Linda Ronstadt’s association with Capitol Records was already eight years deep when she released the album Heart Like A Wheel in November 1974. The relationship had embraced three albums with The Stone Poneys and four solo titles released as Ronstadt worked towards wider recognition, between 1969 and ’73. Now, at last, her breakthrough would arrive, and all of America listened.
1973’s Don’t Cry Now album, produced by JD Souther, John Boylan and Peter Asher, had made more strides than any previous Ronstadt record in the pop market, peaking close to the Top 40; its greater success was in the country genre, where it reached No.5. On Heart Like A Wheel. Asher took over the production on his own and steered the sophisticated crossover sound that would make Ronstadt a favourite of both FM and AM radio for years to come.
The album reflected Asher’s own background as a hit artist in the 60s, as one half of Peter & Gordon, alongside Linda’s rare ability to interpret British and American pop, the country, soul and folk flavours of her past, and the West Coast album sound, all with the same authoritative vocal distinction.
The first single and opening track, released simultaneously with the album, was an update of Clint Ballard’s ‘You’re No Good’. First recorded by Dee Dee Warwick, it had been a soul hit for Betty Everett and was known to Asher for its hit British cover by the Swinging Blue Jeans. Early in 1975, Ronstadt’s version hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100. The very same week, in one of the sweetest moments of her career, the album replaced Ohio Players’ Fire atop the LP bestsellers, just as the single did the same to the soul group’s title track.
Linda’s follow-up single, a cover of The Everly Brothers’ ‘When Will I Be Loved’, nearly repeated the feat, reaching No.2 on the US pop chart. It was paired with the album’s rendition of Buddy Holly’s ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’.
But her versatility was greatly underlined by an LP that also acknowledged everything from the album rock of Little Feat’s ‘Willin’’, the singer-songwriter stylings of Souther’s ‘Faithless Love’ and James Taylor’s ‘You Can Close Your Eyes’, and Anna McGarrigle’s folk-inflected title track.
Ronstadt also kept her country audience happy with a reading of Hank Williams’ ‘I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)’ and was even at home down at the soulful end of town, on Chips Moman and Dan Penn’s often-covered James Carr original, ‘The Dark End Of The Street’.
Heart Like A Wheel can be bought here.
Follow the Through The Decades playlist for more landmarks from Capitol Records’ storied first 75 years.