Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Happy Wednesday and I’d like to welcome you to another installment of Song Musings, in which I take a closer look at a tune I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. This week, my pick is Shape of My Heart by Sting, a gem off his fourth studio album Ten Summoner’s Tales. And guess what, today happens to be the 30th anniversary of that very album, which I feel is Sting’s artistic Mount Rushmore. A dear friend reminded me of the anniversary last week after I had earmarked the tune for today’s post – so, yes, I suppose the stars were aligned!

Co-written by guitarist Dominic Miller and Sting (credited with his birthname Gordon Sumner), Shape of My Heart first appeared as the 10th track on Ten Summoner’s Tales. Five months later, on August 23, 1993, it was also released separately as the album’s fifth single. While unlike If I Ever Lose My Faith In You and Fields of Gold, the album’s first and fourth singles, respectively, Shape of My Heart didn’t gain much traction in the charts, Wikipedia notes the tune has become a “pop classic” and one of the songs that are most closely associated with Sting’s solo career.

The official music video for Shape of My Heart (see below), filmed at Sting’s lake house in Wiltshire, southern England, was directed by Doug Nichol. Apart from Sting, the American filmmaker and video director also worked with the likes of David Bowie, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and U2 and was the director of photography on Madonna’s 1991 documentary Truth or Dare. Nichol won the 1994 Grammy Award for Best Long Form Music Video for Ten Summoner’s Tales.

Upon its release as a single, Shape of My Heart reached an underwhelming no. 57 on the UK Official Singles Chart. In Canada, it did somewhat better, climbing to no. 44. Elsewhere, including the U.S., Australia and various European countries other than the UK, the single didn’t chart at all. I find that a bit mind-boggling. Perhaps, audiences felt it was too mellow!

When it comes to the album, fortunately, the picture looks very different. Ten Summoner’s Tales topped the Austrian charts, reached no. 2 in the UK, the U.S., France and Germany, no. 3 in Norway and Switzerland, and no. 5 in The Netherlands, among others. It also became one of Sting’s best-selling albums, gaining 3x and 2x Platinum certifications in the U.S. and the UK, respectively, as well as Platinum status in each Australia, Canada, Spain and Switzerland. The album was also nominated for multiple awards in the U.S. and UK, and won three Grammy Awards and one Brit Award.

Following are additional insights from Songfacts:

Sting talked about “Shape Of My Heart” in a 1993 promotional interview: “I wanted to write about a card player, a gambler who gambles not to win but to try and figure out something; to figure out some kind of mystical logic in luck, or chance; some kind of scientific, almost religious law. So this guy’s a philosopher, he’s not playing for respect and he’s not playing for money, he’s just trying to figure out the law – there has to be some logic to it. He’s a poker player so it’s not easy for him to express his emotions, in fact he doesn’t express anything, he has a mask, and it’s just one mask and it never changes.”

This is one of the rare songs that is co-written by Sting’s longtime guitarist, Dominic Miller. In Lyrics By Sting, the singer remembered Miller bringing him the “beautiful guitar riff” and going for a walk along the riverbank and through the woods to figure out the lyrics. “When I got back, the whole song was written in my head. Dominic now thinks that I find lyrics under a rock somewhere… He could, of course, be right,” Sting wrote.

This song was edited into the end of the 1994 movie Leon: The Professional.

Both the Sugababes and Craig David sampled this and had hit singles with it in 2003 in the UK. The Sugababes’ “Shape” made #11, and Craig David’s “Rise And Fall” made #2. On the latter, Sting even made an appearance in the video and performed the track with Craig David on live music shows.

15 years later, US rapper Juice WRLD had a worldwide hit with “Lucid Dreams (Forget Me)”, which also makes major use of this track.

Renowned harmonica player Larry Adler played on this song. Before collaborating with popular musicians like Sting, Elton John and Kate Bush in his later career, Adler worked with composers like George Gershwin, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Darius Milhaud – many of whom composed works specifically for him. Unfortunately, he would be blacklisted during the anti-Communist crusade led by Senator Joe McCarthy in the ’50s.

