Linda Ronstadt and her solo career were ubiquitous in the mid-70s through the early 80s, a bit like Madonna and her career were in the early 80s through the early 90s. In fact, Ronstadt totally blazed a power and influence trail for female artists like Madonna who were to follow and, in many ways, eclipse her as the 80s raged on. Here are just a few examples of how she paved the way:
– She racked up a huge number of hit songs, all of which, let’s be honest here, we’ve all sung with great feeling in the shower: “You’re No Good.” “It’s So Easy.” “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me.” “Blue Bayou.” “When Will I Be Loved.” “Just One Look.”
– She was in some high profile relationships that got a lot of attention in the press.
– Her wholesome-but-still-very-woman-in-70s-mainstream-rock appearance was copied by young women everywhere, including my mother.
While she was, without a doubt, a huge influence on young women everywhere in the late 60s through the early 80s – musically, vocally, sartorially, etc – her influence was also enormous on the children raised by or babysat by those young women. I know this, because I was one of those kids, and I watched my mom closely. Mom, who was barely approaching her late twenties during this period, clopped around our central Florida house in her wooden Dr. Scholls sandals, humming along as Linda belted it out: “Woooooooooooe, woe is me”. At that time, Mom had long, dark hair that she would pull back into a messy French twist, tendrils framing her face just so (see ‘The Very Best of Linda Ronstadt’ for reference), and would do housework in a tube top and jogging shorts. I’m guessing my mom’s style at that time was largely a result of how Linda Ronstadt presented herself – she sure as hell wasn’t trying to look like Stevie Nicks, though Mom loved her, too. No, Linda’s work was a little more approachable in its excellence, at least for some, and so was her look.
In 1978, Linda Ronstadt’s ‘Living in the USA’ was released and became a fixture at our house. Linda was on the cover, sporting a perm (!), satin jacket, tank top, jogging shorts, knee pads, tube socks, and roller skates. I felt vindicated, as I was a roller skating kind of fourth grader and here was Linda Ronstadt roller skating, too. (My mother wasn’t much for the roller skating apparel, but she did get a perm before the end of the 70s.) I never got to have a satin jacket, but I’m sure there are photos of me skating the sidewalks of our neighborhood at that time, clad in jogging shorts and a t-shirt, not-quite-right tube socks pulled all the way up. That might have been the last year Ronstadt had such a big influence on mainstream culture – Madonna was hot on her heels, using the new tool of music video to attract legions of newer, younger fans – like me.
Linda Ronstadt turns 69 (?!) on July 15, you guys. She started singing with her siblings in the 1950s as a teenager, was in the Stone Poneys throughout the 1960s, had that total dream of a solo career in the 70s and early 80s, and reinvented herself many times – showing incredible guts and range every time she did so – before leaving the music business altogether after a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease a couple of years ago.
Ms. Ronstadt, I hope you have a fantastic birthday. Thanks for everything.