She has sung almost every form of music except, perhaps. hard-core disco — and succeeded. She reaches way back for standards such as "Old Paint" and "I Never Will Marry" and sings them with innocence. She lunges ahead into the risky territory of punk and knocks out a haunting version of Elvis Costello's "Alison." She belts out love songs like "Loose Again" and "Down So Low" with the authority of someone who has seen and done it all. She sings Mexican, Motown, reggae — and the girl can rock 'n' roll. And when she sings a country tune such as "I Can't Help It (if I'm Still in Love with You)," there is no doubt that Ronstadt has something for everyone.
Living in the U.S.A. hit the stores in 1978 with an initial shipment of more than 2,000,000 copies. That album further demonstrated Ronstadt's versatility and growth. She sang the Hammerstein/ Romberg tune "When I Grow Too Old to Dream," covered Smokey Robinson's "Ooo, Baby, Baby." Chuck Berry's "Back in the U.S.A.," as well as Warren Zevon's "Mohammed's Radio" and Elvis Costello's "Alison." By that time, she had appeared on the covers of many major periodicals, from Redbook to Rolling Stone to Time. Her fans couldn't get enough information about her.
PLAYBOY: How does the new album Mad Love, reflect your recent experiences and changes?
RONSTADT: There is almost no overdubbing. This album doesn't follow what seems to be my prescribed pattern: a J.D. Souther song, a Lowell George song. a couple of oldies, kick in the ass and put it out there. In this album. almost all the songs are new. It's much more rock 'n' roll, more raw, more basic.
How did you get the new tunes?
Elvis Costello, who I think is writing the best new stuff around, wrote three of the songs.
What did Costello think of your cover of his song "Alison"?
I've never communicated with him directly, but I heard that someone asked him what he thought and he said he'd never heard it but that he'd be glad to get the money. So I sent him a message. "Send me some more songs, just keep thinking about the money." And he sent me the song "Talking in the Dark," which has not been released here, and I love it. I also recorded "Party Girl" and "Girl Talk."
You also have three songs from Mark Goldenberg. Who's he?
Next to Elvis Costello, he's writing my favorite new rock 'n' roll. He's part of a group called the Cretones. He's great. I don't know how this album will sell. I'm sure I'll be attacked: "Linda's sold out, trying to be trendy, gotten away from her roots." But, well, can't worry about what the critics say.
Before we get to the year 2000, what about the music just ahead — in the Eighties?
The Eighties is a season of change, kind of like the Sixties just before rock 'n' roll exploded. A lot of us are kind of walking around wringing our hands and wondering what the music will be like. The most interesting things seem to be coming out of England again. At least my favorite things: Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, Rockpile. L.A. looks like it has dried up as far as ideas are concerned. Right now there is a real vacuum. I keep turning the radio dial a lot.
You feel the changes were positive?
Yeah. The stretch seems completely natural. A lot of the avant-garde stuff isn't the standard form — verse, chorus, verse, chorus. Groups like the Talking Heads are doing real interesting stuff, but for me, I still need a song that works in a verse, chorus, verse, chorus format — like the stuff the Cretones and Elvis Costello do. To adopt a new musical style just for the sake of it is like putting on a chicken suit — it looks ridiculous. At the same time, I wanted to change, yet the the thoughts of changing producer and engineer made me sweaty under the armpits. We had worked together for so long. But we all wanted to flex our musical muscles on this one. It feels good.