Many of Linda Ronstadt’s most famous songs are covers. For example, her cover of a classic rock hit from the 1950s became even more successful than the original. She decided to cover this song while having a conversation with one of The Eagles about the way their lives changed.
Linda Ronstadt called this member of The Eagles ‘the best single source of material for singers’
During an interview with Rolling Stone, Ronstadt discussed a car ride she took with Glenn Frey of The Eagles. “Glenn Frey is the best single source of material for singers,” she said. “He’s got stacks and stacks of cassettes he’s made of all these different things.”
During a car ride, Ronstadt and Frey remembered they used to complain they didn’t have record deals. “… We were so broke and so miserable and we’d feel sorry for ourselves and we were so precious about it,” she recalled.
Subsequently, Ronstadt started looking on the bright side of life. “Then, all of a sudden I looked at him and I went, ‘Boy, life’s really tough. We’re going off to ski with all this money in our pockets, we’re going to have a good time and we’ve got great music on the tape player,’” she said. “[Chuck Berry’s] ‘Back in the U.S.A.’ came on right then and I just went, ‘God, that would be a great song to sing. I think I’ll do that one.’”
Linda Ronstadt connected her cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Back in the U.S.A.’ to 1970s American society
Ronstadt related her decision to cover the song to the atmosphere in the United States at the time. She noted while the 1960s was a time when people wanted to criticize the United States, patriotism made a comeback in the 1970s. Notably, Ronstadt gave this interview in 1978, two years after the bicentennial of the American Revolution. During the bicentennial, American media and pop culture were awash in patriotism and references to the American Revolution.
How the world reacted to the two versions of Chuck Berry’s song
Berry’s “Back in the U.S.A.” reached No. 37 on the Billboard Hot 100, remaining on the chart for eight weeks. Ronstadt’s cover was a considerably bigger hit. It reached No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed on the chart for 13 weeks. Unlike Berry’s original version, Ronstadt’s cover had a parent album: Living in the USA. Living in the USA was a hit, peaking at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and staying on the chart for 32 weeks.
Ronstadt’s connection to Berry extended beyond her cover of “Back in the U.S.A.” She appeared in the film Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll, performing the cover alongside Berry. While Berry performed the song first, it’ll forever be associated with Ronstadt as well — and Ronstadt wouldn’t have performed the song if it weren’t for a car ride she took with one of The Eagles.
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