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Heart Like a Wheel
Linda Ronstadt

Capitol 11358
Released: December 1974
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 51

Peter AsherLinda RonstadtLinda Ronstadt had her first hit, "Different Drum," in 1967, singing with a group called the Stone Poneys. She didn't have one again until "Long Long Time" in 1970. Though long acknowledged to be one of the best woman singers in pop, it wasn't until last year, with the release of her debut album on Asylum, Don't Cry Now, that her years of working toward mass recognition began to pay off. Heart like a Wheel, which concluded her prior commitment to Capitol, should guarantee her success.

After years of touring, Linda Ronstadt has developed into the rare artist who comes off even better live than on record. Last February, when she opened for Jackson Browne at Carnegie Hall, I was awed by her stage demeanor. She took immediate command of both her band and the audience and delivered a thoroughly enjoyable and professional set, a satisfying crosssblend of pop and country. One of the reasons Heart like a Wheel is so impressive, surpassing even the excellent Don't Cry Now, is its expansion of repertoire beyond country and folk-rock. It also joins Ronstadt to her ideal producer, Peter Asher, who, with Andrew Gold, has provided ten well-chosen songs with full, distinctive sound settings, notable for the variety and imagination of their instrumentation.

Linda Ronstadt - Heart Like a Wheel
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The opening cut, Clint Ballad Jr.'s "You're No Good," displays Ronstadt's enormous potential as a white blues singer. Backed by Clydie King and Shirley Matthews, Ronstadt lets go with a soulful wail that comes as an exciting surprise. Back in the country vein, Ronstadt faithfully resurrects Hank Williams's "I Can't Help It if I'm Still in Love with You," singing harmony with Emmy Lou Harris against steel guitar and fiddle accompaniment by Sneaky Pete and David Lindley. The cut is a triumph of understanding and taste. Another highlight is J.D. Souther's "Faithless Love," perhaps the strongest ballad he's written to date. Its striking arrangement features Herb Pedersen on banjo and has Souther singing smooth octave-lower sevenths against Ronstadt's lead vocals -- not an easy harmony to pull off gracefully.

While the remainder of the album consists of good material by Paul Anka, Lowell George, Phil Everly and James Taylor, among others, all of it is overshadowed by the title song, written by Anna McGarrigle, whose "Cool River" was recently recorded by Maria Muldaur. A folk hymn, whose tune and lyrics are incredibly eloquent in their simplicity, "Heart like a Wheel" is a masterpiece of writing and arrangement, set by David Campbell as a formal chamber piece with piano, double bass, cello, viola and fiddle counterpointing dual vocals by Ronstadt and Maria Muldaur. The song lyric, which distills the themes of the album -- "And it's only love, and it's only love/That can wreck a human being and turn him inside out" -- also underscores the essence of Ronstadt's vocal personality. No other pop singer so perfectly embodies the Western mythical girl/woman, heartbroken yet resilient and entirely feminine in the traditional sense. There is a throbbing edge to Ronstadt's honey-colored soprano that no other singer quite possesses -- the edge between vulnerability and willfulness that I find totally, irresistibly sexy.

- Stephen Holden, Rolling Stone, 1/16/75.

Bonus Reviews!

One of the few ladies who has enjoyed equal success in the pop and country fields over a sustained period comes up with one of her finest LPs, from ballsy R&B to country to country blues. Ms. Ronstadt has a deceptive voice. At first listen she sounds like a little girl, yet she can handle almost anything well. Right now at the peak ot her popularity as far as personal appearances go, there is enough material here to keep her going strong on the country airwaves, lots at cuts for FM and MOR and, surprisingly, an AM possibility or two. Superb instrumentation throughout, excellent choice of songs and best use yet made of the artist's voice. Shifting of one musical genre to another is tasteful and works well, and her star as a stylist keeps growing. Best cuts: "You're No Good," "It Doesn't Matter Anymore," "Dark End Of The Street," "Heart Like A Wheel," "Willin," "Keep Me From Blowing Away."

