The final mainstream pop album the iconic singer would make for seven years is a gleefully mixed bag
At a time when such things mattered (more) in popular music, Get Closer is very much of, and out of its time.
Linda Ronstadt, the pop/rock queen of the ‘70s, was coming off of throwing quite a curveball: starring in a revival of Gilbert & Sullivan’s opera The Pirates of Penzance on Broadway, and earning a Tony Award nomination for it. As she told Steve Bloom in this 1985 interview for Down Beat, what she really wanted to do next was an album of jazz/standards. It didn’t quite come together in that moment (but boy, would it ever the next year: What’s New, her first collaboration with Nelson Riddle, was a surprise #3 smash, spending an astounding 81 weeks on the Billboard album chart and going triple platinum) so, Ronstadt said, “Then I went to England to do the movie of Pirates and then I came back and cut Get Closer, because I was really overdue for an album and we had all these tunes ready. But while I was doing it I was eating my heart out for the songs that were on What’s New.”
VIDEO: Linda Ronstadt performing “Poor Wandering One” from The Pirates of Penzance
Where 1980’s Mad Love leaned in to the sounds of the day – chiefly, new wave/power pop – Get Closer’s returns to her ‘70s tack of “One from column A, etc.,” only perhaps in an even more pronounced way than normal. “Get Closer” (check out that synth flourish going into its bridge!) is firmly in Ronstadt’s pop chart hit making pocket, though, a tough, guitar-riffed song, and definitely of its moment.
VIDEO: Linda Ronstadt “Get Closer”
But that’s about the only song to which that description applies. It was one thing in the ‘70s, but to be covering the likes of the Exciters’ “Tell Him” and (with an assist from James Taylor) Ike & Tina Turner’s “I Think It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” on an ostensibly pop album in 1982 was perhaps a bit of a head-scratcher. Somehow, her take on Billy Joe Royal’s 1965 hit “I Knew You When” (the album’s second single) is more successful, and doesn’t sound quite so, well, dissonant. It’s very much of a piece with many of her classic ‘70s covers.
VIDEO: Linda Ronstadt “I Knew You When”
There’s a couple of great country cuts as well, in “Sometimes You Just Can’t Win” and “My Blue Tears.” The 1977 recording of “Win,” made with a vocal assist from J.D. Souther, climbed to #20 on Billboard’s country singles chart, while “Tears,” a Dolly Parton song originally on her 1973 album Coat of Many Colors, was recorded during the original sessions for what would become Ronstadt, Parton, and Emmylou Harris’s Trio project – so of course it sounds gorgeous. (I mean, those harmonies.)
And I’ve not even mentioned my two favorites on the album. First there’s the Kate McGarrigle song “Talk to Me of Mendocino,” which Ronstadt gives an artful, precise reading (with accordion, I kid you not, by Lindsey Buckingham), and then – then! – there’s Jimmy Webb’s “Easy for You to Say,” a pop flop (#54) but surprise top 10 A/C hit (#7) that’s one of the most brutal break-up songs I’ve ever heard in my life. Ronstadt’s vocal is strong, powerful, yet still mannered. It’s a bravura performance of a brilliant song, produced expertly by (who else?) Peter Asher. The last lines of the song’s final verse are just – wow.
VIDEO: Linda Ronstadt performing “It’s Easy for You to Say” on The Tonight Show
Get Closer is, ultimately, a crazy-quilt cross-section of Ronstadt’s entire career nicely tied up in a single album, and even considering some of my (minor) criticisms, I love and recommend it.
There’s a lot to like here, and frankly Linda Ronstadt never, ever sounds bad, whatever she’s singing.