Posts Tagged ‘Linda Ronstadt’

The much-acclaimed 1944 MGM musical Meet Me in St. Louis spins the tale of a St. Louis family from summer 1903 to spring 1904. A posh production helmed by Vincente Minnelli, it’s at once nostalgic and not, dreamy and dour, with most of the songs dating to the early 1900s or before. However, the film is spiced by a handful of new tunes by songwriters Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine: “The Boy Next Door,” the Oscar-nominated “The Trolley Song” and a song that’s since become a seasonal classic, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

This NPR/Fresh Air page delves into the song’s history; this Wikipedia page does, too. But if you choose not to click through, what you really should know is this: Martin’s and Blaine’s first version was rejected by Judy Garland, co-star Tom Drake and Minnelli. As Martin explained to Fresh Air host Terri Gross in 2006, “The original version was so lugubrious that Judy Garland refused to sing it. She said, ‘If I sing that, little Margaret will cry and they’ll think I’m a monster.’ So I was young then and kind of arrogant, and I said, ‘Well, I’m sorry you don’t like it, Judy, but that’s the way it is, and I don’t really want to write a new lyric.’ But Tom Drake, who played the boy next door, took me aside and said, ‘Hugh, you’ve got to finish it. It’s really a great song potentially, and I think you’ll be sorry if you don’t do it.’ So I went home and I wrote the version that’s in the movie.”

Garland’s rendition was released as a single and, though it only rose to No. 27 on the pop charts, became a hit with U.S. service members fighting in World War II. It’s easy to hear why; she captures the nuances of the lyrics, which are simultaneously hopeful and yearning, cherishing the days that used to be while wishing to forge similar memories again: “Someday soon we all will be together/If the fates allow/Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow/So have yourself a merry little Christmas now….”

Here she is performing it on the radio in 1944:

In 1957, Frank Sinatra – who first covered it in 1948 – asked Martin to change the line “until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow” to something a tad more upbeat, as he wanted to re-record it for his A Jolly Christmas LP and found that line depressing. As a result, it became “hang a shining star upon the highest bough.” It zaps some of the song’s strength, I think.

In the years since, it has joined the Great American Songbook and been performed by hundreds upon hundreds of artists; SecondHandSongs lists 1575 recorded renditions, for example, and that’s likely an undercount. Simply put, it tugs at the heartstrings like few others; and, in some respects, could well be the theme song for Christmas 2020. In any event, here’s a Song Roundup of renditions that have captured my ear through the years and also this morning…

Ella Fitzgerald sings it from her 1960 Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas LP. Note that she sticks with the “muddle through” line…

…while Lena Horne, on her 1966 album titled Merry From Lena, does not.  

The a cappella jazz vocal ensemble Singers Unlimited perform the “highest bough” version song on their 1972 Christmas LP.

In 1987, Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders deliver a stirring rendition of the Sinatra version for the A Very Special Christmas CD compilation. (Interesting to note, but it was after this record that the song’s popularity jumped into hyperdrive.)

In 1992, the Stylistics put their soulful spin on it and make it sound brand new, though they, too, sing the “highest bough” line.

Linda Ronstadt also “hangs a shining star” on her 2000 A Merry Little Christmas album. 

In 2004, Dionne Warwick and Gladys Knight joined together for this moving rendition, which appeared on Warwick’s My Favorite Time of Year album; they actually make me not mind when they sing “highest bough” line. 

Also in 2004, Chris Isaak channels his inner Sinatra for this version from his Christmas album, but sings the original “muddle through” line.

In 2011, She & Him (aka Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward) covered the Sinatra version for their A Very She & Him Christmas set.

First Aid Kit shared their beautiful version, which they performed on BBC Radio 2, in 2017. They, too, “muddle through.” 

Finally, the rendition that ignited this journey: Malin Pettersen and Darling West, who shared their cover a few weeks back. As I said at the time, it’s a hauntingly beautiful rendition of a haunting beautiful song. (And, note, that they also sing the original “muddle through” line.)

Last night, I found myself watching Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice on HBO Max. I first saw the film last fall, when Diane and I journeyed into Durham on a weekend afternoon to see it at the historic Carolina Theatre; although those were days of miracle and wonder, aka no masks or social distancing, there weren’t many folks in attendance. Part of that was due, no doubt, to it being a late-day matinee, but I’d wager a larger factor was that its target audience was content to wait for the film to show up on TV.

