As viewers of the documentary The Sound of My Voice learned, Linda Ronstadt songs piece together as a road map of North America's pop and folk music traditions. Throughout Ronstadt's journey from Laurel Canyon to Broadway, she recorded quite a few songs either intended for country audiences or too great for genre classifications to matter.
The following top 10 list favors several of Ronstadt's country-leaning songs over rock and R&B material, with notable snubs including covers of "Heat Wave," "Hurt So Bad," "Ooh Baby Baby" and "Just One Look." Even with that acknowledged bias, some great country-flavored material, including "Love Has No Pride," Long, Long Time," "Don't Cry Now" and the Trio's "To Know Him is To Love Him," had to miss the cut.
Read on to revisit hits by one of the rare artists equally appealing to decision-makers in Nashville, Los Angeles, and New York, then let us know your favorites.
10. "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love With You)"
Ronstadt covers repertoire ranged from the Rolling Stones ("Tumbling Dice") and Neil Young ("Love is a Rose") to The Eagles ("Desperado") and Patsy Cline ("I Fall to Pieces"). Here, she interprets the work of country music's all-time greatest songwriter and performer, Hank Williams.
9. "Poor Poor Pitiful Me"
Warren Zevon wrote and originally recorded this song, which was produced by Ronstadt's peer Jackson Browne. Ronstadt brought the song more country-rock credibility en route to Terri Clark's catalog, where it became a top 10 country hit in 1996.
8. "Silver Threads and Golden Needles"
Long before she joined forces with Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton for the Trio albums, Ronstadt excelled with a solo version of a song covered by some of country music's most talented women. It dates back to Wanda Jackson's 1956 recording and has since been covered by Skeeter Davis, Rose Maddox and others.
7. "Somewhere Out There" (With James Ingram)
This multi-Grammy award-winning hit from 1986 stands out for reasons beyond childhood nostalgia over the animated film, An American Tail. It's one of Ronstadt's better modern pop offerings in a decade associated with her recordings of classics (her Nelson Riddle trilogy) and traditional Mexican folk music (Canciones de Mi Padre).
6."It's So Easy"
It's hard to imagine this song existing before Ronstadt took it to the Billboard 100's top five in 1977, but it actually started as Buddy Holly's final single with The Crickets. Ronstadt fared well with covers of rock and roll's bespectacled icon, including a popular recording of the Beatles' go-to Holly tune, "That'll Be the Day," from her Hasten Down the Wind album.
5. "Don't Know Much" (With Aaron Neville)
One of the best-known songs of the late '80s teamed Ronstadt with New Orleans music legend Aaron Neville. Together, they found success with this ever-present pop nugget. The duet partners found similar success with Karla Bonoff's "All My Life."
4. "When Will I Be Loved"
Fifteen years after the Everly Brothers' original--recorded in Nashville with Chet Atkins and a whos-who of session players--became a pop hit, Ronstadt turned a rockabilly gem into a country chart-topper.
3. "Different Drum"
Ronstadt's biggest hit with the band that introduced her to the mainstream, the Stone Poneys, began its life as a bluegrass song recorded by the Greenbriar Boys. It was written by Monkees member and future country music moonlighter Michael Nesmith.
2. "Blue Bayou"
Few artists in popular music history could've taken a Roy Orbison original and made it sound like something entirely new. Ronstadt pulled it off when this 1963 single by Orbison became her signature song after appearing on the 1977 album Simple Dreams.
1. "You're No Good"
For her first career number one hit, Ronstadt took an R&B obscurity cut 11 years earlier by Dionne Warwick's sister Dee Dee and turned it into a modern pop standard. Numerous hits and classic albums later, this single off the 1974 studio album Heart Like a Wheel reigns as the finest example of Ronstadt's talent as a song interpreter.
Honorable mention tracks include "Love is a Rose," a Neil Young cover off Ronstadt's Prisoner in Disguise album that became a Top 5 country hit.
This story first ran on July 15, 2020.
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