The appearance of Linda Ronstadt in Washington this past week brings to mind the release of albums by two people responsible for her past and present images: Warren Zevon and Elvis Costello.
Costello, the striking image of Buddy Holly, appeared on the New Wave scene three years ago. and has since gained immense popularity. He is responsible for Ronstadt's "New-New Wave" image (three of his songs appear on Mad Love, Linda's latest) and he contains the style of an angry, frustrated English twerp. His songs are short and catchy but with enough emotional lyricism to have him dubbed "the English Springsteen."
His first three albums proved his talent for writing and singing, and his latest Get Happy!! is no exception. With its bright orange cover and it's sticker proclaiming "Twenty hits!!," it covers the full range from mellow love songs, off-beat reggae, and strong power pop.
Some of the better cuts include "Opportunity," "Love for Tender," "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down," and "Beaten to the Punch."
His lyrics remain in the same style; angry, frustrated, accusatory, cynical, and funny. "New Amsterdam," perhaps, the best cut in the album is a jumpy song, almost Dutch-rock: "New Amsterdam, it's become much too much / Do I have the possession of everything she touches? / Do I step on the brake to get out of her clutches? / Do I speak double Dutch to a real double duchess?".
There's even a note from producer Nick Lowe on the back about the "no loss of sound quality due to 'groove cramming'." Of course the real reason there are 20 songs is because most are under three minutes. Still, all in all, Get Happy!! is a fine album for those interested in the new music for the 80s. Costello proves himself again to be interesting, provocative, and commercial at the same time. He may have not gotten "happy" but if he was he wouldn't be Elvis.
The person responsible for Ronstadt's "old" image is Warren Zevon. Having written four songs for Ronstadt ("Carmelita," "Mohammed's Radio," "Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me," and "Hasten Down the Wind") he takes credit for Linda's "California" image.
Unlike his "LA" cohorts .(The Eagles, Jackson Browne, James Taylor) Zevon insists on being the tough guy unlike the whimpy Eagles who whine ("I Can't Tell You Why") and mope around being depressed like Browne. Zevon's first album (which featured the four songs he wrote for Ronstadt and a then up-and-coming duo of Buckingham and Nicks) was picked by Time Magazine as one of the best rock albums of the 70s. His second scored him a hit ("Werewolves of London") and some recognition which promoted him. With the release of his third, Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School, Zevon attacks the attitudes of his "California" friends whom he features on the album. Included in this group are David Lindley, Rick Marotta, Jackson Brown, Waddy Wachtel, Joe Walsh, Glenn Frey, Don Henley, and of course, Ronstadt.
The album starts off with "Interlude Number One," a classically arranged and orchestrated piece in the Western style of American composer Aaron Copland. He goes on to complain of frustration ("Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School"), divorce ("Empty Handed Heart" a slow, quiet song which stars Ronstadt), mercenaires ("Jungle Work"), and crazed loners ("Wild Age"). The album also features a song co-written by Bruce Springsteen, "Jennie Needs a Shooter."
The hit from the album, "A Certain Girl," written by Allen Toussaint ("Southern Nights, "What Do You Want the Girl to Do?," "I'll Take a Melody") under the pen-name 'N. Neville') is a bit repetitious but nonetheless funny.
"Play It All Night Long" a song about the "good ole boys in the south" is certainly one of the funnier cuts on the album. "Grandpa pissed his pants again / He don't give a damn / Brother Billy has both guns drawn / He ain't been right since Vietnam / 'Sweet Home Alabama' / Play that dead band's song / Turn those speakers up full blast / Play it all night long."
"Gorilla, You're a Desperado," another funny song, plays on the old Darwin theory: "Big gorilla in the LA Zoo / Snatched the glasses off my face / Took the keys to my BMW / Left me here to take his place."
With very competent musicians and satirical lyricism, Zevon keeps up his tough guy image without pretentiousness. Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School is another chapter in the annals of one who People magazine called the New poet of weirdo Rock."
Ronstadt has both Costello and Zevon to thank for creativity in her career. As for their respective albums, let the buyer beware: For Fans Only. All others need not apply. Where would strange rock and roll be without them?