Anyway, then and now, I found it a well-done documentary filled with cogent insights from Linda and such friends and colleagues as Peter Asher, John Boylan, David Geffen, Emmylou Harris, Don Henley, Dolly Parton and J.D. Souther, as well as many clips that could well have been (and likely were) lifted from YouTube – there were only a handful I hadn’t seen before, in other words. (The Rare TV Appearances DVD collection features many of them, too, including the footage of her being interviewed at her Malibu home.) Which was and is fine. At the Carolina Theatre, it was cool to see them play on a movie screen; and last night, it was cool to see them flicker across our 42-inch TV. (Although I can pull up YouTube on the TV, I rarely do – surfing the site is much more of a computer experience for me.)

Which leads to today’s Top 5: Linda Ronstadt Live. Given the idiosyncrasies of YouTube, where unauthorized videos come and go, some of these will likely go missing in the days, months and years ahead, so play them early and often….

1) Don Kirchner’s Rock Concert. Linda appeared on the March 14th, 1974, episode of the music series. (The other performers that night: Jackson Browne and the Eagles.) Her set features “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” “When Will I Be Loved,” “Heart is Like a Wheel,” “You’re No Good,” “You Can Close Your Eyes” and “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.”

2) Passaic, NJ, 12/6/1975. Although the one-hour, seven-minute concert is in black and white, Linda’s vocals are accented by the hues of the heart. The set: “Colorado”; “That’ll Be the Day”; “Love Has No Pride”; “Silver Threads and Golden Needles”; “Willin’”; “Many Rivers to Cross”; “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”; “When Will I Be Loved”; “Lose Again”; “Faithless Love”; “Roll Um Easy”; “Hey Mister That’s Me Up on the Jukebox”; “I Can’ Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You)”; “Desperado”; “Love Is a Rose”; “You’re No Good”; “Heat Wave”; “Rivers of Babylon”; and “Heart Like a Wheel.”

3) Los Angeles, 10/3/1977. This audio-only treat captures an entire concert from Linda’s Fall 1977 tour. (Sound quality is very good.) The set: “Lose Again”; “That’ll Be the Day”; “Blue Bayou”; “Silver Threads and Golden Needles”; “Willin’”; “Faithless Love”; “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”; “When Will I Be Loved”; “Crazy”; “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”; “Desperado”; “Love Me Tender”; “Simple Man, Simple Dream”; “Love Is a Rose”; “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me”; band introductions”; “Tumbling Dice”; “You’re No Good”; “Heart Like a Wheel”; and “Heat Wave.”

4) The FM concert sequence. Linda figures in a subplot of this forgettable 1978 movie, as the staff of one radio station sets out to broadcast a concert of hers that’s being sponsored by a rival station. Incidentally, the concert sequence wasn’t recorded in L.A., where the film is set, but the Summit in Houston – likely on November 17th, 1977, as she played there that night.) The songs: “Tumbling Dice,” “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” and “Love Me Tender.”

 5) Boston 7/22/1983. This audio-only delight captures the final night of the Get Closer tour. (Sound is so-so, but more than listenable.) The set: “Tumbling Dice”; “It’s So Easy”; “I Knew You When”; “Get Closer”; “Easy For You to Say”; “I Can’t Let Go”; “Party Girl”; “All That You Dream”; “Blue Bayou”; “Willin’”; “That’ll Be The Day”; “Prisoner In Disguise”; “When Will I Be Loved”; “Bandit & a Heart Breaker”; “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”; “You’re No Good”; “Back in the U.S.A.”; “Heat Wave”; “Blowing Away”; and “Desperado.”

And one bonus…

Rally for Nuclear Disarmament, 6/12/1982. Not Linda’s entire set, unfortunately, but part of it. (It’s a playlist, so when one clip ends, the next should kick in.) Sound quality is subpar, but still fun to watch.

October 11th, 1975, began as an overcast day in the Delaware Valley, with occasional showers gradually giving way to the sun by the afternoon, when the temperatures topped off in the low 70s. At least, that was the prediction in the morning’s Philadelphia Inquirer.

