Linda Ronstadt’s illustrious voice is back in the spotlight, thanks to her 1970 song “Long, Long Time” being featured in the HBO series The Last of Us.
Ronstadt first rose to prominence during the folk-rock scene of the 1960s and later became a blazing country-folk musical force throughout the 1970s, putting her stamp on the musical landscape as a formidable vocal stylist and interpreter possessing a supple voice capable of enviable musical diversity. Over the course of more than two dozen albums, Ronstadt traversed genres including rock, folk, country, jazz, Mexican folk, the Great American Songbook and opera. Several of her songs reached the upper echelon of the Billboard’s Hot 100, and in 1975, she crowned the chart with her hit “You’re No Good.” In total, she placed 34 entries on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
She also notched hits on the Billboard Latin chart (“Frenesi,” “Perfidia”) and country charts (1975’s “When Will I Be Loved,” and the Dolly Parton/Emmylou Harris collaboration “To Know Him is to Love Him”).
Ronstadt has 11 Grammy wins to her credit, in a diverse spectrum of categories including best musical album for children, best country vocal performance, best Mexican-American album and best pop vocal performance. Further demonstrating her versatility, Ronstadt also earned a Primetime Emmy Award in 1989 for outstanding individual performance in a variety of music program, for Canciones de Mi Padre (Great Performances), and was nominated for a Tony Award for best performance by a leading actress in a musical, for her role as Mabel Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance.
Ronstadt earned a lifetime achievement award from the Latin Grammys in 2014, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014 and was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient in 2019.
Here, we look at 15 songs that highlight Ronstadt’s stylistic range.
"You’re No Good"
Ronstadt notched her sole Billboard Hot 100 chart-topper with this inescapable 1975 hit. The song was first recorded by Dee Dee Warwick in 1963 and written by Clint Ballard, Jr.
Ronstadt included this blues-tinged, fierce kissoff on her fifth solo studio project, Heart Like a Wheel, a classic of ’70s soft rock, which also contained “When Will I Be Loved” and “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You).”
"Don’t Know Much"
Ronstadt teamed with Aaron Neville (known for soul hits like “Tell It Like It Is”) on this 1989 collaboration, which came just short of crowning the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 2.
Written by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil and Tom Snow, the song highlighted the two singers’ singular voices and effortless harmonic blend. “Don’t Know Much” was included on Ronstadt’s album Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind, and won a Grammy for best pop performance by a duo or group with vocal.
Written by Roy Orbison and Joe Melson, “Blue Bayou” reached the top 30 on Billboard’s Hot 100 for Orbison in 1963. Ronstadt’s rendering of the song, released in 1977, reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. It earned Grammy nominations for record of the year (single) and best pop vocal performance, female, and was certified platinum by the RIAA.
Eagles member Don Henley sings background vocals on Ronstadt’s recording. It was Ronstadt who helped incubate the formation of the Eagles in 1971, when she hired Henley and Glenn Frey to be part of her backing band.
“In those days we didn’t have enough money to put people in separate rooms, so Glenn and Don were rooming together and they each discovered the other could sing and was a great songwriter,” Ronstadt told Billboard in 2016. “Glenn used to call Don his secret weapon. He said, ‘I’m gonna do a band with Don. We’re gonna do a band together.’ I said, ‘That’s a great idea.’
“So we all talked about it. [Manager] John [Boylan] said, ‘I can help you do this. I can help you put this band together, and while you’re waiting to get a record deal, you can play with Linda and you can have a gig.’ It was one of those kinds of situations where it was in everybody’s advantage. So I suggested they get Bernie Leadon to play guitar ’cause I liked Bernie and John suggested that they get Randy Meisner, and that’s how the Eagles were formed.”
"It's So Easy"
Written by Buddy Holly and Norman Petty, “It’s So Easy” was originally released by Holly’s group The Crickets, though it did not chart. Ronstadt released a cover version of the song in 1977 as part of her album Simple Dreams, and the song entered the top five of the Hot 100 in December 1977, the same month it was joined by “Blue Bayou,” from the same album. “Easy” was later featured in the 2005 movie Brokeback Mountain.
"When Will I Be Loved"
Ronstadt’s uncanny ability to record a cover of a song and infuse it with her own distinct musicianship is displayed yet again on this track, originally written and recorded by sibling duo the Everly Brothers (who earned a top 10 hit on the Hot 100 with the song in 1960). From her 1974 album Heart Like a Wheel, “When Will I Be Loved” became a massive pop and country hit, reaching the pinnacle of Billboard‘s Country Singles chart, and No. 2 on the Hot 100 in 1975.
During the Academy of Country Music Awards ceremony held that same year, Ronstadt was named most promising female vocalist. Ronstadt was also nominated for female vocalist of the year at the Country Music Association Awards in 1975. Heart Like a Wheel was certified 2x platinum by the RIAA and also included “You’re No Good” and “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You).”
"Long, Long Time"
This haunting song from Ronstadt’s 1970 album Silk Purse was recently revived thanks to its inclusion in an acclaimed episode the HBO series The Last of Us. Written by Gary White, the song peaked at No. 25 on the Hot 100 when it released in 1970, and at No. 20 on Billboard’s Easy Listening chart. The song also netted Ronstadt a Grammy nomination for best contemporary vocal performance, female.
After the episode aired on Jan. 29, the track’s on-demand streaming increased from 8,000 the day before the episode to 149,000 the day after, according to Luminate. Though Ronstadt will not receive any monies from the synch hit, she recently told Billboard, “I still love the song and I’m very glad that Gary will get a windfall.”
