Released: September 1977
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 47
Certified Platinum: 10/12/77
The thing about Linda Ronstadt is that she keeps getting better, and we keep expecting more and more of her. She's always possessed that big, magnanimous voice, but it wasn't Heart like a Wheel that her interpretive and arranging skills (the latter, and perhaps both, due to the felicitous pairing with producer Peter Asher) fully emerged.
With Hasten Down the Wind, Ronstadt shed some long-lived inhibitions. Given Karla Bonoff's red-hot, baldly emotional material ("Someone to Lay Down beside Me," "Lose Again," "If He's Ever Near"), she responded with her most personal -- even visceral -- singing. It doesn't quite make sense to call her highly charged performances relaxed, but certainly she was a lot less stiff than before. Ronstadt had, quite simply, become rock's supreme torch singer.
That flaw, which was most obvious in Ronstadt's sober reading of Randy Newman's outlandish "Sail Away," is evident here on Warren Zevon's darkly ironic "Carmelita." When Ronstadt, going to meet a dealer, sings, "He hangs out down on Alvarado Street/At the Pioneer Chicken stand" without even a smirk, it sounds as if she doesn't know that a joke, however black, is being made.
And all the way through Simple Dreams' first side (which, except for the rousing opener, "It's So Easy," is made up of ballads), Ronstadt fails to step back and take a look at herself. She's just a little too blue for comfort. But that's a piddling complaint because it's a fine side. Ronstadt sings J.D. Souther's modestly self-pitying "Simple Man/Simple Dream" with a thorough sympathy for and understanding of Souther's message -- that the lover of simple truths is easily ridiculed. She gets Eric Kaz' complex "Sorrow Lives Here" (Kaz, it seems, is getting ready to challenge Leonard Cohen as the world's most morose songwriter) just right. The lines "Everything seems to spin all around/But I can't see/Whether it happens/With or without me" unite emotional and philosophical confusion dramatically, and Ronstadt sings them as if she wrote them. "I Never Will Marry," the great traditional tune to which Dolly Parton's backwoods harmonies add a gorgeous dignity, should become her signature: it frames her independence and loneliness with enormous restraint and power.
Simple Dreams could have used more rockers like the second side's "Tumbling Dice" and Zevon's "Poor Poor Pitiful Me." Both are strongly male, and Ronstadt's substitution of a female presence (something that occurs throughout the LP and serves as a sort of sub-theme) is a joyous "anything you can do" statement. She moves through Zevon's role reversals convincingly, substituting a nicely assonant verse for a more graphic one that she might not have gotten away with.
Ronstadt's well-placed grittiness on "Tumbling Dice" (whose brilliant, highly salty lyrics are finally intelligible) matches the song's sense of risk and its keenly expressed bawdiness. "Tumbling Dice" might seem a strange choice of material for Ronstadt, but what she's telling us, I think, is that she can live on the edge with the best of them. And she's damned convincing.
- Peter Herbst, Rolling Stone, 10-20-77.
Linda Ronstadt, the little filly who used to sing with the Stone Poneys in the late Sixties, has gone on to become a consistent winner in the pop-vocal sweepstakes. She is still pretty, and that prettiness is still noticed, but not as much as her vocal artistry is. She no longer sounds like Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary (as Stereo Review critic Peter Reilly once said) but like herself, a finished musician who has polished her abundant natural gifts by "tending to business" as much as Elvis ever did.
One characteristic of those gifts is her habit of pouncing on a song with the first lyric line in such a way that your attention is immediately seized. It is, I would judge, an even more effective way of getting attention than (merely!) being pretty: it seems to work even when the song she is attacking is scarcely worth the trouble -- and you appreciate the effort all the more. Her latest album, Simple Dreams, is a case in point. For me, its weakest songs are Warren Zevon's tuneful "Carmelita" (a very personal topology -- Ensenada, Echo Park, Alvarado Street, the Pioneer Chicken stand -- make it impossible for anyone but provincial Los Angelenos to relate to), his "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" (fatally marred by a silly, set-up rhyme -- "He was a credit to his gender/... Sort of like a Waring blender"), and Mick Jagger and Keith Richard's mock-macho "Tumbling Dice" (cleverness for cleverness' sake -- "I don't need your jewels in my frown"... yes, that's frown). Despite their unpromising first lines ("I hear mariachi static on my radio," "Well, I lay my head on the railroad track," and "People try to rape me," respectively), Ronstadt manages to hold your attention and make you care (a little) how they come out.
