Thursday, September 26, 2013

Linda Ronstadt - Living in the USA

This month marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of Living in the USA, the ninth studio album from Linda Ronstadt. This 1978 release went to number 39 in the UK, number 23 in Japan, number 19 in the Netherlands, number 9 in Canada, number 3 in Australia and New Zealand, and number 1 on the US Billboard Album chart.

Side one begins with “Back in the USA”, a song Chuck Berry had a hit with back in 1959. As the first single, it went to number 43 on the Canadian Country chart, number 41 on the US Country chart, number 30 on the US Adult Contemporary chart, number 24 in New Zealand, number 16 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number 8 on the Canadian Pop chart. On Ronstadt's cover, Don Grolnick plays the rollicking piano part.

Next up is “When I Grow Too Old to Dream”. Oscar Hammerstein and Sigmund Romberg wrote this gentle ballad back in 1934. Ronstadt's sweet vocals are complimented nicely by the vibraphone played by Mike Mainieri.

The third single was “Just One Look” which hit number 46 on the Canadian Pop chart, number 44 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 5 on the US Adult Contemporary Chart and number 4 on the Canadian Adult Contemporary chart. Gregory Carroll and Doris Payne wrote the song which was a hit for Doris Troy in 1963; the Hollies and Anne Murray also had chart success with it. What really connected with me was how Ronstadt conveys the longing desire of the lyrics with her vocal performance.

“Alison”, a cover of the Elvis Costello song from his 1977 album My Aim Is True, went to number 66 in the UK and number 30 on the US Adult Contemporary chart. I like how Ronstadt kept all the gender pronouns intact on her take, even if it hints at a Sapphic relationship. David Sanborn played alto saxophone here.

“White Rhythm & Blues” was the B-side to the first single. J.D. Souther penned the song but did not record it himself until his 1979 album You're Only Lonely. Dan Dugmore's steel guitar on this break-up ballad harkens back to Ronstadt's country music roots.

Side two starts with “All That You Dream”, a song originally recorded by Little Feat in 1975 for their release entitled The Last Record Album. Ronstadt goes for a grittier rock vibe on this one about surviving whatever life can throw at you.

“Oh Baby Baby”, the second single, reached number 85 on the US Country chart, number 26 on the Canadian Adult Contemporary chart, number 7 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 6 on the Canadian Pop chart and number 2 on the US Adult Contemporary chart. Sanborn opens with his sax, followed by some lovely vocal harmonies between Ronstadt and Peter Asher, the album's producer. This version maintains the original doo-wop sound of the original 1965 hit by Smokey Robinson and Miracles.

Ronstadt dipped into Warren Zevon‘s catalog once more to record her version of “Mohammed’s Radio”. It first appeared on his 1976 self-titled album Warren Zevon. I have both versions in my music library and like them both.

The B-side to the second single was “Blowing Away”. It was written by Brooklyn songwriter Eric Kaz by whom Ronstadt has recorded a number of songs during her career

“Love Me Tender”, a cover of the 1956 Elvis Presley classic, was the B-side to the third single.
Ronstadt delivers a heartfelt country version here.

I did not pick up Living In the USA on vinyl back on 1978; instead I picked up a couple of the singles on 45rpm. When I was compiling my digital music library a number of years back, I supplemented tracks from greatest hits albums and filled in most of this one. I had not realized until then that she had done covers of the Costello and Zevon songs that I knew. Some might be critical that much of Linda Ronstadt's catalog consists of covers of other people's music, but I am not in that camp. I like how she takes songs by other artists, some very signature ones, and puts her own respectful spin on them.

Looking for more Linda Ronstadt reviews on my blog? Check out the links below:

For 1977’s Simple Dreams, click here.

For 1982’s Get Closer, click here.

For 1983’s What’s New, click here.

For her 1987 team up with Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton on Trio, click here.

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