Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Revisiting Linda Ronstadt's New Wave Period!

With the release of the career-spanning documentary "Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice" and news of the singer's battle with Parkinson's Disease, interest in Ronstadt has been at an all-time high.

For a singer whose restless musical spirit, and desire to remain commercially successful. led her to explore at least as many musical styles as that Bowie fellow, we thought it was time to revisit our favorite era...Linda Ronstadt's "new wave" period.

The year was 1979 and "new wave" was just starting to infiltrate the Top 40.

Picture disc for 'Living In The USA",
featuring a cover of Elvis Costello's 'Alison'.
For those living in L.A. at the time, even members of the Laurel Canyon Soft Rock Society, it must have been next to impossible to avoid those Police, Pretenders, and Blondie billboards that peppered Sunset Blvd., much less the B-52's, Devo, and Gary Numan songs pulling down heavy rotation on L.A. radio station KROQ, which, at the time, was playing an ever-growing list of new wave favorites alongside more mainstream fare.

For Linda Ronstadt, whose 1978 smash Living In The USA had been her second consecutive #1 album, to top the charts. the "new wave" bug had bitten her much sooner than it would most of her peers.

Included on the double-platinum-certified album was a cover of Elvis Costello's "Alison", from My Aim is True, that would become a major revenue stream for the young English troubadour.

 In preparing for her next album, Ronstadt asked Costello if he had any tunes lying around. Costello responded by sending her a tape with three tunes on it.

Those songs - "Party Girl", "Girls Talk", and "Talking In The Dark" - quickly became the basis for what would become Ronstadt's first full-scale foray into "new wave" territory, the 1980 album Mad Love.

After cutting those three Costello tracks, Ronstadt and producer Peter Asher chose to continue the theme for the remainder of the album, thereby begging the question "What other new wave songs should we do?"

This is where it gets weird.

Rather than cherry pick from the dozens of new wave semi-hits floating around, or, better yet, do an entire album of Costello covers, Ronstadt and Asher chose to cover not, not two, but three songs by L.A.'s Cretones, whose two albums for Planet Records had cratered.

They also recruited Cretones' songwriter/guitarist Mark Goldenberg to play guitar on most of the album - again, an odd choice.

However manner in which Goldenberg worked his way into the Ronstadt camp, it wound up giving his career a new lease on life, as co-writer of Peter Frampton's Art of Control album in 1982, which cratered almost as hard as a Cretones album, but the story didn't end there.

Three years later, the former Cretone would co-write the smash hit power ballad "Along Comes A Woman" with Peter Cetera and was rewarded with his first Top 20 hit.

Of course, it was 1996's "Novacaine For The Soul" by eels that remains our favorite Goldenberg co-write.

As for Ronstadt, her "new wave" period was ultimately a hedged bet. Not only were no Goldenberg or Costello tracks chosen as singles. it was Billy Steinberg's "How Do I Make You" that has come to define Ronstadt's foray into new wave while subsequent singles - The Hollies' "I Can't Let Go" and Little Anthony & The Imperials' "Hurt So Bad' - saw Ronstadt jumping off the bandwagon mid-album, never to return.

By 1983, Ronstadt had become one of the first rock performers to record an entire album of traditional pop standards with none other than the Nelson Riddle orchestra.

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