- Billboard, 1975.

For the first time, everybody's sexpot shows confidence in her own intelligence. As a result, she relates to these songs instead of just singing them. It's even possible to imagine her as a lady trucker going down on Dallas Alice -- and to fault her for ignoring the metaphorical excesses of Anna McGarrigle's title lyric just so she can wrap her lungs around that sweet, decorous melody. A-

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Ronstadt's breakthrough album, and her most perfectly realized. Solid from top to bottom, featuring the title track, "When Will I Be Loved?," "Desperado," and "You're No Good." Essential. * * * * *

- Cub Koda, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Heart Like a Wheel exemplifies Peter Asher's influential production style and Ronstadt's emotional brand of country-rock. In the poignant title tune, memorable duets and carefully chosen remakes, Ronstadt successfully walks the line dividing sadness from sappiness. * * * * *

- Elizabeth Lynch, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.




Further reading on
Super Seventies RockSite!:

Album Review:
Hasten Down The Wind

Album Review:
Prisoner In Disguise

Album Review:
Simple Dreams

Album Review:
Living in the USA

Album Review:
Get Closer

Single Review:
"You're No Good"

Linda Ronstadt:
In Her Own Words

Linda Ronstadt Lyrics

Linda Ronstadt Videos

Linda Ronstadt Mugshots

It's easy to see what then-governor Jerry Brown saw in her -- Linda Ronstadt was so cute in her hot pants you didn't realize how talented she was, but this chart-topping pop-rock disc put her on the map. The superbly natural voice of the California '70s jumps from the speakers and wraps the songs around you in a style that is nonetheless mellow on a heartbreakingly beautiful album that, with the help of a whole lot of her friends, is 100% good. * * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

"There's no way that I can be objective and say one album is better than another," Ronstadt told Rolling Stone in 1978. "I never listen to them anyway." But millions of other people did, especially to this record, where she displays her vocal flexibility and rock grit on "You're No Good" and country twang on a cover of Hank Williams Sr.'s "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love With You)." Collaborating with producer Peter Asher, Ronstadt blends quality oldies (the Everly Brothers' "When Will I Be Loved?") and hip songwriters of her era (Lowell George, Anna McGarrigle), gracing each composition with her golden voice.

Heart Like a Wheel was chosen as the 164th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.

- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.

Ten love songs rendered with great care and Laurel Canyon laid-back-ness, Linda Ronstadt's Heart like a Wheel sounds like it belongs next to the records singer-songwriters like Neil Young and Jackson Browne were making in Southern California in the early '70s. It's got the soothing background vocals, and crop-dusting acoustic guitars that could have flown in from an Eagles session.

But in almost every way, it stands apart from that scene. Where the singer-songwriters proffered their own visions, former Stone Poneys singer Linda Ronstadt didn't write any songs -- instead, she sought out little-known gems from emerging tunesmiths like Kate and Anna McGarrigle, who who wrote the title track. And where the songwriters usually aimed for a unified mood, Ronstadt goes the other way, covering long-discarded soul hits ("The Dark End of the Street") and chipper Everly Brothers pop ("When Will I Be Loved") as well as more delicate meditations about love and the human spirit ("Heart like a Wheel").

The writerly notions are held together by Ronstadt's assured, easygoing lead vocals. In contrast to the oft-wistful (or apologetic) songwriters, she sings with a steely authority, using delicate pencil-sketch shades to underscore her lyrics. The album opens with "You're No Good," the shout of betrayal that became her first number 1 single: Ronstadt belts it as though she wants to rattle the clock off the wall. Just when you get used to this firecracker persona -- she's the roar Helen Reddy needed for "I Am Woman" -- Ronstadt changes her tone dramatically, etching "Faithless Love" in a mood of dejection mixed with vulnerability. The temperament changes from song to song as Ronstadt shines a light on the faint shadows, moments she treasures that others might have missed. She sings in a way that can make you think she wrote the music, and in a sense she did: Even though some of these songs kicked around for decades, they're completely reborn when she sings them.

- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.

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