"That’ll Be the Day"
With her peerless, versatile vocals, Ronstadt regularly turned covers of classic songs into her own signature creations. This 1950s Buddy Holly tune was no exception. Ronstadt included the song on her 1976 album Hasten Down the Wind, which earned a Grammy for best pop vocal performance, female, in 1977. This song hit No. 11 on the Hot 100 and No. 27 on Billboard‘s Country Songs chart.
"Somewhere Out There"
In March 1987, this duet from Ronstadt and James Ingram peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100. The song was featured in the closing credits to the 1986 Steven Spielberg-produced film An American Tail.
At the 1988 Grammys, “Somewhere Out There” won song of the year and best song written specifically for a motion picture or television. Meanwhile, Ronstadt and Ingram earned a Grammy nomination for best pop performance by a duo or group with vocal. (During that same Grammy ceremony, Ronstadt won best country performance by a duo or group with vocals for her role in the Trio album with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris).
"To Know Him Is to Love Him"
Ronstadt, along with her Trio cohorts Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, earned a No. 1 hit on Country Songs in May 1987 with this lilting, Phil Spector-written ballad about someone pining after a potential lover. Spector initially had a hit with the song as part of his band The Teddy Bears, who earned a No. 1 hit with it on the Hot 100.
The song was included on the Harris/Parton/Ronstadt 1987 Trio album, which earned an album of the year nomination from the Country Music Association, as well as a CMA Award win for vocal event of the year. The project won album of the year at the ACM Awards.
In the 2019 documentary Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, Parton recalled the three artists’ initial gathering for an impromptu hangout session at a home in Los Angeles, when they started collaborating on the traditional song “Bury Me Beneath the Willow.”
“They had this big, ol’ house, almost like a bunch of hippies just livin’ up there. It was just a free-for-all kind of house. A dream for musicians…It was just chillin’, chillin’, chillin.’ When we heard our voices it was like injectin’ some kind of serum into your veins. It was like a high like you’ve never felt.”
"I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love With You)"
Just months after reaching the pinnacle of Country Songs with “When Will I Be Loved” in 1975, Ronstadt reached No. 2 on that chart with this cover of a 1951 country hit for Hank Williams. Her rendition of “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You)” was included on the 1974 album Heart Like a Wheel, and earned Ronstadt a Grammy win for best country vocal performance, female.
Prior to her solo success, Ronstadt released three albums as part of the folk trio Stone Poneys, alongside Kenny Edwards and Bobby Kimmel. “Different Drum,” featured on the band’s Evergreen, Vol. 2 album, became their first major breakthrough and Ronstadt’s first hit single, reaching No. 13 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in early 1968.
Michael Nesmith wrote “Different Drum” two years prior to joining the made-for-television musical group The Monkees, and folk/bluegrass band The Greenbriar Boys recorded it prior to Stone Poneys. As with other songs Ronstadt has covered, she recorded the song from a female perspective rather than the original male perspective it was written in.
"Silver Threads and Golden Needles"
Ronstadt recorded two versions of this song, the first being an unfiltered country version which was included on her 1969 solo debut, Hand Sown…Home Grown. She later recorded a version with a stronger folk-rock edge for her 1973 Don’t Cry Now album. She released that version as a single in March 1974 and it became her first country chart hit, reaching the top 20 on Country Sings. Rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson first recorded “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” in 1956.
"Back in the U.S.A."
The song was originally a Hot 100 top 40 hit for rock legend Chuck Berry in 1959; in October 1978, Ronstadt’s version peaked at No. 16. That version was included on Ronstadt’s 1978 album Living in the U.S.A., which also featured a version of Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender.” The album was her third in less than four years to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
In 1986, Ronstadt joined Berry to perform the song together as part of a pair of concerts honoring Berry’s 60th birthday; the performance is included in the Berry documentary Hail! Hail! Rock n’ Roll, directed by Taylor Hackford.
"Poor Poor Pitiful Me"
Ronstadt’s 1977 album Simple Dreams produced not only “It’s So Easy” and “Blue Bayou,” but the top 10 country hit “I Never Will Marry,” a rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Tumbling Dice,” and this cover of a song Warren Zevon wrote and recorded in 1976.
Ronstadt’s version reverses genders and cleans up some of Zevon’s more risqué lyrics. After the song was released in 1978, it reached the top 30 on Billboard‘s Easy Listening chart, the top 40 on the Hot 100, and also entered Billboard‘s country chart. Simple Dreams went on to be certified triple-Platinum by the RIAA.
Country singer-songwriter Terri Clark would have her own hit version of the song in 1996.
"Tú Sólo Tú"
In 1987, after topping the Billboard country chart with her work alongside Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris on the Trio album, Ronstadt paid tribute to her Hispanic heritage and to the music she grew up on, by recording an album of traditional mariachi music, Canciones de Mi Padre.
Ronstadt had previously recorded songs in Spanish, including “Lo Siento mi Vida” (on her album Hasten Down the Wind), as well as a Spanish version of her hit “Blue Bayou” cover.
Canciones was certified 2x multi-platinum by the RIAA and won Ronstadt a Grammy for best Mexican-American performance. Honors for the project continued in 2021, when the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. A year later, Canciones was selected to be part of the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.
The album included “Tú Sólo Tú,” a Ranchera from Mexican singer-songwriter Felipe Valdés Leal. The song was later recorded by Tejano singer Selena on her album Dreaming of You. In 1995, the song became the first Spanish-language song released following Selena’s death earlier that year.