This was featured on the TV crime drama Hustle in the 2011 episode “The Delivery.”

Miller was just warming up his fingers by playing Chopin-style chords on the guitar when he happened to catch Sting’s ear. He explained in a 2018 interview at Jazzklub Divino in Denmark: “I was just playing that in front of the fireplace at Sting’s house in England and he said, ‘What’s that?’ ‘Oh, it’s nothing, it’s just a little movement.’ He said, ‘That’s a song.’ I went, ‘Really? Are you kidding me?’ Then ten minutes later we went into the studio – ’cause we were at his studio anyway in his lake house – and we put a drum machine up, just the two of us. And then he went out in the garden for a walk and he came back with those lyrics. And so we recorded it! It was just an acoustic guitar and it was finished in one day – it was written in one day and recorded.”

He continued: “It’s one of those nice moments that happen in your life when things just fall on top of each other naturally, like nature. It’s not always like that… Sting’s genius with lyrics made it into a very, very ambiguous kind of narrative, which really goes well with that kind of arpeggio, with those Chopin-esque chords, you know? That Chopin-esque harmony kind of lends itself to those kind of lyrics, with Sting’s timbre of his voice and the sound of my guitar and just a little bit of a groove. It was the perfect storm.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfact; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six. I can’t believe we’ve already made it through the first month of 2023. I hope you’re feeling groovy and are in the mood for some time travel into the magic world of music. As always, the trip includes six stops in different decades. Fasten your seatbelt and let’s go!

Barney Kessel/A Foggy Day

Our journey today starts in 1956 with American jazz guitarist Barney Kessel, a name I first heard from my brother-in-law in the late ’70s or early ’80s, then still my sister’s boyfriend. Kessel, who was active from the early ’40s until the early ’90s when a stroke put an end to his career, was particularly known for chord-based melodies. He was a sought-after session guitarist who worked with many other jazz greats, such as Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown. During the ’60s, Kessel was a member of the prominent LA-based session group The Wrecking Crew, playing on recordings by The Monkees, The Beach Boys and others. Eventually, he left studio work to focus on his jazz career, both as a solo artist and sideman. In 1973, Kessel also co-founded Great Guitars, a jazz supergroup with fellow jazz guitarists Charlie Byrd and Herb Ellis. A Foggy Day, composed by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, is a track from Kessel’s 1956 album Kessel Plays Standards. Check out this amazing guitar tone!

Donald Fagen/The Nightfly

Let’s next jump to October 1982 and The Nightfly by Donald Fagen. His solo debut and first release without his longtime Steely Dan collaborator Walter Becker remains my favorite Fagen album. The Nightfly came 16 months after Fagen and Becker had dissolved Steely Dan in the wake of the Gaucho album, whose recording had been hampered by numerous creative, personal and professional setbacks. Fagen’s first solo album touches on topics from his childhood in the late ’50s and early ’60s, including late-night jazz disc jockeys, fallout shelters and tropical vacations. As such, it is very autobiographical, unlike his earlier compositions for the Dan. Notably, due to writer’s block, it would take Fagen 10 years to release his second solo album Kamakiriad, which was produced by Walter Becker who also contributed guitar and bass. It also led to a supporting tour of Fagen and Becker, their first as Steely Dan since 1974. Coming back to The Nightfly, here’s the great title track.

Etta James/At Last

Time to pay a visit to the ’60s and the debut album by Etta James, an amazing vocalist who over a nearly 60-year career performed in multiple genres, such as gospel, blues, jazz, R&B, rock and roll and soul. James had an eventful life and career, which included heroin addiction, severe physical abuse and incarceration. In spite of her struggles, except for an eight-year gap in the ’80s, James released albums at a pretty steady pace. Following her 1988 comeback album Seven Year Itch, James received multiple recognitions, including inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1993), Grammy Hall of Fame (1999) and Blues Hall of Fame (2001), as well as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (2003). Sadly, James passed away from leukemia in January 2012, five days prior to what would have been her 74th birthday. Let’s celebrate this outstanding artist with the title track of her very first album At Last! Co-written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren for the 1941 musical film Sun Valley Serenade, the tune was first recorded by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, becoming a no. 2 on the U.S. pop chart in 1942. James’ beautiful rendition, one of her best-known songs, reached no. 47 on the U.S. pop chart and no. 2 on the R&B chart. What a voice!

