Linda Ronstadt, it was recently announced, will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year.
The song that made her a star was 1975's “You're No Good,” which you can hear below. While it certainly contains an edgy vocal performance, and the record's atmosphere is sinuous to the point of being sinister, perhaps its most noteworthy part is its 33 second instrumental breakdown.
It's a thrilling, Beatlesque break, with a cool drum fill and a George Harrison-style solo, and it's the work of one man — Andrew Gold.
Gold died in 2011 at age 59. He was a singularly fine musician and songwriter, whose work, all these years later, is much better known than his name.The son of legendary singing star, Marni Nixon (best known for dubbing Natalie Wood's voice in West Side Story) and Ernest Gold, Oscar-winning film composer, Gold was a self-taught rock and roll kid with a good ear and an autodidact who could play just about any instrument.
His friend, guitar legend Waddy Wachtel — who has played with everyone from James Taylor to Keith Richards — remembers Gold with great fondness. They could both, he said, learn every part on a record and either sing them or get others to. “He was a natural bandleader,” he says, adding: “He always had his parts down pat, always figured them out in advance, like our dual guitar solo on (Ronstadt's) 'That'll Be The Day.'”
Wachtel is nostalgic for a time in record-making when musicians were allowed to do things like Gold's instrumental passage on the song that cracked Ronstadt's career open. The song was the starting point for a ridiculous run that made Ronstadt the most popular female singer of the '70s. And it almost didn't make the record.
In a radio interview with noted session drummer Mike Botts, Gold once recounted how, when Ronstadt first heard his slightly outre contribution to her straightforward record, she nearly had to be peeled off the recording studio ceiling.
“[Producer] Peter Asher, [engineer] Val Garay and I stayed up one night, doing this solo….And we were all happy with the results.”
“The next day,” he continued, “I came in at about 3. And Linda had come in at 1…[She] said, 'What the hell is all this Beatles stuff all over it?' And she didn't like it. And Peter was trying to convince her, you know, 'Give it a chance.' She heard it about five, six times and she finally went, 'You know, it is really good.' And they were going [to me], 'Boy, it's a good thing you were late today.”
Meaning he'd missed all the psychodrama.
Not long after, Gold heard the finished product on the radio.
“I was driving along in my little Toyota and the song came on. And I was like, 'Oh my God, this is the record that we did.' And at the end of the record, the disc jockey said, 'Who is this guitar player? I've gotta find out who he is.' So he sort of shuffles some papers and says, 'His name is Andrew Gold.' So, he mentions my name. I died right there. I had to pull off to the side of the road.”
Linda Ronstadt will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in April. She had innumerable hits after her Beatles'-influenced breakthrough, in almost every genre, from Gershwin-eque ballads to pretty convincing punk (remember, “How Do I Make You”?).
But when she receives her reward, one hopes she will give a shout to the guy who played that beautiful bridge on “You're No Good.” If that song was her first child, he was the midwife, and it's possible that none of her subsequent hits would have been possible without him.
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