“Living In The USA” by Linda Ronstadt (1978)Release Date: September 19, 1978
Produced by Peter Asher
Genre: Rock, Classic Rock, Soft-Rock, Pop, R&B
Chart Positions: #1 (US), #3 (Australia, New Zealand), #9 (Canada), #19 (Netherlands, France), #23 (Japan), #37 (Sweden), #39 (UK), #3 (US Country Albums), #19 (Canadian Country Albums)
Certifications: 2xPlatinum (US), Gold (Hong Kong), Silver (UK)
Singles and Chart Positions:
“Back In The USA” #8 (Canada), #11 (South Africa), #16 (US), 324 (New Zealand), #30 (US Adult Contemporary), #41 (US Country Songs), #43 (Canadian Country Songs)
“Ooh Baby, Baby” #6 (Canada), #7 (US), #10 (France), #2 (US Adult Contemporary), #26 (Canadian Adult Contemporary), #85 (US Country Songs)
“Just One Look” #45 (US), #46 (Canada), #4 (Canadian Country), #5 (US Adult Contemporary)
“Alison” #66 (UK), #30 (US Adult Contemporary)
“Love Me Tender” (Released in Europe – No Chart Data)
Singles Certifications: N/A
Other Charting Tracks: “Love Me Tender” (duet Elvis Presley and Linda Ronstadt) #59 (US Country Songs)
Best Tracks: All tracks – Entire album is solid from beginning to end
“Living in the USA” is the 9th studio album by American singer/songwriter/producer Linda Ronstadt (her 12th if you count the three albums she released with The Stone Poneys). The album was Ronstadt's third No. 1 on the Billboard album chart and was the first album in history to ship Double Platinum. As a measure of her impact on popular culture in this time period, the front cover photograph of a roller skating Linda in a satin exercise outfit was noted to have increased the popularity of skating in the United States at the time. As People Magazine put it, “Anyone who gave Linda Ronstadt her first pair of roller skates deserves a place in this decade’s social history.”
It was Ronstadt's record sixth consecutive million-selling Platinum album. It was certified by the RIAA for 2 million copies sold in the US alone and has estimated real sales of 3 million US units sold.
“Living in the USA” was a smash hit even before it arrived in stores on Sept. 19, 1978. Given Ronstadt’s incredible streak of five million-selling albums, retailers couldn’t wait to pre-order the new disc; as a result, it reached the shelves as the first album in history to earn double-platinum status prior to its official release. And unlike certain other high-profile records that benefited from advance buzz, only to end up in the cutout bin, “Living in the USA” went on to dominate radio as well as retail sales.
The first hint of anything from the album happened on April 3, 1978 when Linda made an appearance for the premiere of the film FM she did a live performance of Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender.” The song was not featured on the film’s soundtrack album but it did appear on Ronstadt’s upcoming album “Back In The USA.”
The album 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 and sported a short permed hairstyle. She also traded in her usual country-style dresses for hot pants, and her high heel shoes for roller skates.
In reference to the album cover Ronstadt said, "I remember I wanted to bring my roller skates into the studio. "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 #66, and was dismissed in interviews by the acid-tongued Costello. Ronstadt commented, “I’ve never communicated with him directly, but I heard that someone asked him what he thought and he said he’d never heard it but that he’d be glad to get the money. So I sent him a message. ‘Send me some more songs, just keep thinking about the money.'” (Costello would ultimately end up contributing three songs to Ronstadt’s next album, 1980’s Mad Love.)
The album's first single, a remake of Chuck Berry's "Back in the U.S.A," climbed to US #16. "Back in the U.S.A" was afforded its greatest impact when Linda Ronstadt remade the song in 1978. Ronstadt had heard the Berry original while being driven around Los Angeles by Eagles member Glenn Frey who had once been in her band, the track being on a "home-made" cassette Frey had playing in his tape deck. When 'Back in the U.S.A. came on Ronstadt said, “Boy that would be a great song to sing. I think I'll do that one."
"Back In The USA (1978)
A take of Doris Troy's "Just One Look" stalled at US #44, but Ronstadt wasn't happy with the recorded version. "It took me years to learn how to really sing that, but I could nail it now," she says, 15 years later.
The biggest hit from “Living in the USA” was Ronstadt's cover of Smokey Robinson's "Ooh Baby Baby," which climbed to US #7 and features alto sax by David Sanborn. "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."
Ronstadt is especially strong on her soulful cover of Little Feat’s “All That You Dream.” The song first appeared on Little Feat’s 1975 album titled “The Last Record Album.” Her soulful bluesy take of J.D Souther’s “White Rhythm and Blues” brings side one of the album to an inspiring close. Souther wrote this song for Ronstadt (he also wrote “Faithless Love” and “Heart Like A Wheel” for her). Souther later recorded “White Rhythm and Blues” for his 1979 hit album “You’re Only Lonely” as a duet with Phil Everly.
Although it was never released as a single, Linda Ronstadt's recording of "Love Me Tender" was edited together with the original by Elvis, creating a duet between the two that was played by many radio stations at the time. Elvis did the first verse alone, straight from his original recording, as Ronstadt didn't sing this verse on her version. It garnered enough airplay to chart at #59 on the US Country chart. Ray Quinn, program manager of radio station WCBM in Baltimore, dubbed together Elvis’s 1956 single and Ronstadt’s 1978 version. Although demand for the tape grew, no copies were made available to the public. A three-dollar bootleg single was made, however, on the Duet Label (Duet 101). The duet was inspired by the Barbra Streisand-Neil Diamond’s duet You Don’t Bring Me Flowers. Linda's version was in the same key as Elvis's record, and that would have made it easier for the record company to blend their voices together. There was some talk of recording additional instrumentation to smooth over the parts of the two recordings to give the impression it was just one recording. But that never came to be seen as RCA and Asylum could not agree on a contract for the release.
Billboard Magazine Review (September 1978)
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."
Linda Ronstadt (1978)
Linda Ronstadt (Rolling Stone Magazine 1978)