Ry Cooder/Little Sister

Our next stop is July 1979, which saw the release of Bop Till You Drop, the eighth studio album by Ry Cooder. If I recall it correctly, the first time I heard about him was in connection with the 1984 Wim Wenders picture Paris, Texas, for which Cooder wrote the score – one of the best acoustic slide guitar-playing I know. Cooder is a versatile artist who in addition to 17 film scores has released a similar amount of solo albums since his 1970 eponymous debut. Over his 55-year-and-counting career, Cooder has also collaborated with numerous other artists like John Lee HookerThe Rolling StonesRandy NewmanLinda Ronstadt and David Lindley. Bop Till You Drop, yet another album to which my then-bandmate and longtime music buddy from Germany introduced me, mostly is a collection of R&B and rock & roll covers. This includes the opener Little Sister, penned by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman and first recorded by Elvis Presley in 1961. While I dig that version, especially Hank Garland’s lead guitar, I like Ray Cooder’s soulful rendition even more!

Matthew Sweet/I Belong to You

I don’t know about you, but I’m in the mood for some sweet power pop. This takes us to the current century, more specifically May 2018 and Tomorrow’s Daughter, the 13th studio album by Matthew Sweet. I first came across the singer-songwriter in January 2021 when his most recent studio album Catspaw appeared, and featured one of the tunes in a Best of What’s New installment. After playing in various bands in the ’80s and releasing two unrecognized solo records (Inside, 1986; and Earth 1989), Sweet achieved commercial breakthrough with his third studio album Girlfriend, which came out in October 1991 and to date is one of two records that reached Gold certification in the U.S. Between 2006 and 2013, Sweet collaborated on a series of cover albums (Under the Covers Vol. 1 – Vol. 3) with Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles. I featured two of their great renditions in previous Sunday Six installments here and here. From the above-noted Tomorrow’s Daughter, here’s I Belong to You, a lovely pop rock tune.

Mudhoney/Blinding Sun

Before yet another musical journey comes to an end, let’s visit one more tune. The year is 1992 and the month is October. That’s when American band Mudhoney came out with their fourth studio album Piece of Cake. Formed in Seattle in 1988, the group is viewed as instrumental in creating grunge and an inspiration for many other bands who embraced that genre, as well as alternative rock. Mudhoney are still active and have released 10 studio albums to date. A new one, Plastic Eternity, is in the can and scheduled for April 7. At the time they recorded Piece of Cake, their only charting album in the U.S. on the Billboard 200 to date, Mudhoney featured Mark Arm (vocals, guitar, organ, piano), Steve Turner (guitar, harmonica, banjo, vocals) and Dan Peters (drums, percussion, vocals), who remain part of the current lineup, and Matt Lutkin (bass, vocals) who was replaced by Guy Maddison in 2001. Here’s Blinding Sun, credited to all members of the band at the time. I like their garage sound.

Last but not least, below is a Spotify playlist of the above goodies. As always, I hope there’s something here you enjoy!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to the first Sunday Six of 2022 and once again Happy New Year! Frequent visitors of the blog know what’s about to unfold. In case you’re here for the first time, welcome, and I hope you’ll be back for more. The Sunday Six is a weekly recurring feature celebrating music in different flavors from the past 70 years or so, six tunes at a time I typically present in a zig-zag fashion. Ready to embark on my first music mini-excursion of 2022? Fasten your seatbelt and let’s go!

Regina Spektor/New Year

Since it’s the beginning of 2022, I thought why not kick off this installment with a song titled New Year. It’s a nice ballad by Regina Spektor, a Russian-American singer-songwriter and pianist. Spektor, who was born in 1980 in Moscow, then the Soviet Union, has lived in the U.S. since 1989 when her parents emigrated to New York. After studying classical piano until she was 17, Spektor started to become interested in other music, including hip-hop, rock and punk. She initially gained prominence as part of New York’s so-called anti-folk scene. According to Wikipedia, anti-folk emerged in the 1980s to protest the mainstream music scene with mocking and clever lyrics. In July 2001, Spektor self-released her debut album 11:11, a jazz and blues-influenced record. New Year is a bonus track from her seventh and most recent studio album Remember Us to Life that appeared in September 2016.

