‘It was just hell’: Early boost from Neil Young came with strings for Linda Ronstadt

Linda Ronstadt gained some of her earliest national exposure working with Neil Young, singing backup on his lone No. 1 single in 1972, after her own solo debut flopped, and serving as his warm-up act in 1974.

Not that it always went all that well.

“I love his music; I think he’s just brilliant,” the now-ailing Ronstadt tells the Hudson Union Society. “But I opened for him, and it was just hell. We were in these huge places, and they just wanted to hear Neil so badly.”

By ’74, Ronstadt was touring behind the well-received album Don’t Cry Now, which included the Top 20 country hit “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.” Later that year, she released the first of a string of albums that would make her the 1970s’ biggest female star, Heart Like a Wheel — home to her No. 1 hit “You’re No Good.”

But Ronstadt remained in awe of Young: “I would stay every single night to hear his show,” she adds. “I learned so much from that, night after night after night.”

Over the years, Ronstadt memorably recorded Young’s “After the Gold Rush,” and collaborated with Young on his Harvest Moon project. Young also sat in on Ronstadt’s take on “Across The Border,” a Bruce Springsteen song.

She announced her retirement from performing earlier this year just before earning induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

[amazon_enhanced asin="B003ZJUIKU" container="" container_class="" price="All" background_color="FFFFFF" link_color="000000" text_color="0000FF" /] [amazon_enhanced asin="B001VZY4LY" container="" container_class="" price="All" background_color="FFFFFF" link_color="000000" text_color="0000FF" /] [amazon_enhanced asin="B0022F2NGA" container="" container_class="" price="All" background_color="FFFFFF" link_color="000000" text_color="0000FF" /] [amazon_enhanced asin="B002A715KK" container="" container_class="" price="All" background_color="FFFFFF" link_color="000000" text_color="0000FF" /] [amazon_enhanced asin="B000002GVQ" container="" container_class="" price="All" background_color="FFFFFF" link_color="000000" text_color="0000FF" /]

Linda Ronstadt’s turns with Neil Young took up two spots on Nick DeRiso’s list of five most memorable collaborations featuring the newly named Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. Here’s a look …

“UNDER AFRICAN SKIES,” with PAUL SIMON (1986): As Simon explored “the roots of rhythm” on this widely celebrated international-flavored song, he invited Ronstadt to help out on one of Graceland’s most underrated moments. On the soaring “Under African Skies,” she doubles his vocals on the verses and then provides the jet fuel for a sun-flecked chant that would come to define this terrific album cut.

“EXCITABLE BOY,” with WARREN ZEVON (1978): Warren Zevon’s best album features a title-track guest performance by Ronstadt, who had long been a champion of his work. In fact, her gender-reversed take on Zevon’s “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” was rising into the Top 40 as Zevon’s hit album appeared.

“HEART OF GOLD,” with NEIL YOUNG (1972): Released just a month or so after Ronstadt’s initial eponymous album bombed, “Heart of Gold” nevertheless gave her an early taste of success: It became Neil Young’s first (and so far only) chart-topping single. As he nears the end of this meditation on restlessness, Ronstadt makes a typically dramatic entrance, arriving just in time for the song’s soaring conclusion.

“BARTENDER’S BLUES,” with JAMES TAYLOR (1977): Ronstadt and James Taylor had earlier contributed backing vocals to a pair of Neil Young tracks from 1972′s Harvest — including “Heart of Gold” — so it’s no surprise that their voices intertwine so naturally on this desperately sad country-blues song’s second chorus.

“ONE OF THESE DAYS, with NEIL YOUNG (1992): “I never tried to burn any bridges,” Young sings. Proof of that: Ronstadt (and Taylor) returned two decades after his signature country-rock triumph Harvest for the underrated sequel Harvest Moon — a visit highlighted by the gorgeous “One of These Days.”

[amazon_enhanced asin="B0085LMJ7I" container="" container_class="" price="All" background_color="FFFFFF" link_color="000000" text_color="0000FF" /] [amazon_enhanced asin="B0018ARDOC" container="" container_class="" price="All" background_color="FFFFFF" link_color="000000" text_color="0000FF" /] [amazon_enhanced asin="B00137R1ME" container="" container_class="" price="All" background_color="FFFFFF" link_color="000000" text_color="0000FF" /] [amazon_enhanced asin="B001L2CMP2" container="" container_class="" price="All" background_color="FFFFFF" link_color="000000" text_color="0000FF" /] [amazon_enhanced asin="B002A6VI5S" container="" container_class="" price="All" background_color="FFFFFF" link_color="000000" text_color="0000FF" /]

Something Else!

The Something Else! Reviews webzine, an accredited Google News affiliate, is syndicated through Bing News, Topix and AllAboutJazz.com. The site has been featured in The New York Times, NPR.com's A Blog Supreme, the NoDepression.com Americana site, Popdose.com and JazzTimes, while our writers have also been published by USA Today, Jazz.com, Rock.com, Blues Revue Magazine and UltimateClassicRock.com, among others. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.