Linda Ronstadt : It's So Easy
In September of 1977 Linda Ronstadt released the only album that could knock Fleetwood Mac's Rumours from the top of the Billboard album charts. With the help of singles "Blue Bayou", "It's So Easy"( its second appearance in the blog this year) and "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" (one of two Warren Zevon songs ), Simple Dreams sold three and a half million copies. The only female artist to sell more copies of a single album is Carole King and Tapestry.
Most critics had good things to say about Simple Dreams, which made the Pazz and Jop critics poll at #27. Robert Christgau gave the album a B+ grade, writing
Rolling Stone's Peter Herbst :
With Hasten Down the Wind, Ronstadt shed some long-lived inhibitions. Given Karla Bonoff's red-hot, baldly emotional material ("Someone to Lay Down beside Me," "Lose Again," "If He's Ever Near"), she responded with her most personal -- even visceral -- singing. It doesn't quite make sense to call her highly charged performances relaxed, but certainly she was a lot less stiff than before. Ronstadt had, quite simply, become rock's supreme torch singer.
What Ronstadt's blossoming skills suggest is a kind of latter-day Billie Holiday, a woman whose singing constitutes an almost otherworldly triumph over the worst kind of chronic pain. Throughout Simple Dreams (in which Ronstadt and Asher wisely have scaled down the production), the singer evokes a bittersweet world of disappointments, fantasies and cheerfully brazen assertions. What she lacks is the sense of humor and ironic self-effacement that made Holiday such an extraordinarily subtle and intelligent performer.
And all the way through Simple Dreams' first side (which, except for the rousing opener, "It's So Easy," is made up of ballads), Ronstadt fails to step back and take a look at herself. She's just a little too blue for comfort. But that's a piddling complaint because it's a fine side. Ronstadt sings J.D. Souther's modestly self-pitying "Simple Man/Simple Dream" with a thorough sympathy for and understanding of Souther's message -- that the lover of simple truths is easily ridiculed. She gets Eric Kaz' complex "Sorrow Lives Here" (Kaz, it seems, is getting ready to challenge Leonard Cohen as the world's most morose songwriter) just right. The lines "Everything seems to spin all around/But I can't see/Whether it happens/With or without me" unite emotional and philosophical confusion dramatically, and Ronstadt sings them as if she wrote them. "I Never Will Marry," the great traditional tune to which Dolly Parton's backwoods harmonies add a gorgeous dignity, should become her signature: it frames her independence and loneliness with enormous restraint and power.
Simple Dreams' second side is better paced and begins with the song, "Blue Bayou," that caused me to compare Ronstadt to Billie Holiday. The transition she makes from the introduction to the chorus ("I'm going back someday, come what may to Blue Bayou") is simply electrifying. What starts out as an ordinary love song becomes a passionate cry for escape that completely transcends the song. Like Holiday, Ronstadt has developed an ability to invest her material with far more than it brings to her -- the wonderful jump to falsetto with which she ends "Blue Bayou" is a great deal more than merely wistful.
Ronstadt's well-placed grittiness on "Tumbling Dice" (whose brilliant, highly salty lyrics are finally intelligible) matches the song's sense of risk and its keenly expressed bawdiness. "Tumbling Dice" might seem a strange choice of material for Ronstadt, but what she's telling us, I think, is that she can live on the edge with the best of them. And she's damned convincing.
Finally from Playboy:
Reviewing a Linda Ronstadt album is not unlike writing ad copy for the Holiday Inn: The only surprise is that there are no surprises. Simple Dreams follows the formula concocted by producer Peter Asher almost five years ago -- a dash of country, a dash of J.D. Souther, a dash of old-time rock 'n' roll. The band sounds the same, even without Andrew Gold, and still is as good as you get. The production is the same (though this time out, Ronstadt's voice seems to be mixed above the instruments. In the past, there was a more luxuriant blend. But maybe our stereo's on the fritz). The only thing left for a reviewer to comment on is the selection of songs. The duet with Dolly Parton on "I Never Will Marry" will break your heart. (Say it isn't so, Linda!) The inclusion of Roy Orbison and Joe Melson's "Blue Bayou" and the Mexican-flavored Warren Zevon tune "Carmelita" suggests that Ronstadt is trying to follow in Jimmy Buffett's country-and-ocean wake. Her update of The Rolling Stones' "Tumbling Dice" leaves a lot to be desired: to be exact, Mick Jagger. Ronstadt can't carry the hard edge that song requires -- nor, for that matter, the irony on which "Carmelita" and another Zevon song, "Poor Poor Pitiful Me," depend. Still, we'd pay to hear Ronstadt sing "Jingle Bells."