Saturday, July 29, 2017

First song on the Shuffle...

"Long Long Time" / Linda Ronstadt

A tale of two technologies.

When I moved to England in 1975, I had to leave behind my assiduously curated LP collection -- I had no space for a turntable, let alone a meter-high stack of vinyl. I took with me only a cassette player and a handful of cassette tapes, diligently recorded from my favorite albums, which I created by hand, punching buttons on a tape recorder in my bedroom in Indianapolis. Remember cassettes? So compact, so light -- eight-track tapes looked clunky next to them.

Once I was over in England, I frugally supplemented my meager collection by buying greatest hits collections on cassette. Which is how I ended up with two of the most seminal albums I own: Changesonebowie and Linda Ronstadt's Greatest Hits.

It was an impulse buy, really. I wasn't particularly a Linda Ronstadt fan, although I had loved her debut single with the Stone Poneys and, I swear, I saw her perform live once at a bowling alley in Western Massachusetts in 1974. I may have hallucinated that particular incident, but I'm sticking to it.

With limited musical options, I listened to those cassettes over and over. And, if you're not familiar with the technology, know that skipping tracks is super-hard on a tape cassette -- yeah, I listened to those albums straight through, track after track. They are INGRAINED in my musical consciousness.

Here's my party line on Linda Ronstadt -- she was a genius at covering songs that the original artists did better. Song after song on that album only teed me up to become fans of Bonnie Raitt ("Love Has No Pride"), Neil Young ("Love Is a Rose"), the Everly Brothers ("When Will I Be Loved"), Martha and the Vandellas ("Heat Wave"), and Buddy Holly ("That'll Be the Day"). I'll give Linda the edge on "Desperado," which I maintain she delivered better than her backing bandmates Don Henley and Glenn Frey, who'd soon go on to win fame as The Eagles. (Don't say it. DON'T say it. I already know what you're thinking...)

But this song? This song, her 1970 first solo hit record, written by her Laurel Canyon friend Gary White -- this one is Linda's triumph, forever.

"Long Long Time" appeared on Linda's 1970 LP Silk Purse, which she recorded in Nashvillle -- a gutsy move for a California folkie. Linda went full-on country on this album, covering Hank Williams and Mel Tillis, and even twanging up the Goffin-King classic "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow."
But "Long Long Time" doesn't go Opry. The arrangement stays clean, with acoustic guitar picks and a baroque string section, all the better to highlight Linda's go-for-broke vocals. The refrain lays it all on the table: "'Cause I've done everything I know / To try and make you mine / But I think I'm gonna love you / For a long long time."
That's the ultimate irony of this song: She may be pledging to love him for ages, but in fact the love affair is already over, done, kaput.  That long long time? It's a long long time of agony, frustration, and loss. And so she throws her heart into her voice, yelps and howls and all, protesting her martyrdom.
I love how the lyrics alternate platitudes ("take things in stride," "time washes clean," "wait for the day," "life's full of flaws") with the grim reality of loss. She knows now that she was fooling herself all the time, that he was playing her all the time ("you fell all over girls you never knew").  Harshest line? "Living in the memory of a love that never was." There's a hair shirt for you.
And so, in the grand tradition of Patsy Cline and Kitty Wells, Linda Ronstadt laid it all on the line, identifying with the losers in love. Holding nothing back. Because, at this point, why?
It's pretty much a genius track, when you think about it. Thank you, Shuffle.   


Karen Romano Young said...

Oh the sisters I belted this with, in the hallway into our hairbrushes, or riding around in the car. Thanks, Holly.

Dave said...

I love this line, Holly: " she was a genius at covering songs that the original artists did better." (Although I do disagree on "When Will I Be Loved." But most of her performances were covers, and she did lovely versions of, say, Karla Bonoff and McGarrigle Sisters songs. Were they better than the originals? Arguable. But wonderful? Absolutely.

Dave F.