Singer Linda Ronstadt’s lengthy, lucrative career spans generations and genres. Beginning as a folksy leader of the Stone Poneys band, she soon branched out on her own and released some of country and rock and roll’s classic hits. A multi-award-winning artist including 11 Grammys, several of her albums went multi platinum as well, selling millions of copies a few times over.
Regarded as a generational vocal talent, from the mid. ‘60s to the ‘90s, she released hit after hit, proving anything the songbird touched would soon turn to gold. We detail the best Linda Ronstadt songs below.
13. Different Drum
A flowery, mid. ‘60s romancer, ‘Different Drum’ features a young, 21 year old Linda Ronstadt on lead vocals. Backed by her then-band the Stone Poneys, the folksy group scored a big hit with the cheerful tune, even placing in the top 5 on New Zealand charts. Despite Ronstadt’s young age, she delivered a commanding vocal performance in the studio and became the key piece of the puzzle for the Stone Poneys’ success. The tune explores themes Ronstadt would continue to cover throughout her long career, including originality, independence, and liberation.
12. The Only Mama That’ll Walk the Line
After going solo, Linda spent her career exploring many different styles of genres, a musical approach that became something of a trademark of hers. For her debut album, Hand Sown, Home Grown, vocal twang and acoustic instruments are at the forefront, giving the entire record an unmistakably country feel. Ronstadt’s vocal abilities drive the track, featuring her singing to a lover who doesn’t pull his weight in the relationship like she does. Though it is a lesser-known tune of hers, she often opened shows with it early on in her solo career. It’s a boot-stomper of a track, so it would really get the crowd going.
11. Tumbling Dice
By 1977, Ronstadt had a decade of experience in the music industry under her belt. She was a seasoned professional and looking to expand her repertoire. While on tour with the Rolling Stones, frontman Mick Jagger told her she should make her sound more “rock and roll.” She loved their hit ‘Tumbling Dice,’ so Jagger re-wrote a few words for her from a female perspective and she recorded the bluesy track for her critically-acclaimed Simple Dreams album. The Stones influence on the song is immediately noticeable, with Ronstadt keeping the rock band’s “boogie-woogie” slow burn groove that really sets it apart from other typical blues numbers. Her cover would go on to become one of her most successful releases.
10. Lo Siento Mi Vida
Linda released another huge hit album with her record, Hasten Down the Wind. Full of poetically-driven tracks and beloved hits, one song, ‘Lo Siento Mi Vida,’ is a more eclectic song from the bunch that is beautifully rendered and moving. Ronstadt’s father Gilbert was of Spanish descent, so she grew up listening to Latin music and developing a love for the genre. Spanish for “I’m sorry, my love,” she wrote the ballad ‘Lo Siento Mi Vida’ with her father. Of the many genres she explored throughout her career, she made Latin music a core part of her repertoire to honor an important part of her heritage.
9. Poor, Poor Pitiful Me
Originally written by songwriter Warren Zevon, who had a penchant for penning dark, comedic tracks, ‘Poor, Poor Pitiful Me’ playfully explores mortality and toxic relationships. Ronstadt’s version was a major hit, and featured altered lyrics more in line with her style of music. The country-tinged single has become a definitive part of her legacy. It first appeared on her album Simple Dreams, which sold over a millions copies. It also was featured on the second volume of her “Greatest Hits’ record, which went multi-platinum after selling 2 million copies.
8. Don’t Know Much (with Aaron Neville)
An international chart-topping sensation, ‘Don’t Know Much’ is a classic ‘80s soft rock track featuring an iconic duo performance with R&B singer Aaron Neville and powerhouse-pop-voiced Linda Ronstadt. The 1989 single was a hit in several different countries, even topping Irish charts. The sugary, romance track was written by one of the decade’s authoritative writing teams, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, and Tom Snow. Neville and Ronstadt won a Grammy after the massive success of the single for Best Pop Duo Performance with Vocals. The song made the rounds throughout the industry in the ‘80s before reaching pinnacle success with Ronstadt’s version with popular voices like Bette Middler having moderate success with the single in the early ‘80s.