The big story: Pennsylvania governor Milton J. Shapp couldn’t recall what he did with two large cash contributions that were handed to him during his 1970 gubernatorial campaign; he claimed to have funneled the money into one of his many statewide campaign committees, but couldn’t produce records to back him up.

Shapp, I should mention, didn’t need the influx. A millionaire, in the mid-1960s he spent his own money in a campaign to prevent the merger of Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central. The effort went for naught, however, and cost him when he sought the governorship in 1966 – the Pennsylvania Railroad president was a pal of President Lyndon B. Johnson. As a result, he lost in the general election to Republican Raymond P. Shafer; the national Dems abandoned him, more or less. But he ran again in 1970 and came out victorious, becoming the state’s first Jewish governor in the process. Not everything he did won favor, such as instituting a state income tax, but – despite allegations of corruption that surrounded his administration – he was popular enough to win a second term.

In retrospect, however, the biggest story of the day occurred after the late news came to an end at 11:30pm: 

Yep, SNL – then known just as Saturday Night – debuted on this date – not that I stayed up to watch it, as I was 10 years old. Instead, I probably tuned into the other Saturday Night Live, a short-lived show hosted by Howard Cosell. The guests: Bill Cosby, Roberta Flack, Barry Manilow, the Rockettes, and Andy Griffith. I was not into music at this point in my life, however, though I enjoyed it enough to watch Hee Haw at 7pm – so, though my first memory of hearing Roberta Flack is 1978, the reality is I likely first heard her this night. Her most recent single was “Feelin’ That Glow,” but whether that’s what she performed is anyone’s guess…

For those curious what a pre-cable/pre-streaming TV life was like on a Saturday night in 1975, here’s the Philadelphia Inquirer’s TV listings:

And, for the movie fans in attendance, here are the movies in the theaters:

You may notice among the listings many non-recent films; that’s the way it was, back then. Without cable and streaming services, movies had a much longer shelf life. The Budco Hatboro theater, for instance, lists a “kiddie matinee” of The Shakiest Gun in the West, which was released in 1968.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: October 11, 1975 (via Top40Weekly.com). I’m digging beyond the Top 5 to uncover some hidden treasures…

1) Helen Reddy – “Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady.” Helen Reddy was more than “I Am Woman.” This, the second single from her No Way to Treat a Lady LP is a somewhat stereotypical adult-contemporary tune, tasteful as all get out. It reaches No. 8 on the pop charts this week, where it will remain for 14 days before dropping to No. 22. (Ain’t no way to treat a fine pop tune!) It does top the adult contemporary charts, however.

2) Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons – “Who Loves You.” Given that we saw Frankie and his Faux Seasons in January 2020 (one of our last pre-pandemic concerts), how can I not include this catchy and classic song? It’s No. 14 this week and will eventually reach No. 3. 

3) Linda Ronstadt – “Heat Wave”/“Love Is a Rose.” The ‘70s rock queen’s infectious take on the classic Martha and the Vandellas song, taken from her Prisoner in Disguise album, leaps 13 spaces to land at No. 18, where it won’t remain for long; it peaks at No. 5 in November.

4) Janis Ian – “At Seventeen.” Above, I mentioned the premiere of Saturday Night Live; one of the musical guests was Ms. Ian. At No. 28, the song is on its way down the charts after reaching No. 3 in September. 

5) Silver Convention – “Fly Robin Fly.” The West German disco act consisted of Sylvester Levay and Michael Kunze, who relied on session vocalists to complete their catchy conconctions; and this, their Grammy Award-winning earworm – which will top the charts in late November – began life as “Run, Rabbit, Run”; they changed the simple lyrics mere moments before recording it. (Incidentally, the enthusiastic women in the video – Penny McLean, Ramona Wulf and Linda G. Thompson – came on board once the duo realized they’d need someone to appear on camera.)

There, atop the dresser in the photo to the left, is a portion of my record collection circa early 1982, when I was 16; I stored my 45s in a stack beside the turntable as well as in a shoebox on the floor that was situated beside another shoebox filled with cassettes. I also stored some LPs in a small rack near my desk, which was across the room.