Miles Davis Quintet/Airegin

Next, let’s turn to a great jazz standard composed in 1954 by tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins. The tune was first recorded in June that year by the Miles Davis Quintet for a 10″ LP titled Miles Davis with Sonny Rollins. In addition to Davis (trumpet) and Rollins (tenor sax), the musicians included Horace Silver (piano), Percy Heath (bass) and Kenny Clarke (drums). Rollins also made four additional albums with Davis, in addition to 50-plus studio and live records as a bandleader over a 60-year recording career, as well as more than 20 albums as a sideman. The latter included The Rolling Stones’ 1981 studio album Tattoo You.

Bronski Beat/It Ain’t Necessarily So

While I’ve never been a synth-pop fan, I’ve always loved It Ain’t Necessarily So by Bronski Beat. The timing of featuring this tune isn’t coincidental. Sadly, the trio’s co-founder Steve Bronski passed away on December 7, 2021, at the untimely age of 61. Bronski who due to a stroke in 2018 had limited mobility, reportedly died from smoke inhalation due to a fire at his apartment in London, England. In addition to him (keyboards, percussion), Bronski Beat also included Jimmy Somerville (vocals) and Larry Steinbachek (keyboards, percussion). It Ain’t Necessarily So, composed by George Gershwin with lyrics by his brother Ira Gershwin, is from Gershwin’s 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. Bronski Beat recorded the tune for their debut album The Age of Consent released in October 1984. Here’s the official video – such a cool rendition!

The Yardbirds/For Your Love

English blues rock group The Yardbirds are best known for featuring three of the top British guitarists: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Clapton replaced the band’s first lead guitarist Anthony “Top” Topham in October 1963. When Clapton left in March 1965, he recommended Jimmy Page as his replacement. But Page declined and Jeff Beck took over on lead guitar. Page ended up joining the group on bass in 1966 and switched to lead guitar after Beck’s departure in November that year. The Yardbirds split in 1968 and reformed in 1992, including original members Chris Dreja (rhythm guitar, bass) and Jim McCarty (drums). They are still around with McCarty remaining the sole founding member in the current line-up. For Your Love, first released as a single in the UK in March 1965, became the band’s first hit. It marked a departure from their blues roots to a more commercial sound, which was the key reason for Clapton’s departure. For Your Love was written by Graham Gouldman who subsequently co-founded 10cc. That harpsichord played by organist Brian Auger and the different sections of the song are just cool!

Smash Mouth/Walkin’ on the Sun

Retro group Smash Mouth were formed in San Jose, Calif. in 1994. The initial line-up consisted of Steve Harwell (lead vocals), Greg Camp (guitar), Paul De Lisle (bass) and Kevin Coleman (drums). By the time they recorded their debut album Fush Yu Mang, Michael Klooster had joined on keyboards. Released in July 1997, the album included Walkin’ on the Sun, the band’s debut single. Written by Camp, the tune surged to no. 2 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, hit no. 3 in Canada and reached no. 7 in Australia. It also became a top 20 hit in the UK (no. 19) and charted in various other European countries – smashing!

10cc/Dreadlock Holiday

I’d like to end this first 2022 Best of What’s New installment on a groovy note with Dreadlock Holiday by 10cc. Released in July 1978, this catchy funky tune was the lead single of the English band’s sixth studio album Bloody Tourists that appeared in September of the same year. Co-written by two of the group’s founding members, Eric Stewart and the above-mentioned Graham Gouldman, Dreadlock Holiday was based on real events Stewart and Moody Blues vocalist Justin Hayward had experienced in Barbados, and Gouldman had encountered in Jamaica. The tune was a no. 1 in the UK and also became 10cc’s first no. 1 hit outside the UK, topping the charts in Belgium, The Netherlands and Australia. I recall this song got lots of play on my favorite mainstream pop FM radio station in Germany at the time. 10cc remain active and with Gouldman still have an original member. The current line-up also includes Paul Burgess (drums, percussion, backing vocals) and Rick Fenn (guitar, backing and lead vocals, bass, keyboards) who already were around for Dreadlock Holiday. The group has announced a UK tour starting in March 2022. I love it (Eh!).