7. It’s so Easy
Another popular release from her highly regarded Simple Dreams album, ‘It’s So Easy’ is a Buddy Holly cover of one of his last recordings with his group, The Crickets. Ronstadt didn’t change much for her rendition, which is a good thing given the strength of the Holly original. Like Buddy, Linda makes perfect use of a vocal growl when singing the lyrics, giving the Crickets classic that added raw but pleasing grit synonymous with early rock and roll tracks. With perfect harmonies delivered by her backing band, she topped charts yet again with ‘It’s So Easy’ while simultaneously experiencing massive chart success with another single. We’ll get to that in a moment.
An anthemic track about the life of a trucker, ‘Willin’’ was originally penned by Little Feat band leader Lowell George. When Ronstadt released her 1974 record, Heart Like a Wheel, many fans were surprised by her change in sound. While previous releases were rooted in country, this album represented a more rock-induced Ronstadt delivery. It didn’t take long for the shock to wear off though. Heart Like a Wheel, which features a stirring rendition of Little Feat’s ‘Willin’,’ became her first record to take the top spot on the Billboard 200 chart after its debut.
Recommended: Hear the original version on our pick of the best Little Feat songs.
An acoustic-driven metaphor for wild exploration and freedom, country star Dolly Parton penned this track for her highly praised Trio album. ‘Wildflowers’ features the work of three distinctive voices in music, with Parton leading the charge, and fellow singers Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt following suit. The gentle, downhome 1988 single debuted in the top ten on the Hot Country Singles Billboard chart.
Recommended: Our pick of the finest Dolly Parton songs.
4. When Will I Be Loved
Originally an Everly Brothers hit in the ‘60s, when Ronstadt recorded and released ‘When Will I Be Loved’ in ‘75 she had even more success with it than the rock duo did. Her passionate, love-scorned rendition, which switched up verses and gave the track an air of desperation, was a massive success. It climbed all the way to the second spot on the Billboard charts and sold a record number of copies. Featured on her artistically adventurous Heart Like a Wheel album, it was the most successful single second to only one other song. Can you guess which one that is? Keeping reading to find out 😉
3. Long Long Time
One of Linda’s most enduring tracks due to high profile use in pop culture shows, ‘Long, Long Time’ is another classic unrequited love track made all the more heart-wrenching by her emotional vocal performance. Though it remains at the forefront of Ronstadt’s legacy, the single was actually an early release of hers appearing on her second studio album, Silk Purse. The pensive track shows an intensely vulnerable side to the artist, one that highlights her fledgling days before she took on a more prominent role in the rock and roll genre. Though she didn’t win, her vocal delivery earned her a nomination at the 1971 Grammys for Best Contemporary Female Vocal Performance.
2. Blue Bayou
A haunting performance of one of Roy Orbison’s biggest songs became Ronstadt’s signature track. When Orbison released his ‘Blue Bayou’ in ‘61 he scored a major UK hit. But Ronstadt’s version, released in ‘77, became an international tour de force and showcased her dominating voice like never before. She also became one of the few artists to experience simultaneous hits with ‘Blue Bayou’ as it also climbed the charts while her cover of Buddy Holly’s ‘It’s So Easy’ was experiencing significant Billboard love. A dreamy song about trying to get back to a place of peace and happiness, Linda’s success with Roy’s original helped solidify her industry nickname, ‘Golden Pipes,” and secure her place as one of the 1970s defining voices.
Recommended: Hear the original version on our curated list of Roy Orbison songs.
1. You’re No Good
Linda Ronstadt’s biggest hit came after the release of ‘You’re No Good,’ a ‘60s love-gone-wrong tune originally sung by R&B artist Dee Dee Harwick. The cover was actually a last minute edition to her renowned Heart Like a Wheel album. It even took several different takes to figure out the right groove, so her label almost didn’t even release it as a single. Deciding between her Everly Brothers cover of ‘When Will I Be Loved’ and ‘You’re No Good,’ almost on sheer impulse alone they decided to make ‘You’re No Good’ the leading single for the record. And their instincts were spot on. Though ‘When Will I Be Loved’ became her second single and experienced massive success, nothing could top the triumph of ‘You’re No Good.’ The number one hit also catapulted the Heart Like a Wheel album to smash hit status as a record, earning Ronstadt a Grammy nom for Album of The Year.