What she can do with a good song, however, is just marvelous. If you want to know what happened to rock-and-roll (it's sick and living in London, according to Rolling Stone,), Ronstadt tells you, not very subtly, here: they stopped writing songs like Buddy Holly and Norman Petty's "It's So Easy (To Fall in Love)," a lovable song lovingly performed. The traditional "I Never Will Marry" is poignantly, tenderly impressive, quite enough, with Dolly Parton (!) contributing folk harmony, to give the McGarrigle sisters a turn. And who else but Linda Ronstadt would be bold enough to close her program with an affectionate reading of that almost forgotten cowboy lament "Old Paint"? The first lines of these three are "It's so easy to fall in love," "They say that love's a gentle thing," and "I ride an old paint." None of them are what you would call a piece of cake in the attention-grabbing department, but you wouldn't dream of cutting them off once Linda gets those first few notes into your ear.
The album was mixed using a psychoacoustic something called the Aphex Aural Exciter system. I don't know what it is, or even what it does, but I think you will notice it.
- William Anderson, Stereo Review, 12/77.
Firmly established as one of rock's premier female vocalists, here Ronstadt's torch rock is probably at its most upbeat. While there remains the slow pop/country/rock laments about the agonies of lost love, there are more upbeat, bouncy optimistic tunes where Ronstadt lets loose with her irresistibly alarming vocals that display a growing self-assurance and discipline. The interpretation of the diverse material, once again under the guidance of producer Peter Asher, highlights Ronstadt's unique and complex sentiments. Among the material are songs by Roy Orbison, Warren Zevon, J.D. Souther, Eric Kaz, Mick Jagger and Buddy Holly. Ronstadt also plays acoustic guitar on two cuts and is supported by her tight band of studio musicians. The steel guitar, some strings and dobro spice up the arrangements. Yet Ronstadt's voice remains the most stunning instrument of all expressing intense feelings maximized by her effective delivery. Best cuts: "Blue Bayou," "Carmelita," "Tumbling Dice," "Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me," "Simple Man, Simple Death."
- Billboard, 1978.
Reviewing a Linda Ronstadt album is not unlike writing ad copy for the Holiday Inn: The only surprise is that there are no surprises. Simple Dreams follows the formula concocted by producer Peter Asher almost five years ago -- a dash of country, a dash of J.D. Souther, a dash of old-time rock 'n' roll. The band sounds the same, even without Andrew Gold, and still is as good as you get. The production is the same (though this time out, Ronstadt's voice seems to be mixed above the instruments. In the past, there was a more luxuriant blend. But maybe our stereo's on the fritz). The only thing left for a reviewer to comment on is the selection of songs. The duet with Dolly Parton on "I Never Will Marry" will break your heart. (Say it isn't so, Linda!) The inclusion of Roy Orbison and Joe Melson's "Blue Bayou" and the Mexican-flavored Warren Zevon tune "Carmelita" suggests that Ronstadt is trying to follow in Jimmy Buffett's country-and-ocean wake. Her update of The Rolling Stones' "Tumbling Dice" leaves a lot to be desired: to be exact, Mick Jagger. Ronstadt can't carry the hard edge that song requires -- nor, for that matter, the irony on which "Carmelita" and another Zevon song, "Poor Poor Pitiful Me," depend. Still, we'd pay to hear Ronstadt sing "Jingle Bells."
- Playboy, 1/78.
Featuring a broader array of styles than any previous Linda Ronstadt record, Simple Dreams reconfirms her substantial talents as an interpretive singer, Ronstadt sings Dolly Parton ("I Never WIll Marry") with the same conviction as the Rolling Stones ("Tumbling Dice"), and she manages to update Roy Orbison ("Blue Bayou") and direct attention to the caustic, fledgling singer/songwriter Warren Zevon ("Poor Poor Pitiful Me" and "Carmelita"). The consistently adventurous material and Ronstadt's powerful performance makes the record rival Heart Like a Wheel in sheer overall quality. * * * *
- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
Simple Dreams was the latest chapter in a highly effective formula of hit remakes and new material that had lifted Linda Ronstadt to superstar status by the mid-1970s.
Ronstadt and her manager/producer Peter Asher had hit upon the magic ingredients with such stunning effect on her breakthrough 1974 album Heart Like A Wheel that they stuck to the pattern for her subsequent albums. Opener "It's So Easy" became a US Top Five smash and her third Buddy Holly remake to reach the Hot 100 in just over two years, while her reinterpretation of Roy Orbison's "Blue Bayou" landed her a first million-selling single. Elsewhere she covered the Rolling Stones on "Tumbling Dice" and exposed then fledgling Warren Zevon's work to its widest audience yet with versions of his "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me" and the Mexican-styled "Carmelita." There is also room for a couple of self-penned tunes, including "I Will Never Marry" on which she duets with Dolly Parton.
Simple Dreams became her second US chart-topping album, replacing Fleetwood Mac's Rumours at Number One in December 1977 and staying there for a career-peaking five weeks, while it managed Number 15 in the UK.
As of 2004, Simple Dreams was the #72 best-selling album of the 70s.
- Hamish Champ, The 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 70s, 2004.
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