After five years of intense music fandom, in other words, my entire music library clocked in at a little less than 100 LPs, about 40 cassettes, and maybe – and I’m likely stretching it – 100 45s. I’d yet to complete my Beatles collection, though – as the posters demonstrate – I was a big Beatles/McCartney fan. I owned the red and blue best-of sets (Christmas gifts both), plus everything from Rubber Soul onward (sans the Hey Jude collection), but it wouldn’t be until late 1987, after graduating college and landing a full-time job, that I owned everything Fab.

Similar situations occurred with other favorite artists. I fell in Mad Love with Linda Ronstadt in 1980 due to “How Do I Make You,” for example, but never picked up her first few LPs until the early 1990s, when they were only available as Japanese import CDs; and in late 1981, I bought my first Neil Young album, re*ac*tor, and then the one that preceded it, Hawks & Doves, but it took me most of the ‘80s to work my way through his backlog. 

It wasn’t that I wanted to wait, but records and cassettes were expensive. By the early ‘80s, new releases generally set consumers back $5.99 (the equivalent to $16 today) – but some were discounted to $4.99 and others priced higher, at $6.99 or even $7.99. Factor in sales tax, which in Pennsylvania was six percent, and buying an album was a major expense for a kid on a budget.

And once you consider other typical teen expenses, such as movie tickets, magazines and fast food, prioritizing a catalog item over a new release was an extravagance (just as hardback books were to paperback editions). That said, as I noted in my piece on Jackson Browne’s Hold Out album, I had a hierarchy of fallbacks whenever I walked into a record store; if A was out of stock, I’d look for B, and then C, and then, often, something totally unrelated would catch my eye and I’d walk out with that, instead. Later that year, I discovered a used record store where $7.41 bought three, four or more LPs instead of one, but the same basic rules applied. Wants waited.

I think of those times often, these days. If the streaming services existed back then, how much money would I have saved through the years? But, hand in hand with that, would I treasure specific artists and their oeuvres the same way I do now? Would the years-long journey that, as I outlined here, took me from the Byrds to Emmylou Harris have ended the same if it had occurred within a few weeks? I doubt it.

Which is to say, I have a love-hate relationship with the streaming services. Artists don’t get their fair share from the proceeds, which is a big concern, but another issue is whether the services actually help or hinder music discovery. As I noted last summer, the algorithms used by Pandora barely scratched the surface when I created a “personalized” station around the Bangles. While the results were fine for background music, they were sad for active listening. This Paisley Underground geek was not impressed.

Apple Music, which I subscribe to for simplicity’s sake – when driving in my car, or even hanging out in my living room, it’s easier to say, “Hey, Siri, play All I Intended to Be by Emmylou Harris” than work my way through the iPhone app – often denigrates the album as an art form, as does Spotify with its emphasis on playlists. I’ve added albums to my library only to discover, at a later date, the songs have been split between various collections or even different editions of the same album or, in the case of Juliana Hatfield, 22 “unknown” albums. (On the flip side, I’ve added specific best-ofs only to find the songs then listed under their original album homes.) It doesn’t impact the listening experience when I ask Siri to play the albums in question, but it does if I select the album through the app – which, if we ever return to our workplaces, is what I do in the office.

Anyway, at its best, music is the currency of the soul, and that soul isn’t as well nourished as it should be. Since 2000 or thereabouts, music artists have seen their revenue streams upended, first through the illegal-downloading craze and now via the streaming services. Live shows and merchandise sales is all they have – and for the young ‘uns, it’s likely all they’ve known. If you watch a live-stream and see a tip jar, and can afford it, send money their way – doesn’t have to be a lot. If an artist you like has set up a Patreon thing, and you can afford it, sign up. 

Don’t, however, feel compelled to blow your budget; and don’t feel guilty if you can’t or don’t contribute. (I’ve been very judicious, myself.) This pandemic’s economic fallout has caused many folks to lose their jobs – and even those of us who aren’t unemployed may well be, at some point, if the global economy continues to deteriorate. In some respects, then, this new reality isn’t all that different than the one many fans experienced during the 1960s, ’70s, ‘80s and ’90s, when every visit to a record or CD store forced us to whittle our wants down from the many to the few or even just one. Me, I always felt guilty heading home with a single LP, but such was life – and is life, again.