Linda Ronstadt Part Eight
This blog, Linda Ronstadt Part Eight, will have her eighth album, at the end of this blog, which on the bottom, of this blog, that I’m blogging. I hope you can see it on the bottom, because I didn’t have it on top, or I be listening to it on my page, of this pretend book.
Ronstadt has remarked that in the beginning of her career she “was so focused on folk, rock and country“ that she “got a bit bored and started to branch out, and… has been doing that ever since.“ By 1983, her estimated worth was over $40 million mostly from records, concerts and merchandising.
Ronstadt eventually tired of playing arenas. She had ceased to feel that arenas, where people milled around smoking marijuana cigarettes and drinking beer, were “appropriate places for music“. She wanted “angels in the architecture“ — a reference to a lyric in the Paul Simon song “You Can Call Me Al“ from the 1986 album Graceland. (Ronstadt sang harmony with Simon on a different Graceland track,“Under African Skies“. The second verse‘s lyrics pay tribute to Ronstadt: “Take this child, Lord, from Tucson, Arizona. …“). Ronstadt has said she wants to sing in places similar to the theatre of ancient Greece, where the attention is focused on the stage and the performer.
Ronstadt‘s recording output in the 1980s proved to be just as commercially and critically successful as her 1970s recordings. Between 1983 and 1990, Ronstadt scored six additional platinum albums; two are triple platinum (each with over three million U.S. copies sold); one has been certified double platinum (over two million copies sold); and one has earned additional certification as a Gold (over 500,000 U.S. copies sold) double-disc album.
By recording traditional pop, traditional country and traditional Latin roots Ronstadt resonated with a different fan base and diversified her appeal.
In 1981, Ronstadt produced and recorded an album pop standards (later marketed in bootleg form) titled Keeping Out of Mischief with the assistance of producer Jerry Wexler. However, Ronstadt‘s displeasure with the final result led her, with regrets, to scrap the project. “Doing that killed me,“ she said in a Time magazine interview. But the appeal of the album‘s music had seduced Ronstadt, as she told Down Beat in April 1985, crediting Wexler for encouraging her. Nonetheless, Ronstadt had to convince her reluctant record company, Elektra, to approve this type of album under her contract.
By 1983, Ronstadt had enlisted the help of 62-year-old conductor Nelson Riddle.The two embarked on an unorthodox and original approach to rehabilitating the Great American Songbook, recording a trilogy of traditional pop albums: What‘s New (1983— U.S. 3.7 million as of 2010); Lush Life ( 1984— U.S. 1.7 million as of2010); and For Sentimental Reasons (1986— U.S. 1.3 million as of 2010). The three albums have had a combined sales total of nearly seven million copies in the U.S.alone.
I now realize I was taking a tremendous risk, and that Joe Smith (the head of Elektra Records, and strongly opposed) was looking out for himself, and for me.When it became apparent I wouldn’t change my mind, he said: ‘I love Nelson so much! Can I please come to the sessions. I said ‘Yes.‘ When the albums … were successful, Joe congratulated me, and I never said ‘I told you so.‘
— Linda Ronstadt
The album design for What‘s New by designer Kosh was unlike any of her previousdisc covers. It showed Ronstadt in a vintage dress lying on shimmering satinsheets with a Walkman headset. At the time, Ronstadt received some chiding for both the album cover and her venture into what was then considered “elevator music“ by cynics, but remained determined to record with Riddle, and What‘s New became a hit. The album was released in September 1983 and spent 81 weeks on the Billboard Album Chart and held the number three position for a month and a half(held out of the top spot only by Michael Jackson‘s Thriller and Lionel Richie‘sCan’t Slow Down) and the RIAA certified it triple platinum (over three million copies sold in the U.S. alone). The album earned Ronstadt another Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, and critical raves, withTime magazine calling it “one of the gutsiest, most unorthodox and unexpected albums of the year.“
Ronstadt faced considerable pressure not to record What‘s New or record with Riddle. According to jazz historian Peter Levinson, author of the book September in the Rain — a Biography on Nelson Riddle, Joe Smith, president of Elektra Records, was terrified that the Riddle album would turn off Ronstadt‘s rock audience. Ronstadt did not completely turn her back on her rock and roll past, however; the video for the title track featured Danny Kortchmar as the old beau that she bumped into during a rainstorm.
What‘s New brought Riddle to a younger audience. According to Levinson, “the younger audience hated what Riddle had done with Frank Sinatra, which in 1983 was considered ‘Vintage Pop‘“. Working with Ronstadt, Riddle brought his career back into focus in the last three years of his life. Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote, What‘s New “isn’t the first album by a rock singer to pay tribute to the golden age of the pop, but is … the best and most serious attempt to rehabilitate an idea of pop that Beatlemania and the mass marketing of rock LPs for teenagers undid in the mid-60s. … In the decade prior to Beatlemania, most of the great band singers and crooners of the 40s and 50s codified a half-century of American pop standards on dozens of albums … many of them now long out-of-print.“ What‘s New is the first album by a rock singer to have major commercial success in rehabilitating the Great American Songbook.
In 1984, Ronstadt and Riddle performed these songs live, in concert halls throughout Australia, Japan, and the United States, including multi-night performances at historic venues Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, and Pine Knob.
In 2004, Ronstadt released Hummin‘ to Myself, her album for Verve Records. It was her first foray into traditional jazz since her sessions with Jerry Wexler and her records with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, but this time with an intimate jazz combo. The album was a quiet affair for Ronstadt, giving few interviews and makingonly one television performance as promotion. It reached number 2 on Billboard‘s Top Jazz Albums chart but peaked at number 166 on the main Billboard album chart.Not having the mass distribution that Warner Music Group gave her, Hummin‘ To Myself had sold over 75,000 copies in the U.S. as of 2010. It also achieved some critical acclaim from the jazz cognoscenti.