This week we celebrate the career of Linda Ronstadt, who must be considered among the greatest singers and song interpreters this country has ever produced. Perhaps she’s on your mind because you saw the acclaimed 2019 documentary about her, Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice. She formally retired from singing about a decade ago because of a degenerative condition eventually diagnosed as progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), and for a number of years before that she was largely out of the public eye, as well.
But those of us of a certain age fondly remember her incredible rise during the mid-1970s, when she made hit album after hit album and could seemingly do no wrong. Beginning with her fourth solo record, Don’t Cry Now (1973), she had a streak of six exceptional albums that showed her incredible range as a singer and her uncanny ear for great songs: Heart Like a Wheel (1974), Prisoner in Disguise (1975), Hasten Down the Wind (1976), Simple Dreams (1977), and Living in the USA (1978). She was comfortable singing old Motown tunes, country numbers, rock ‘n’ roll, sensitive singer-songwriter ballads; really, just about anything. (Later, she would excel at light opera, Mexican folk music, and American standards.) She was an early champion for songwriters such as Warren Zevon, J.D. Souther, Lowell George, Karla Bonoff, Anna McGarrigle, and Elvis Costello. She always surrounded herself herself with great musicians and singers onstage and on her records, and she could be an utterly spellbinding performer. This barely scratches the surface of her amazingly fruitful and varied career.
This week’s video features Ronstadt in 1977 singing a version of the old Buddy Holly ballad “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” written for Holly by Paul Anka in 1958. It became a hit for Holly following his death in a plane crash in early 1959, and Anka generously passed on a portion of the royalties for the song to Holly’s widow. Ronstadt recorded it on what turned out to be her commercial breakthrough, album, Heart Like a Wheel. The song was also the B-side of Ronstadt’s lone Number One single, “You’re No Good.” —Blair Jackson