Radio is a jealous medium that demands an act declare its format allegiance before it will give it significant airplay. “Are you pop,” it asks, “or are you country?” Whether or not the music is widely appealing is, more often than not, off the point.
But Linda Ronstadt, who turns 73 on Monday (July 15), was able to establish a strong presence in country music in spite of her strong identification as a pop star. In fact, she succeeded in crossing over even as her musical soulmates, the Eagles, whose sound was just as “country” as hers, failed.
Ronstadt cracked the pop charts in 1967 with “Different Drum” but did not lodge a country single until 1974 with “Silver Thread and Golden Needles,” which made it to No. 20. She quickly went up the charts, gaining a No. 2 the next year with Hank Williams’ immortal “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You).” It also won her a best country vocalist performance Grammy.
In 1975, Ronstadt scored her only No. 1 country single as a solo artist with a cover of the Everly Brothers’ “When Will I Be Loved.” She would, however, reach No. 1 again in 1987 with “To Know Him Is to Love Him” (a 1958 Teddy Bears pop hit) as a member of a trio that included Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris.
In a 15-year country sweep, Ronstadt would rack up four Top 5s and three Top 10s among her total of 26 charting singles. Her last country single, “Walk On,” came in 1995 and topped out at No. 61.
Ronstadt retired from performing in 2011, announcing the following year that she was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Her first-ever live album, drawing on recordings for a 1980 HBO special, was released in February as Linda Ronstadt: Live From Hollywood.
Pictured Above: Dolly Parton (2nd from R) accepts the MusiCares Person of the Year award from (from L) Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, and President/CEO of the Recording Academy and President/CEO of MusiCares Neil Portnow onstage during MusiCares Person of the Year honoring Dolly Parton at Los Angeles Convention Center on February 8, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.