Last but not least, here’s a playlist with the above tunes. Hope you enjoy!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

#PeaceAndLove and a Big Virtual Birthday Show

Today is the 80th birthday of Ringo Starr, which does seem to be a bit unreal, at least to me. As he has done since 2008, Ringo is asking people wherever they are on the planet to say the words ‘peace and love’ at noon their local time. He’s also doing a birthday show, but given the global COVID-19 pandemic, things will be a bit different this year. Rather than repeating what I previously said, I let him address it directly. Ringo is much more entertaining than I could ever be, which is one of several reasons why The Beatles wouldn’t have been the same without him.

To join Ringo’s Big Birthday Show later today at 8:00 pm U.S. EDT/5:00 pm U.S. PDT, go to his YouTube channel. Here’s a little fun teaser what to expect.

I’m also using the occasion to republish a post from exactly three years ago. Coz, why not?

And don’t forget, love and peace!

I feel we need it more than ever, especially in this country these days!

Repost from July 7, 2017

Today, Ringo Starr celebrated his 77th birthday and announced his upcoming 19th studio album. As the Los Angeles Times reported, Starr and hundreds of fans and fellow musicians gathered at Capitol Records Tower in Hollywood for a “Peace and Love” birthday celebration. The annual event has been conducted since 2008, when Starr was asked about his birthday wish and replied “more peace and love.” Ever since he has asked his fans all over the world to stop at noon their local time and say the words “peace and love” to spread the message.

“The great thing is that it’s continuing to grow,” Starr said in the above LA Times story. “When this started in Chicago in 2008, there were maybe 60 or 100 people…My dream — my fantasy — is that one day in the future everyone on the planet will stop at noon and say, ‘Peace and love.’”

Starr was born as Richard Starkey on July 7, 1940 in Liverpool, England. Of course, he is best known as the drummer of The Beatles, replacing Pete Best in August 1962. Prior to that he had played in Rory Storm and The Hurricanes, which had become one of Liverpool’s leading bands in early 1960. Starr met The Beatles for the first time at Kaiserkeller in Hamburg, Germany on October 1, 1960. Just like The Beatles, The Hurricanes had accepted a residency in the Northern German city.

Only two weeks later after the initial encounter, Starr joined John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison to back up Hurricanes singer Lou Walters during a recording of the George Gershwin tune Summertime. During that time period in Hamburg, Starr also filled in for Best on a few occasions. In August 1962, Lennon asked Starr whether he wanted to join The Beatles. Apparently, George Martin wasn’t very impressed with Best’s drumming. Five months later, the Fab Four recorded their debut studio album Please Please Me, which was released in March 1963.

After the official break-up of The Beatles in early 1970, Starr launched a solo career, which to date has included 18 studio albums. No. 19 is called Give More Love and scheduled for September 15th. Rolling Stone just reported that Paul McCartney appears in two songs on the record: We’re On the Road Again and Show Me the Way. Other guests include Joe Walsh, Edgar Winter, Steve Lukather, Peter Frampton, Richard Marx, Dave Stewart, Don Was and Timothy B. Schmit. The record’s title song, a nice mid-tempo tune, has already been released, and the album is available for pre-order.

In mid-October, Starr and his All-Starr Band will kick off a 19-gig U.S. tour in support of the album. The All-Starr Band, a live rock supergroup, has existed in different configurations since 1989. The upcoming line-up will include Lukather, Todd Rundgren, Gregg Rolie, Richard Page, Warren Ham and Gregg Bissonette.

