It’s easy to forget about Linda Ronstadt, the ubiquitous singer of the 70’s and early 80’s, but The Sound Of My Voice is a breezy and enjoyable look back at her career. I had forgotten just how popular she was. Eleven platinum selling records is no mean feat. I had forgotten how cute and sexy she was but how she really didn’t play on that so much. Mostly, I remember, and as this documentary reinforces, her amazing, amazing voice.
The movie follows her early life, daughter of Mexican and German heritage, growing up in Tuscon, Arizona. Moving to Los Angeles as a teenager, it did not take long for Linda to get a hit record (‘Different Drum’) with her teen band, the Stone Ponys, and get a gangster manager. Convinced by the suits and record company people to go solo, Linda connected with many of the Southern California musicians including backing band members would become The Eagles, but especially one time partner J.D. Souther, featured in the doc and looking very much like a Confederate general.
Linda made a lot of friends and a lot of female musician friends, including songwriter-performers Karla Bonoff and Emmylou Harris, and later on Bonnie Raitt and Dolly Parton. All are featured in the movie and all speak very highly of Linda’s vocal perfection (and perfectionism) and her supportive friendship. There is a great deal of excellent footage of Linda singing, leading an all-male band, and just killing it.
Things really start to catch fire for Linda when she joins forces with Peter Asher (from British act Peter and Gordon, brother of longtime McCartney girlfriend Jane Asher, and head of Apple Records USA). His hitmaking touch as a producer lead to the huge single ‘You’re No Good’ for Linda, and then many of her hit pop records.
Linda became a huge star, regularly playing giant arenas. She mostly managed to avoid the pitfalls of the road, although a dalliance with diet pills is discussed. I have read in other books that Linda was very, very insecure about her performances. She was very much in control of her career but unsure of her singing on stage, which the footage shows is always great.
One of the most amazing things about Linda Ronstadt is how she controlled her career. Over everyone’s objections, she made not one, but three LP’s of classic standards with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. These records all did very well. She starred on Broadway in Joseph Papp’s The Pirates Of Penzance operetta and its soundtrack, and then in the filmed version. Most scary to the record executives, she made Canciones De Mi Padre, an LP of traditional Latin and Mexican songs (sung in Spanish) inspired by her father. His singing filled their house when Linda was a child and fueled her choice to follow a musical path. The record was a complete smash and she proved to the record company people that there was a sizable Latin market wanting to buy this music from the majors. She made the country harmony Trio LP with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, which was another success.
Of particular note to us in Zubland, in the late 70’s, Linda recorded four songs by Elvis Costello and explored new wave. There is little attention on this phase of her career in the film, one that irritated, to put it mildly, a certain angry young man (and his young fans like myself). After seeing this movie, EC offered his own sensitive observations on those days and the film. Songwriting royalties on Linda’s records provided important financial support to the nascent EC & The Attractions, then touring small holes in the US.
There can be no doubt that Linda Ronstadt was quite a pioneer and outstanding singer. Unfortunately she now suffers from Parkinson’s Disease and can no longer sing with her clear, trademark obedient instrument. She was never a songwriter, but her voice was always amazing. I must admit that her career never interested me much. But she obviously brought a lot of happiness to millions of people, and seems like a very grounded, intelligent, musically curious, and driven person. It is always nice to have your presumptions challenged, and I’ll be damned, The Sound Of My Voice is a fun treat. You needn't be a fan of any of the phases of Linda’s varied musical directions to marvel at the tenacity and craft of this distinctive American songbird in this eye-opening film.