|Linda Ronstadt, 1970s.|
Linda Ronstadt is 70 years old today and it seems a good time to reflect on just how massive her popularity once was, particularly in the 1970s. Her birthday is also a sad reminder that it’s three years since Ronstadt announced to the music world that she can no longer sing a single note as result of Parkinson’s disease. Diagnosed in late 2012, the news was only made public in September of 2013. In thinking about it all, I realised there is a case to be made that due to album sales, top 40 hits, concert attendances and total earnings that Linda Ronstadt was arguably the biggest female solo artist in the world in the 1970s.
Perhaps Donna Summer could’ve challenged that title, but regardless, you can’t discount six Rolling Stone magazine covers, not to mention covers of both Time and Newsweek and the fact that in 1978 alone she was reported to have earned US $12 million – more than $40 million in today’s money. Beyond the 70s she continued to have hits and recorded two of the finest duets of the 80s with Don’t Know Much and All My Life, both with Aaron Neville.
Speaking of which, there are plenty of hit songs I could choose to draw attention to Ronstadt’s artistry (All My Life is a particular favourite), but I thought I’d take the less travelled path and focus on two songs that not only aren’t solo songs of hers’, but aren’t even official duets.
The first song is one of the saddest songs I know, Art Garfunkel’s Jimmy Webb-written Scissors Cut from 1981. Ronstadt’s subtle background vocals add an extra emotional element to a song about finding (and rescuing) an old love who you no longer speak to, “somewhere in the flames”.
The second song was five years later and is more of a vocal duet, Paul Simon’s Under African Skies from his much heralded Graceland LP. The song has Ronstadt’s trademark flawless harmonies and even features a reference to her hometown with the lyric “take this child Lord, from Tucson, Arizona.” Under African Skies, like most of Graceland, combines Americana with South African music and themes and after more than 25 years still sounds as a vital as it first did in 1986.
Believe it or not, it was completely unintentional to feature both Simon and Garfunkel, or in this case, Garfunkel and Simon. But it does show that even in their solo careers they had a certain musical sensibility in common. And both knew an expert harmonist when they heard one. Happy birthday Linda Ronstadt.
Note: A version of this article was published on The Roxborogh Report in September 2013 when it was announced Linda Ronstadt had Parkinson’s.