Following is a selection of songs to celebrate Starr’s birthday:

Octupus’s Garden (The Beatles, Abbey Road, 1969)

It Don’t Come Easy (non-album single, 1971)

Photograph (Ringo, 1973)

Wrack My Brain (Stop and Smell the Roses, 1981; written by George Harrison)

Walk With You (Y Not, 2010; duet with Paul McCartney)

Postcards From Paradise (Postcards From Paradise, 2015)

Sources: Wikipedia; Christian’s Music Musings; Los Angeles Times; Rolling Stone; Ringo Starr web site & YouTube channel; YouTube

You’re So Good, Baby, You’re So Good

A tribute to the amazing voice and versatility of Linda Ronstadt

The other night, I caught the great documentary Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice on CNN. While I had been well aware of Linda Ronstadt’s amazing vocals, I had not fully appreciated her musical versatility. I’d like to focus this post on the latter, since it’s safe to assume her biography has been covered a million times.

Yes, Ronstadt “only” performed music written by others, which perhaps in part explains why it took me so long to write about her. But it would be a serious mistake to underappreciate her. You don’t need to take it from me.

Let’s start with a few comments from other artists I dig, who are featured in the documentary. “Linda could literally sing anything” (Dolly Parton). “Linda was the queen. She was what Beyoncé is right now” (Bonnie Raitt). “Linda was a very determined woman” (Don Henley). “There’s just no one that will have a voice like Linda’s” (Emmylou Harris). “Try following Linda Ronstadt every night” (Jackson Browne).

Linda Ronstadt Feb 2019
Linda Ronstadt in Feb 2019

And then there’s Ronstadt’s sheer success. The documentary noted she “was the only female artist with five platinum albums in a row:” Heart Like a Wheel (November 1974), Prisoner in Disguise (September 1975), Hasten Down the Wind (August 1976), Simple Dreams (September 1977) and Living in the USA (September 1978). I assume that statement refers to the ’70s only. According to Wikipedia, Mad Love from February 1980 also hit platinum, which would actually make it six such albums in a row. Plus, there’s another series of five platinum records in a row Ronstadt released between September 1983 and October 1989.

Let’s get to some music. I’d like to kick things off with Rescue Me, from Ronstadt’s eponymous album, released January 1973, her third record. Co-written by Raynard Miner and Carl Smith, this nice rocker was recorded live at The Troubador in Los Angeles. In addition to Ronstadt’s great vocals, I’d like to call out her impressive backing band: Glenn Frey (guitar, backing vocals), Don Henley (drums, backing vocals) and Randy Meisner (backing vocals), along with Sneaky Pete Kleinow (pedal steel guitar), Moon Martin (guitar), Michael Bowden (bass). Among the album’s many other guests was Bernie Leadon. Following the record’s release and with Ronstadt’s approval Frey, Henley, Leadon and Meisner formed that other band called the Eagles.

When Will I Be Loved is one of the gems on Ronstadt’s breakthrough album Heart Like a Wheel from November 1974. The Phil Everly tune nicely illustrates her ability to select great songs and make them her own. I dig the original by The Everly Brothers, but Ronstadt took it to another level. Apart from beautiful harmony singing, it’s the guitar work by Andrew Gold that stands out to me. Similar to her eponymous album, Heart Like a Wheel features an impressive array of guests, including Frey, Henley, J.D. Souther, Timothy B. Schmidt, Russ Kunkel, David Lindley and Emmylou Harris, among others. Once again, it goes to show great artists like to play with other great artists.

In September 1977, Ronstadt released her eighth studio album Simple Dreams, which became one of the most successful records of her entire career. Among others, it includes Blue Bayou, one of her best-known songs. And then there’s this fantastic version of Rolling Stones classic Tumbling Dice. Check out that great slide guitar solo by Waddy Wachtel, who in addition to electric also played acoustic guitar and provided backing vocals, together with Kenny Edwards. According to It Came With The Frame, Ronstadt at the time had a fling with Mick Jagger who helped her overcome challenges in mastering the song’s lyrics. That little help from her friend came to end when Bianca Jagger flew straight to California to confront her husband. Apparently, she actually liked Ronstadt as long as she didn’t get too cozy with Mick!

