Thirty-nine years ago next month, Linda Ronstadt released Mad Love, her tenth LP as a solo artist. Ronstadt had previously topped both the pop and country singles charts respectively with high-spirited takes on “You’re No Good” and “When Will I Be Loved,” but Mad Love put the singer in new-wave rock & roll territory. While it’s actually one of her most adventurously vibrant efforts – not to mention Grammy-nominated and her seventh straight million-seller – reviews of the album were decidedly mixed.
Nonetheless, when young pay-cable company Home Box Office came calling in April 1980 for the singer to do a live concert special in support of Mad Love, she and her band assembled at Television Center Studios in Hollywood. Featuring guitarists Danny Kortchmar and Kenny Edwards, drummer Russ Kunkel, pedal steel guitarist Dan Dugmore, bassist Bob Glaub, keyboardist Billy Payne (from Little Feat), singer Wendy Waldman and Ronstadt’s producer Peter Asher, who also played percussion and sang backing vocals, the concert would air on HBO in August 1980. On Friday, February 1st, Live in Hollywood, a 12-track collection of songs handpicked by Ronstadt from that special, will be released for the first time on CD and vinyl by Rhino Entertainment.
The master tapes, thought to be lost, were located through a conversation Live in Hollywood producer John Boylan had at an ice rink with an audio engineer for the Warner Bros. label while their sons practiced hockey. With Ronstadt’s retirement from performing and recording, and her 2013 announcement that she is battling Parkinson’s disease, this collection becomes an essential, if perhaps bittersweet, addition to her stunning body of work that has stretched from the Great American Songbook to traditional Mexican folk songs.
Premiering above is the video clip of “You’re No Good” from the forthcoming album. A typically full-throttle vocal performance from Ronstadt, the tune features an extended instrumental break showcasing, in particular, guitarists Kortchmar and Edwards. It’s evident that all the band members, like the singer, are energized by the intimate setting.
“People that have had to play in arenas are always happy to play in small venues,” Ronstadt tells Rolling Stone Country from her home in San Francisco. “Only Donald Trump likes to play in a big venue. Musicians like to play where they can hear each other and hear themselves, or the audience can hear them and they can communicate with the audience.”
Recalling the less-than-ideal conditions inside the studio, she says, “I just remember it was really, really hot. It was too hot for humans. It was probably 110 degrees onstage and we were suffering from that. I grew up in the desert so I know heat. We had to keep stopping to cool off. There was a great audience; they didn’t have as much heat because they didn’t have any lights on them. They were pretty warm, too, but they were very good-natured.”
Although the famously self-critical Ronstadt has never liked listening to her own records, she’s thankful the resurgence of vinyl LPs means record buyers have the chance to hear more of the details and nuance labored over by the singer, her band, producers and engineers.
“Kids these days don’t know the difference between high-fidelity and the crappy stuff they hear on their cell phones,” she says. “We devoted our lives to high-fidelity music and the return to vinyl is going to make a little more interest in that. It just breaks my heart… there’s a lot of story in the human voice. If you cut out the top end, there’s a lot of story up there – a lot of emotion, a lot of artifact. It’s a shame to get a highly edited version of the story.”