “breaker of barriers in a man’s world” label these folks seem to want to give her. Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee were queens of their own kingdoms long before rock, and for my money Carole King was the real trailblazer, with far more musical talent (just look at the number of hit songs she wrote). And then the Supremes, Aretha Franklin, . . . Where do we stop?

    Ronstadt was popular in her day, but got a lot of non-musical fame from her marriage to the governor of California.

    I tried to get on the Linda train with her What’s New album in the 80s. I really tried, but her voice was just wrong for those songs, particularly when she slipped into “belt out that phrase” mode.

    So, while I like much of her output and can congratulate her on a successful career, I have trouble getting beyond a 7/10 in terms of real musical influence.

    Sorry, didn’t mean to rain on your excitement. 🤔

    Liked by 1 person

    • J P says:

      Upon reflection, I am unhappy with the tone I struck in the above comment. Perhaps it was late afternoon doldrums or something. She forged a memorable career and, although she was not much of a writer of songs, had good taste in her choice of material for recording over the years. I also appreciate her interest in crossing into unfamiliar genres, something that exposed fans to new things. It is far from nothing the sustained level of success that she was able to achieve over a long period of time.

      I will confess to a prejudice against the pop music of the mid to late 1970s and a general contrarian streak, and I allowed those things to get in the way of the more thoughtful and considered response that your post should have received. Please accept my apologies for the overly acerbic remarks above.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        JP, I didn’t find your remarks acerbic. You were just expressing your opinion, and I know you have much more of a musical background than I do, although nothing will convince me to like jazz! As I am answering comments at 2am after being away for a few days, please accept my apologies! But seriously though, we don’t all have the same musical tastes. I was not a big fan of her classic album either. The documentary delved into her family background and musical influences – so that album and the Gilbert and Sullivan was a tribute to her mother, whereas the Mexican music was from her father’s side. I am curious as to why you have a prejudice against pop music from the mid to late 70’s? The only group I can remember is the BeeGees. I liked the Eagles, but not Fleetwood Mac. Now, I must get some sleep. It’s a good thing I’m retired now and don’t have to get up early….

        Liked by 2 people

      • J P says:

        My feelings on late 70s music? A great question, possibly something for a mental health professional. 😀.

        I really liked the stuff from the 60s (in most of its variations) but found myself drifting into jazz by the mid 70s, finding it much more musically interesting. 70s pop/rock seemed plodding in contrast and I never gelled with the “country rock” that got big at the time.

        I snapped back in with the new wave/2nd British Invasion of the 80s, though. I thought I might eventually warm up to the 70s but it never really happened on a big scale.

        Like

    • Joni says:

      I was going to include Ella Fitzgerald and Aretha Franklin but was trying to stay on topic as I’d already wandered off topic so much if that makes sense! Certainly there have been some wonderful female singers who were known primarily for their voices, but sadly other than Adele I can’t think of any these days. I had forgotten all about Adele. Even if some of them can sing okay, the emphasis seems to be on the other stuff. I remember hearing LR songs on the radio back then, but was more of a fan of Carole King and Carly Simon as I had their albums which I wore out, but none of LR……I just found the documentary interesting for a look back, esp at the 60’s.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      PS. you are probably correct in the 7/10 rating, but I wonder with some of todays singers what they will rate as? When Madonna did the Superbowl show I was struck by how mediocre her songs were, and yet the woman was popular for decades. I had forgotten about Diana Ross and the Supremes too – she had style and a great voice.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Ally Bean says:

    I always liked LR. Her voice seemed soothing to my soul. I knew that she was no longer singing, but not why. I’ll look for the special. I like your hypothetical questions about costumes! I find such costumes pure silliness, but then I’m not the target audience so what do they care what I think?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Thanks for reading Ally. I found the documentary interesting as I barely remember the 60’s and in the 70’s I was in school and didn’t pay much attention. The music on the radio yes, but here in Canada we didn’t get as much media exposure to pop cultrue, so it was an interesting look back.

      Liked by 1 person

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