Friday, September 6, 2013

Linda Ronstadt - What's New

Today (September 6th) marks the thirtieth anniversary of What’s New, the twelfth studio album from Linda Ronstadt. For this outing, she decided to change things up a bit and go for a collection of standards sung in a torch style.

Teaming up with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra for backing, the album scored big (becoming a multi-Platinum seller and spending eight-one weeks on the US Billboard Album chart). It charted at number 31 in the UK, number 29 in Japan, number 21 in New Zealand, number 18 in Canada, number 11 in Australia, number 3 on the US Billboard Album chart and number 2 on the US Billboard Jazz chart. It was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance Female.

Side one opens with the title track. “What’s New?” was a popular song in 1939. Ronstadt’s version was released as a single, and it charted at number 53 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 5 on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, and number 1 on the Canadian Adult Contemporary chart.

“I’ve Got a Crush on You”, a George and Ira Gershwin classic that appeared in two different Broadway productions in the early part of the century, was the second single from this album. Ronstadt’s cover went to number 7 on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart and number 1 on the Canadian Adult Contemporary chart.

“Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry” is next.

“Crazy He Calls Me” was selected as the B-side to the first single.

Her cover of the Gershwins’ “Someone to Watch Over Me” was released as the third single from the album.

Side two begins with Bing Crosby’s 1932 song “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You”.

“”What’ll I Do”, written by Irving Berlin in 1920, was a theme in Riddle’s score for the 1974 film The Great Gatsby. The version from this album was the B-side to the third single.

“Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be?)” was a hit in 1945 for Billie Holiday. Ronstadt’s version, with a subdued sultriness to it, was chosen for the B-side to the second single.

The emotional heartbreaker “Goodbye” appropriately closes the record. The 1935 composition by Gordon Jenkins was used as the closing number for the Benny Goodman orchestra.

I have always had a soft spot for songs from this early era in American music; I suspect a lot of that comes from watching the Lawrence Welk Show most Saturday nights growing up over at my grandmother’s house. The music was something that reminds of simpler times in my life and something that I could enjoy with her.

Linda Ronstadt does an incredible job on the vocals here; her time on Broadway clearly shines through in her perfectly phrased and spot-on pitched performance. And you cannot deny the amazing accompaniment of Nelson Riddle and his orchestra on songs they know so well. It speaks volumes that the combination of these two musical forces could hold the number 3 spot on the US charts for five straight weeks, blocked from the top by only Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down at number 2 and Michael Jackson’s Thriller at number 1. What’s New was a very successful experiment by all accounts.

And the beautiful thing about this album is that it is timeless, just like the songs chosen for the record. Listening to this one simply melts away the modern world around me.

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

1 comment:

HERC said...

Ms. Ronstadt is a hometwon treasure - born and bred right here in the Old Pueblo. Her recent announcement that due to her worsening Parkinson's Disease she is unable to sing came as a sad, sudden shock to this life-long fan.

My entire family have always been fans of the lady and her music.

Dad was obviously attracted to Linda's looks - her name means "pretty" in Spanish. He has often said that Mom resembled Linda when they were both younger and photos seem to bear this out. (Ronstadt is a couple of months younger than my father and a year older than my mother.) The first Linda Ronstadt album he ever bought was Silk Purse - it was one of about two dozen albums and 8-tracks he purchased within a week of returning home from Vietnam. "Long, Long Time" was his favorite song on the album and he would often play it before going to bed. He bought her next album, the self-titled one she recorded with the four men who would form the Eagles (with Ronstadt's encouragement and approval) shortly after the album's release. I have Dad's album collection now and I can tell you that this is one of the least played albums in the bunch, it still looks and plays like new - I don't recall ever hearing him play it. He always hated the cover of Don't Cry Now but he played it a lot, especially her cover of the Eagles "Desperado". Until her first Greatest Hits album came out in 1976, Dad's favorite and most played Linda Ronstadt album was 1974's Heart Like A Wheel. He continued buying her albums up through 1980's Mad Love which he received when he forgot to mail his Columbia House Selection Card back in time.

My sister started buying singles around her 8th birthday (just like her big Bro) and playing them over and over. One of her first buys was Linda's 1977 Buddy Holly cover "It's So Easy". I must have heard that song 200 times easy just from her playing it on her huge jukebox-like SoundDesign stereo system.

I started buying Linda Ronstadt albums beginning with the Greatest Hits album which was one of my initial selections when my folks finally let me sign up for the RCA Music Club. I then purchased the 1976 album Hasten Down The Wind for reasons that had very little to do with the music. [Go find a picture of the album cover and you'll see what I'm talking about.] I then proceeded to acquire each and every Linda Ronstadt album from 1977 through 1987's Cancoines de Mi Padre. When Columbia House offered the double CD set 'Round Midnight at a greatly reduced price, I bought two copies. Kept one to replace my vinyl copies of What's New, Lush Life and For Sentimental Resons and gave the other one to my Mom for Mother's Day - it was her first CD!

For me, Linda's voice is a magic ingredient that makes almost every song sound better. Not only was she a great interpreter but she often took the songs to an entirely different level. Along the way, she helped create country rock, soft rock and showed that women could ROCK. Looking at my collection and comparing it to her discography, I can see there at least six albums I don't have in the collection yet, mostly from the 1990s when I lost interest in her newer stuff. Gonna add those to my Christmas Wish list. Speaking of Christmas, her 2000 Christmas album, A Merry Little Christmas is a perrenial favorite here in our house.

Thanks for all the wonderful music Linda. And thanks for sharing your memories, Martin.