Ronstadt at the New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum, August 16, 1978 By the end of 1978, Ronstadt had solidified her role as one of rock and pop‘s most successful solo female acts, and owing to her consistent platinum album success, and her ability as the first woman to sell out concerts in arenas and stadiums hosting tens of thousands of fans, Ronstadt became the “highest paid woman in rock“. She had six platinum-certified albums, three of which were number 1 onthe Billboard album chart, and numerous charted pop singles. In 1978 alone, she made over $12 million (equivalent to $44,000,000 in 2016 dollars) and in the same year her albums sales were reported to be 17 million — grossing over$60 million (equivalent to a gross of over $220,000,000, in 2016 dollars).
As Rolling Stone dubbed her “Rock‘s Venus“, her record sales continued to multiply and set records themselves. By 1979, Ronstadt had collected eight gold,six platinum, and four multi-platinum certifications for her albums, anunprecedented feat at the time. Her 1976 Greatest Hits album would sell consistently for the next 25 years and in 2001 was certified by the RIAA for seven-times platinum (over seven million U.S. copies sold). In 1980, Greatest Hits, Volume 2 was released and certified platinum.
In 1979, Ronstadt went on an international tour, playing in arenas across Australia to Japan, including the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Melbourne, Australia, and the Budokan in Tokyo. She also participated in a benefit concertfor her friend Lowell George, held at The Forum, in Los Angeles.
By the end of the decade, Ronstadt had outsold her female competition; no other female artist to date had five straight platinum LPs — Hasten Down the Wind andHeart Like a Wheel among them. Us Weekly reported in 1978 that Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, and Carly Simon had become “The Queens of Rock“ and “Rock is no longer exclusively male. There is a new royalty ruling today‘s record charts.“
She would go on to parlay her mass commercial appeal with major success ininterpreting The Great American Songbook — made famous a generation before byFrank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald — and later the Mexican folk songs of herchildhood.
From Rock to Operetta
Rampant eclecticism is my middle name.
— Linda Ronstadt
In 1980, Ronstadt released Mad Love, her seventh consecutive platinum-sellingalbum. It was a straightforward rock and roll album with post-punk, new waveinfluences, including tracks by songwriters such as Elvis Costello, the Cretones,and musician Mark Goldenberg who played on the record himself.
She also made the cover of Rolling Stone for a record-setting sixth time. Mad Loveentered the Billboard Album Chart in the Top Five its first week (a record at thattime) and climbed to the number 3 position. The project continued her streak ofTop 10 hits with “How Do I Make You“, originally recorded by Billy Thermal, and“Hurt So Bad“, originally a Top 10 hit for Little Anthony & the Imperials. Thealbum earned Ronstadt a 1980 Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock VocalPerformance/Female (although she lost to Pat Benatar‘s Crimes of Passion album).Benatar praised Ronstadt by stating, “There are a lot of good female singersaround. How could I be the best? Ronstadt is still alive!“
In the summer of 1980, Ronstadt began rehearsals for the first of several leads inBroadway musicals. Joseph Papp cast her as the lead in the New York ShakespeareFestival production of Gilbert and Sullivan‘s The Pirates of Penzance, alongsideKevin Kline. She said singing Gilbert and Sullivan was a natural choice for her, since her grandfather Fred Ronstadt was credited with having created Tucson‘s first orchestra, the Club Filarmonico Tucsonense, and had once created an arrangement of The Pirates of Penzance.
The Pirates of Penzance opened for a limited engagement in New York City‘s Central Park, eventually moving its production to Broadway, where it became a hit, running from January 8, 1981, to November 28, 1982. Newsweek was effusive in itspraise: “… she has not dodged the coloratura demands of her role (and Mabel is one of the most demanding parts in the G&S canon): from her entrance trilling‘Poor Wand‘ring One,‘ it is clear that she is prepared to scale whatever soprano peaks stand in her way.“ Ronstadt co-starred with Kline and Angela Lansburyin the 1983 operetta‘s film version. Ronstadt received a Golden Globe nomination for the role in the film version. She garnered a nomination for the Tony Award forBest Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical and The Pirates of Penzance won several Tony Awards, including a Tony Award for Best Revival.
As a child, Ronstadt had discovered the opera La bohème through the silent film with Lillian Gish and was determined to someday play the part of Mimi. When she met the opera superstar Beverly Sills, she was told, “My dear, every soprano in the world wants to play Mimi!“ In 1984, Ronstadt was cast in the role at Joseph Papp‘s Public Theater. However, the production was a critical and commercial disaster, closing after only a few nights.
In 1982, Ronstadt released the album Get Closer, a primarily rock album with somecountry and pop music as well. It remains her only album between 1975 and 1990 not to be officially certified platinum. It peaked at number 31 on the Billboard Album Chart. The release continued her streak of Top 40 hits with “Get Closer“ and “I Knew You When“ — a 1965 hit by Billy Joe Royal — while the Jimmy Webb song “Easy For You To Say“ was a surprise Top 10 Adult Contemporary hit in the spring of 1983. “Sometimes You Just Can’t Win“ was picked up by country radio, and made itto number 27 on that listing. Ronstadt also filmed several music videos for thisalbum which became popular on the fledgling MTV cable channel. The album earned Ronstadt two Grammy Award nominations: one for Best Rock Vocal Performance/Female for the title track and another for Best Pop Vocal Performance/Female for the album. The artwork won its art director, Kosh, his second Grammy Award for Best Album Package.
Along with the release of her Get Closer album, Ronstadt embarked on a North American tour, remaining one of the top rock-concert draws that summer and fall. On November 25, 1982, her “Happy Thanksgiving Day“ concert was held at the Reunion Arena in Dallas and broadcast live via satellite to NBC radio stations in theUnited States.
In 1988, Ronstadt returned to Broadway for a limited-run engagement in the musicalshow adaptation of her album celebrating her Mexican heritage, Canciones De MiPadre — A Romantic Evening in Old Mexico.