Living in the USA
Released: September 1978
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 32
Certified Platinum: 9/22/78
Following the success of Simple Dreams, Linda Ronstadt was on top of the world. On April 3, 1978, the film FM premiered with Ronstadt featured performing a cover version of Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender." The song was also featured in Living in the USA, which like Ronstadt's previous hit albums featured a mix of covers of proven hits and newer compositions by some of Ronstadt's favorite singers.
Yet there were changes evident as well. For one, as the album's cover photo showed, Ronstadt had cut her trademark long hair. She also traded in her usual country-style dresses for hot pants, and her high heels for roller skates.
Living in the USA was recorded at the Sound Factory in Los Angeles form May 5 through July 3, 1978. "I remember I wanted to bring my roller skates into the studio," Ronstadt says. "My friend Nicolette Larson and I used to skate everywhere. She used to bring her skates into the studio because it was really big and she could skate around between takes. My studio wasn't that big. It had too much carpet, so I wanted them to take it out so I could skate."
While Ronstadt paid tribute to the King with a cover of "Love Me Tender," she also acknowledged the influence of the burgeoning British new wave movement by covering the other Elvis. "Allison" had first appeared on Elvis Costello's debut LP, My Aim Is True, and remains his best-known tune today. "I had a friend at the time and that song reminded me of her, so I sang it for her," Ronstadt says. "She was a really sweet girl, but kind of a party-girl type. I felt like she needed somebody to talk to her in a stern voice, because she was getting married and she would have to change." Ronstadt's version was released as a single in the U.K. but stalled at number 66, and was dismissed in interviews by the acid-tongued Costello. (Nevertheless, Ronstadt's 1980 album Mad Love would include three songs by Costello.)
The biggest hit from Living in the USA was Ronstadt's cover of Smokey Robinson's "Ooh Baby Baby," which climbed to number seven. "We used a live vocal from the rough mix," Ronstadt says. "We tried to go in and add things to it, but it never sounded as good as that live vocal."
- Craig Rosen, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, 1996.
Aside from being one of Linda Ronstadt's more perfect albums, this collection of 10 songs ranging from Hammerstein/Romberg's "When I Grow Too Old To Dream," to Elvis Costello's "Alison" provides a unique display of her vocal charm. The instrumentation, for the most part, is sparse, and it enables the special qualities of Ronstadt's voice to shine through. There are many moods portrayed here, including some husky ones that indicate maturity and a broadening taste, although Ronstadt has always chosen material beyond the merely popular. "All That You Dream" is a classic and could be her biggest song so far. Best cuts: "All That You Dream," "Back In The USA," "Mohammed's Radio," "Just One Look," "Love Me Tender," "Alison."
- Billboard, 1978.
This one divides right down the middle. The last four covers on the second side are so clumsy that I may never again hear the opener, Little Feat's "All That You Dream." But do kind of like the first side, specifically including the forced intensity of the Chuck Berry and Doris Troy remakes. Only on "Alison," though, does she enrich what she interprets. B
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Linda Ronstadt made the ill-advised move to incorporate some current musical trends, such as new wave, into her successful formula. While some of the record sounds good, the majority of the album is poorly executed, particularly her take on Elvis Costello's "Alison." * * *
- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
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