After having become one of the biggest female music artists on the planet and having firmly established herself in the country, pop and rock genres, Ronstadt took the gutsy decision to turn to Broadway in the summer of 1980. She became the lead in the New York Shakespeare Festival production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, alongside actor and vocalist Kevin Kline. While people in the music industry tried to talk her out of it, saying it would be the end of her career, it all made perfect sense to Ronstadt. Her grandfather Fred Ronstadt had once created a musical arrangement of The Pirates of Penzance. Ronstadt also co-starred in the 1983 film version of the operetta, for which she won several Tony Awards and earned a Golden Globe nomination. Here’s Poor Wandering One.

During her Broadway and operetta phase and beyond, Ronstadt continued to release studio albums and took excursions into new musical territory.First up: An album of pop standards, ironically titled What’s New and featuring songs by the likes of George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Sammy Kahn. It was the first in a trilogy of jazz-oriented albums. Again, Ronstadt’s record company Asylum and her manager Peter Asher were quite reluctant to produce such a record. But Don Henley didn’t call her “a very determined woman” for nothing, and in the end, the record label and Asher knew they couldn’t talk Ronstadt out of it. The album actually turned out to be a success, peaking at no. 3 on the Billboard 200 and spending 81 weeks on the chart. Here’s Ronstadt’s take of I’ve Got a Crush On You, co-written by George Gershwin and his older brother Ira Gershwin.

In 1987, Ronstadt took yet another musical turn. Inspired by her Mexican heritage (her father Gilbert Ronstadt was of German, English and Mexican ancestry) and her exposure to Mexican music, which was sung by her family throughout her childhood, she recorded Canciones De Mi Padre, an album of traditional Mariachi music. Released in November 1987, it became the first of four Spanish language albums Ronstadt released. It also remains the biggest-selling non-English language album in American record history, with 2.5 million copies sold in the U.S. and nearly 10 million worldwide as of 2012. According to Wikipedia, it also is the only recording production that used the three best Mariachi bands in the world: Mariachi Vargas, Mariachi Los Camperos and Mariachi Los Galleros de Pedro Rey. Ronstadt simply didn’t do anything half-ass! Here’s Tú Sólo Tú.

If you’re new to Linda Ronstadt, I suppose by now, nothing would really surprise you. Plus country isn’t perhaps as big a leap as operetta and Mariachi music. Here’s a tune from Trio II, the second country collaboration album Ronstadt recorded with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris: Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush. The album appeared in February 1999. I have to say I’ve rarely heard such beautiful harmony vocals. It’s like angels singing. And dare I add it as a huge Neil Young fan, I like Ronstadt’s take better than the original, which is one of my favorite Young tunes.

I’d like to wrap things up with one more song: Back in the U.S.A. Ronstadt’s cover of the Chuck Berry tune was the opener of Living in the USA, released in September 1978, her third and last record to peak the Billboard 200. Back in the U.S.A. also became the album’s lead single in August of the same year. Dan Dugmore and Waddy Wachtel on guitar and Don Grolnick on the piano do a beautiful job. Russ Kunkel (drums), Kenny Edwards (bass, backing vocals) and Peter Asher (backing vocals) round out the backing musicians.

Linda Ronstadt has had an exceptional career. In addition to having released more than 30 studio albums, including three no. 1 records on the Billboard 200, she has appeared on approximately 120 albums by other artists. According to her former producer and manager Peter Asher, Ronstadt has sold over 45 million albums in the U.S. alone. She has also produced for other artists like David Lindley, Aaron Neville and Jimmy Webb. In April 2014, Ronstadt was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She also became a Kennedy Center Honoree last year.

In a February 2019 interview with CBS Sunday Morning, Ronstadt said that it was in 2000 when she started noticing something was wrong with her voice. “I would start to sing and it would start clamp up. It was like a cramp. It was like a freeze…It’s very slow-moving this disease, so it took a really long time to fully manifest.” After these first signs, Ronstadt recorded one more album, Hummin’ to Myself, released in November 2004. During an April 2011 interview with the Arizona Daily Star, she said, “I’m 100 percent retired and I’m not doing anything any more. I’m at the ripe old age of getting to be 65 and I find that I don’t have the power that I had and that’s not worth inviting people to spend their money.”

