Simple Dreams

Linda Ronstadt

Elektra/Asylum, 1977

REVIEW BY: Michael Ehret


Maybe it’s just geezer-hood. I’m willing to allow for that, but I don’t think so. Music really was better in the late 1970s.

Remember, this was back when artists (as opposed to entertainers) created art (as opposed to product) with songs (as opposed to singles) for devotees (as opposed to fans). An album was more than a collection of one or two killer singles with plenty of filler that would be released again five months later in an “expanded edition” that’s nothing more than a money grab disguised as a delayed single with even more filler (wait, that’s a pet peeve for another time.)

And if the art was good and the execution was impeccable, length didn’t matter. Forty-five minutes was okay if it was good -- but so was thirty-two minutes.

Linda Ronstadt’s Simple Dreams, perhaps the apex of her career, is art -- and it clocks in at thirty-two minutes and four exquisite, essential seconds. There is not one second too little or too much. Oh, it had its share of Top 40 singles (“It’s So Easy,” Blue Bayou,” “Tumbling Dice,” and “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me”), but from beginning to end it is a well-thought out, supremely executed rock ‘n’ roll triumph.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But wait, this is Women Of Country month.

Oh, you betcha. It’s country, too, with more heartbreak, twang, and steel guitar than a Trisha Yearwood album -- plus one of the finest guest appearances of her career by Dolly Parton on the Dolly-esque, good-girl-abandoned-by-love standard, “I Never Will Marry.”

Because she (largely) does not write her own material, Ronstadt has been wrongly dinged as a cover artist. But that’s a shallow, knee-jerk comment; in actuality, she really is an interpreter.

She helped create Warren Zevon’s career with her takes on his songs “Carmelita” and “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” and breathed new life into Roy Orbison and Joe Melson’s “Blue Bayou” with her soaring interpretation that out Orbisons Orbison on the tune’s chorus, giving her crystal-clear, sharp-as-a-stiletto soprano free reign.

The control she exerts over her gift becomes all the more evident if you try to imagine how, say, Mariah Carey or Celine Dion might apply their melismatic talents to this song.

Ronstadt’s albums -- her art -- have always been simple yet sublime. There are no unnecessary ingredients. No wasted touches. Just the right songs, with the right players, the right instrumentations, and the right singer.

Simple. But, as in the title song by J.D. Souther:

When people don’t know what you mean
They may laugh at you and call you green
They’ll say your words are stupid

And your plans are only schemes
Truth is simple
But seldom ever seen 

Ronstadt’s album is a classic in every sense of the word. It is note perfect from beginning to end – thirty-two minutes and four seconds of glorious, flawless, inspirational art.

That Ronstadt would shortly go on to successfully explore other musical genres such as punk (Mad Love, 1980), standards (What’s New, 1983), Spanish language explorations, (Canciones de Mi Padre, 1987), and even lullabies (Dedicated To The One I Love, 1996), while periodically returning to her folk-rock-pop-country roots, only makes the argument. Artists do that; they explore, following their muse wherever it leads. 

Rating: A

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© 2008 Michael Ehret and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Elektra/Asylum, and is used for informational purposes only.