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Linda Ronstadt, 1975: When The Rock Sweetheart Went Country

Music | July 20, 2019

Linda Ronstadt with country star George Jones backstage at the Bottom Line in September 1980 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Coming out of the southern California rock scene, Linda Ronstadt was a rock girl who knew country. She'd been down with the Eagles, Jackson Browne, J.D. Souther and that whole bunch -- but she wanted to prove herself as the real deal. In 1975, she did just that by scoring a massive hit with her cover of “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You).” The song proved that she could perform in any genre. 

Linda Ronstadt started performing her own blend of pop and country in 1966 with her band the Stone Poneys before going solo three years later. Even though she had massive success with songs like “Different Drum” and her cover of “Desperado,” she was never able to cross over into the country charts.

It may not seem like a big deal to get a crossover hit after scoring top spots on the Billboard pop charts, but Ronstadt felt that having a big country single would cement her as a serious artist, and not just some chick who was friends with the Eagles.

It's A Cover Of A Hank Williams Song

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The original track was written and recorded by Hank Williams as a B-side for “Howlin’ at the Moon.” According to producer Colin Escott, the song was written in the back of a sedan while Williams was being driven down the highway. He bounced lines off his band members who had less than stellar ideas, but by the time he was to the next show he had a hit song.

Ronstadt isn’t the only artist who’s covered the song. A wide variety of artists have made the song their own, including country artist George Jones, funk and soul singer Isaac Hayes, and crooner Dean Martin.

Rondstadt Won A Grammy for the song

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Ronstadt’s cover of “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You)” was such a major hit that it spent time on top of the singles chart before it catapulted her album Heart Like a Wheel to the top of the Billboard Top 200 album chart before it spent four weeks at number 1 on the Billboard Country Album chart in early 1975.

The entire album was so popular that it was nominated for four Grammy Awards at the 1976 ceremony. She walked away with the Best Country Vocal Performance Female for her cover of the Hank Williams song. While the song itself comes late in the album, there’s no doubt that it propelled the album to success.

Emmylou Harris Adds Country Soul To The Track

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When it came time to record her cover of the classic Hank Williams track, Ronstadt didn’t just lay down the track and call it a day. She brought in one of country’s most important female singers to help imbue it with her ghostly twang of a voice. Emmylou Harris was only in the studio for this song, but she adds a sound to the song that gives it a little extra oomph.

While Harris has her own lengthy solo career, she’s worked with a ton of major acts as a background singer. Her voice always brings out a kind of ghostly quality whether she’s working with Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons, Linda Ronstadt, or Steve Earle. 

Once 'I Can’t Help It' Charted, The Floodgates Were Open

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After she scored her first country hit with “I Can’t Help It” Ronstadt continued racking up singles like it was nobody’s business. She hit number one with a cover of the Everly Brothers’ “When Will I Be Loved” in 1975 continued scoring country singles for the next 12 years, until she was once again on the top of the charts with “To Know Him Is to Love Him,” a song that she released along with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris.

All in all, Ronstadt scored 26 singles on the country charts between 1975 and 1995. That’s not a bad run no matter how you look at it. 

The Single Was Actually A B-side

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The craziest thing about this song is that it was never intended to be a single. Initially, it was released as a B-side to “You’re No Good,” the first single for “Heart Like A Wheel.” The A-side went on to be a number one single on the Billboard Hot 100, but it’s side two that really took off when country radio started playing it.

That just goes to show that you never know what someone’s going to be interested in. If you’re an artist like Linda Ronstadt it doesn’t hurt to keep plugging away, someone’s going to notice. 

Tags: Linda Ronstadt | Song Meanings, Lyrics, And Facts

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.