CIRCA 1970: Photo of Linda Ronstadt
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Linda Ronstadt's 'Long Long Time' Skyrockets in Streams After Being Featured in HBO's 'The Last of Us'

Country music lovers have known about Linda Ronstadt for decades. She's a true crossover artist with songs in a slew of genres, including rock, pop, country, Broadway, traditional Mexican Mariachi, and light opera. Her country standouts include her work with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris as Trio (the three received a collective star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2019) and her solo work on such albums as 1974's Heart Like a Wheel, which spent four weeks at number one on the country charts and 1976's Hasten Down The Wind, which was the number one country album for three weeks. She actually has more top ten country singles than top ten pop singles, per Billboard, including her cover of the Hank Williams classic "I Can't Help It If I'm Still In Love With You," which went to No. 2. However, late January 2023 brought Ronstadt a viral moment the likes of which the singer has never enjoyed. Thanks to its use in the third episode of the television series The Last of Us, new fans embraced her beautifully anguished, tearjerker ballad "Long, Long Time," written by Gary White and first released as a single on her 1970 album Silk Purse. "Long Long Time" serves as both the title of the episode and as an ongoing illustrative symbol of the decades-long romantic relationship between Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett), two men who find each other in a moment of crisis and proceed to make a life together amid an apocalyptic global pandemic caused by mutated mushrooms that turn the affected into murderous zombies.

The Last of Us

Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett in "The Last of Us"

Liane Hentscher/HBO

It's an unexpected departure from the emotional tenor of a show about people struggling to stay alive amid societal breakdown, mass death, and constant mortal danger. "Long, Long Time" is featured prominently during the episode, first at the onset of the relationship (both men wistfully sing the song in their own awkward yet heartfelt renditions, accompanying themselves on piano, before they kiss for the first time) and finally at the end of the episode, when Ronstadt's version of the song plays via an old cassette tape in Bill's trunk discovered by the couple's friend Joel (Pedro Pascal) as he drives away from their home after learning they have died together.

Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett in "The Last of Us"

Liane Hentscher/HBO

Co-creator of The Last of Us Craig Manzin spoke of the episode's storyline to GQ magazine: "What it came out of was just trying to illuminate the basic theme of what I think this entire show is about, which is this dichotomy of people that love to nurture and people whose love is manifested through protection." Manzin needed a song to "suggest terrible longing, the nature of not just unrequited love, but a lifetime of unrequited love, and a kind of surrender to your fate." He contacted his friend Seth Rudetsky, host of the Sirius/XM radio show On Broadway and described what he was looking for; Rudetsky instantly texted back his choice: Ronstadt's "Long, Long Time."

New Victoria Theatre, London 1974

Ian Dickson/Redferns

Inevitably, there have been comparisons to the jump in popularity of Kate Bush's 1985 classic "Running Up That Hill" after it was used during a pivotal scene in the series Stranger Things. Soon after the episode's premiere on January 29, Spotify News tweeted "Oh, so all of our hearts were breaking last night," noting the song's streams had risen by over 4900% since the week before. Per the The Los Angeles Times, Google searches for the song as well as for Linda Ronstadt herself skyrocketed following the premiere. Ronstadt told the Times via email that she doesn't "follow social media very much, or the streaming services,"and only knew about the song's use on the show thanks to a call from her manager. She wrote that she "was really glad for Gary White, who will get a windfall from this," and remembered the first time she'd heard the song in the late 1960s at Greenwich Village's Café Au Go-Go: "I instantly wanted to record it."  She went on to write that the song "means a lot" and is still one of her favorites, telling Billboard, "It wasn't a country song, wasn't a folk song, or a rock song, but I thought it was a really good song."

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS: Linda Ronstadt performs live in Amsterdam, Netherlands in 1976

Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

Ronstadt retired in 2011 after a diagnosis of progressive supranuclear palsy, which made her unable to sing or play music. As reported by Billboard, Ronstadt will not directly benefit from her song's sudden popularity, as she sold her recorded-music assets, including royalty streams, to Iconic Artists Group in 2021 and never owned the masters to "Long, Long Time" in the first place. Her manager, John Boylan, said to Billboard, "She's not unhappy about it, believe me. We sold her catalog. The last four or five years have been a complete tsunami of buyouts like this." He went on to note that the The Last Of Us boom can only benefit Ronstadt and bring attention to her future projects, including a planned biopic with James Keach, producer of the 2019 documentary Linda Ronstadt: Sound of My Voice.

READ MORE:  Linda Ronstadt Made Country Music on Her Own Terms. She Belongs in the Country Music Hall of Fame.