Garage Sale Vinyl
Garage Sale Vinyl: Linda Ronstadt

Garage Sale Vinyl: Linda Ronstadt

Heart Like a Wheel / Capitol Records / November 1974

“Just look up!” It’s what we “seasoned” folks find ourselves saying frequently these days, in an effort to compel the young people to pull their attention away from the emotionally crippling allure of their iGadgets and take a peek (just for a moment) at the real world around them. Like, hey Briana! Like, watch out for that bus!

Recently, the GF and I traveled south about 45 minutes from her funky abode in Palm Bay, Florida, to a groovy little record store in Vero Beach. And there I was, “looking up,” gazing at the shiny NEW just-released $40 LPs displayed prominently high across the shop walls, when I did something absurdly trendy: I looked down. And there they were. Under the main record bins, we discovered endless crates filled with disorganized, musty-smelling, “seasoned” LPs. “Everything down there is a dollar each,” came the voice from behind the shop’s front counter.

For the next hour, the GF and I remained crouched down, rummaging through the seemingly secret stash of treasure. Ugh, my freaking knees! And as the shop owner apprised us of “closing time,” we had massed an impressive pile of reasonably “healthy”-looking vintage slabs from the likes of John Denver, Bette Midler, Rod Stewart, Larry Gatlin, and The Oak Ridge Boys, as well as untold copies of Linda Ronstadt classics, including a well-loved copy of her 1974 breakout release, Heart Like a Wheel, the third of four copies I’ve purchased over the years.

A big, brown-eyed doe of a beauty draped in shawls and donning micro denim cutoffs, Ronstadt possessed what was considered one of the finest, most versatile and powerful voices on the planet throughout her iconic recording career. However, back in 1974, after several baffling “walks,” she really needed at least a “double,” this time at bat. Bless her heart, with album #5, Ronstadt smacked that muther clean outta Dodger Stadium.

It was the record that checked all the boxes: white-hot performances, impeccable songs, and perfect arrangements. It also defined the soon-to-be very bankable signature Ronstadt sound. As a result, remove all-star producer Peter Asher and ace studio switch-hitter Andrew Gold from the roster, and Heart Like a Wheel may have been merely just another largely overlooked bench warmer sitting in Ronstadt’s growing catalog. Mmm, smells like team spirit.

Although Ronstadt’s cozy congregation had been inspired a smidge by the moderately successful 1967 Top 20 single “Different Drum” and the 1970 Top 30 hit “Long, Long Time,” Heart Like a Wheel stirred a nationwide revival as it revved into 1975, spending nearly a solid year on the Billboard album chart, where it soared to the top slot. High-energy live concert performances on the popular late-night TV show The Midnight Special helped make Ronstadt an “overnight” sensation while propelling the fiery R&B-fueled “You’re No Good” to #1 and the sassy, country-flavored “When Will I Be Loved” to #2.

In today’s super-sophisticated music world, “albums” exist (typically) simply as “singles sets” to be sliced up on iTunes and piecemealed on streaming platforms. Conversely, Heart Like a Wheel was an eclectic, yet somehow cohesive body of work. While the two singles both were (and still are) turbo-charged heartstoppers, others cuts remain bona fide heartbreakers.

The Paul Anka tune “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” is a particularly moving track. The solitary acoustic guitar strumming of Bob Warford pinned to Ronstadt’s honest vocals makes this version considerably more compelling than the sunnier-sounding 1958 Buddy Holly version. Jimmie Fadden’s harmonica work coupled with the pedal steel contribution of ol’ Sneaky Pete Kleinow complements the breakup ballad beautifully.

Ronstadt delivers one of her all-time most magical studio moments with the J. D. Souther song “Faithless Love,” a pure performance enhanced further by Souther’s heartfelt harmonies. Faithless love like a river flows, like raindrops falling on a broken rose… Doggone it man, that’s good stuff. The garden-fresh banjo work of Herb Pedersen makes the tune all the tastier. BRAVO.

A telling tale of forbidden love, “The Dark End of the Street” slides its way (for a second or two) into a front pew, courtesy of the Sunday morning backups of famed gospel singer Cissy Houston. Gold’s “Gladrags”-style piano track combined with Warford’s dire guitar work intensifies the tune’s taboo factor.

In a room filled with so many A-Listers, it’s pretty darn tough to point to a particular MVP. However, a strong case can be made easily for the title track. Smeared with the stylistic DNA of the traditional bridal march, it’s a delicate heart-crusher, to be sure. But my love for you is like a sinking ship. And my heart is on that ship out in mid-ocean. C’mon man! If that don’t getcha, you might wanna run out back in search of your lost soul. The skin-tight backup vocals of Maria Muldaur super-glued to Ronstadt’s passionate lead vocals are an irresistible seduction. Then, you got Andrew Gold on piano, in cahoots with the legendary David Lindley on fiddle, plus the sweet strings of Dennis Karmazyn on cello, and David Campbell on viola — brilliant, just brilliant.

Ronstadt owns the Lowell George staple “Willin’” outright. I’ve been warped by the rain, driven by the snow. I’m drunk and dirty, don’t you know. But I’m still, willin’. So solid. At age 12, I had no idea what “weed, whites, and wine” even meant, but I was a quick study. With the qualified assist of Emmylou Harris backups, the revamped 1974 edition of the 1951 Hank Williams classic, “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You)” remains a perfect, timeless example of why everything today that’s peddled as “country” is pure pablum.

From start to finish, Heart Like a Wheel never runs out of steam, as the Paul Craft-penned “Keep Me from Blowing Away” is a lonely, yet engaging, two-minute warning highlight, and the James Taylor composition “You Can Close Your Eyes” brings the record to a soaring crescendo.

In an era when albums made warm, engaging, artistic statements, Heart Like a Wheel had a lot to say. It still reads like a page-turning novel, and it remains an important, relevant “must-have” for any comprehensive classic pop music library.

(5/5) ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

photo by Christopher Long

Heart Like a Wheel Track List

SIDE ONE

  1. You’re No Good (Clint Ballard Jr.) 3:44

  1. It Doesn’t Matter Anymore (Paul Anka) 3:26

  1. Faithless Love (J. D. Souther) 3:15

  1. The Dark End of the Street (Chips Moman / Dan Penn) 3:55

  1. Heart Like a Wheel (Anna McGarrigle) 3:10

SIDE TWO

  1. When Will I Be Loved (Phil Everly) 2:04

  1. Willin’ (Lowell George) 3:02

  1. I Can’t Help It If I’m Still in Love with You (Hank Williams) 2:45

  1. Keep Me from Blowing Away (Paul Craft) 3:10

  1. You Can Close Your Eyes (James Taylor) 3:09

Linda Ronstadt


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