Pros: Twelve great songs from Linda Ronstadt's early career.
Cons: No lyrics.
I have kind of a love/hate relationship with Linda Ronstadt. I love her voice very much, mostly for its range, clarity, and versatility. I especially loved it when she was singing rock songs back in the 60s and 70s. I still love her version of "Desperado" as much as I love the Eagles' original version. And, as a singer myself, I love to sing Linda Ronstadt's old songs. However, I don't like some of the directions Linda Ronstadt has taken as an artist since her days as a rock singer. I wasn't wild about her much acclaimed work with Aaron Neville. I never got into her Spanish songs or even her big band stuff, although I might appreciate it now that I'm older. And I certainly don't go to her for my politics.
Linda Ronstadt's Greatest Hits album, which was produced in 1976, is still a much treasured part of my CD library. When I was in college back in the early 90s, I used to listen to both Greatest Hits and Greatest Hits Volume 2 all the time. I learned most of her songs by heart and marveled at her wonderful instument. And fifteen years later, I still like to revisit those CDs every once in awhile and enjoy Linda Ronstadt's hits from her heyday.
Greatest Hits starts off with You're No Good, one of my all time favorite songs by Linda Ronstadt. This song, which is about a woman who finally understands that her ex lover is "no good", has a powerful bitter edge to it, with it's heavy rock beat and Linda's blistering vocals as she rips her ex a new one for being such a jerk. Somehow Linda Ronstadt is able to sound tough and vulnerable all at once, conveying the hurt that inevitably comes with a nasty breakup. When she sings that the man is no good, I really believe it.
I also love Silver Threads and Golden Needles, a country infused rock song, once again about heartbreak and disappointment. Linda Ronstadt doesn't sound as bitter in this song as she does in "You're No Good", but she does sound resolute and ready to move on. I was a baby when this song was originally recorded, but it still sounds great today, over thirty years later.
Even the most casual classic rock fan has probably heard Desperado, which was written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey and made famous by The Eagles. Like many other artists over the years, Linda Ronstadt covered it. Though I will always love the original version of this song, I also love Linda's version. She sings this song in a minor key, injecting so much pain and heartbreak into her reading, and again, vocally giving it her all. This version of "Desperado" is much more orchestrated that the original and it sounds a bit 1970s, but I still really dig it.
Next, Linda Ronstadt takes on Neil Young's Love Is A Rose. This song has grown on me over the years, especially as I learned more about Neil Young's music. Once again, Linda Ronstadt gives this song a country flair as Herb Pedersen plays a very prominent banjo joined by David Lindley on fiddle. This is a very wise song about how to preserve love.
That'll Be The Day is a cover of Buddy Holly's original hit. Waddy Wachtel and Andrew Gold, both rock worthies in their own rights, play electric guitar on this updated version, giving it sort of a wild 70s rock vibe. And Linda Ronstadt's perfect searing soprano just rips into the lyrics. I like the fact that this song was covered by a woman. Linda Ronstadt sounds convincing when she sings "You say you want to leave me, you know that's a lie 'cause that'll be the day when I die." I'm sure it was a very refreshingly liberated attitude back in the 70s.
Long, Long Time is a beautiful ballad originally recorded in 1970. While she sounds so strong and powerful in some of her faster songs, Linda Ronstadt's voice takes on a softer, more tremulous reading on this song. She sounds so forlorn as she sings so tenderly about unrequited love. This song boasts an elegant arrangement that sounds like it would be right at home as chamber music. There are no fiddles being played... instead, I hear violins, along with a harpsichord and bass violin. And Linda Ronstadt still sounds very comfortable baring her soul through music.
Different Drum was recorded in 1967, with the Stone Poneys. This song has a very 60s sound, with its harpsichord accompaniment and its very wistful, almost naive lyrics. Former Eagle Bernie Leadon plays one of the acoustic guitars featured in this song and Linda Ronstadt sounds hopelessly young and fresh.
I love When Will I Be Loved, which was sort of the story of my life until I finally met the love of my life at age 30. This is another country rocker, with Linda Ronstadt sounding indignant and fiery as she demands to know when she'll be loved. Whenever I hear this song, I can just picture Linda stomping her feet and banging her fists in frustration. I'm sure this song speaks to lots of a lot of people.
Love Has No Pride is another country flavored ballad. Incidentally, this song was also sung by another one of my favorite singers, Bonnie Raitt. Both ladies offer different readings. I'm more familiar with Linda Ronstadt's version because it's the one I heard first. She gives this song a dignified, almost stately air. In contrast, Bonnie Raitt's version is more bittersweet and innocent, and frankly, sounds more pained than Linda Ronstadt's. I'm not sure which version is technically better, although I think I like to listen to Linda Ronstadt's more.
I've always loved Linda Ronstadt's 1975 cover of Heat Wave. This is the version that, as a child of the 1970s, is more familiar to me. Once again, Linda Ronstadt is joined by 70s guitar guru Waddy Wachtel, who puts his prominent stamp on this track. Again, it sounds like a relic from the mid 1970s, but I love it anyway for Linda Ronstadt's vocal enthusiasm and passion.
It Doesn't Matter Anymore, written by Paul Anka, is another wistful song about love and loss. Linda Ronstadt injects such sadness into her interpretation of this song. When I hear Linda Ronstadt sing this song, I envision a heartbroken but resigned woman who has just lost the love of her life. She sounds like she means it when she sings "I'll find somebody new and baby, we'll say we're through, and you won't matter anymore." I picture her bravely smiling through the tears as she bravely packs up her toys and goes home to lick her wounds.
This disc ends with Linda Ronstadt's poignant cover of Smokey Robinson's Tracks of My Tears. Again, I wasn't around to fall in love with the original version of this song, but I do love Linda's country flavored remake. Again, I believe it when she sings about how she's not over her break up, even as she's dating other people. Her voice is piercing with emotion and I'm left convinced that she really is hurting even as she puts on a brave face.
Greatest Hits is not long on original material, nor is it particularly long in length, running at about 38 minutes. The liner notes do contain information about the folks who play on each track, as well as which albums included each track. There are no lyrics included, but Linda Ronstadt's voice is so clear that I doubt that will be a problem for most people. And even though I've owned this CD for about fifteen years, it still sounds great on my CD player. It's well produced.
As much as I miss Linda Ronstadt's rock n' roll heyday, I'm glad to know that I can revisit whenever I want to just by listening to Greatest Hits. And when I want to hear more, I can always play Greatest Hits Volume 2. Ahh... sweet memories.