While Parkinson’s is a bad disease, especially for a vocalist, Ronstadt is very gracious about it. “You know, I’m grateful for the time I had,” she said in the documentary. “I got to live a lot of my dreams and I feel lucky about it…Another person with Parkinson’s said that life after death isn’t the question. It’s life before death. So how you gonna do it? How you gonna live?” BTW, in good old CNN fashion to repeat content, the documentary airs again tonight at 9:00 pm ET and tomorrow (January 5, 12:00-2:00 am ET). If you like Linda Ronstadt, I highly recommend it.

Sources: Wikipedia; It Came With The Frame; CBS Sunday Morning; Arizona Daily Star; YouTube

Happy Birthday, Ringo Starr

Starr turned 77 and announced a new album

Today, Ringo Starr celebrated his 77th birthday and announced his upcoming 19th studio album. As the Los Angeles Times reported, Starr and hundreds of fans and fellow musicians gathered at Capitol Records Tower in Hollywood for a “Peace and Love” birthday celebration. The annual event has been conducted since 2008, when Starr was asked about his birthday wish and replied “more peace and love.” Ever since he has asked his fans all over the world to stop at noon their local time and say the words “peace and love” to spread the message.

Ringo Starr Love and Peace

“The great thing is that it’s continuing to grow,” Starr said in the above LA Times story. “When this started in Chicago in 2008, there were maybe 60 or 100 people…My dream — my fantasy — is that one day in the future everyone on the planet will stop at noon and say, ‘Peace and love.’”

Starr was born as Richard Starkey on July 7, 1940 in Liverpool, England. Of course, he is best known as the drummer of The Beatles, replacing Pete Best in August 1962. Prior to that he had played in Rory Storm and The Hurricanes, which had become one of Liverpool’s leading bands in early 1960. Starr met The Beatles for the first time at Kaiserkeller in Hamburg, Germany on October 1, 1960. Just like The Beatles, The Hurricanes had accepted a residency in the Northern German city.

Ringo Starr 1965

Only two weeks later after the initial encounter, Starr joined John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison to back up Hurricanes singer Lou Walters during a recording of the George Gershwin tune Summertime. During that time period in Hamburg, Starr also filled in for Best on a few occasions. In August 1962, Lennon asked Starr whether he wanted to join The Beatles. Apparently, George Martin wasn’t very impressed with Best’s drumming. Five months later, The Fab Four recorded their debut studio album Please Please Me, which was released in March 1963.

After the official break-up of The Beatles in early 1970, Starr launched a solo career, which to date has included 18 studio albums. No. 19 is called Give More Love and scheduled for September 15th. Rolling Stone just reported that Paul McCartney appears in two songs on the record: We’re On the Road Again and Show Me the Way. Other guests include Joe Walsh, Edgar Winter, Steve Lukather, Peter Frampton, Richard Marx, Dave Stewart, Don Was and Timothy B. Schmit. The record’s title song, a nice mid-tempo tune, has already been released, and the album is available for pre-order.

In mid-October, Starr and his All-Starr Band will kick off a 19-gig U.S. tour in support of the album. The All-Starr Band, a live rock supergroup, has existed in different configurations since 1989. The upcoming line-up will include Lukather, Todd Rundgren, Gregg Rollie, Richard Page, Warren Ham and Gregg Bissonette.

Following is a selection of songs to celebrate Starr’s birthday:

Octupus’s Garden (The Beatles, Abbey Road, 1969)

It Don’t Come Easy (non-album single, 1971)

Photograph (Ringo, 1973)

Wrack My Brain (Stop and Smell the Roses, 1981; written by George Harrison)

Walk With You (Y Not, 2010; duet with Paul McCartney)

Postcards From Paradise (Postcards From Paradise, 2015)

Sources: Wikipedia; Los Angeles Times; Rolling Stone; Ringo Starr website; YouTube