You’re No Good (1974)
Linda Ronstadt has few equals in her generation of female singers. Naturally, the natural woman, Aretha Franklin heads the list of competitors. But Ronstadt’s cohorts in country masterpiece making, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, also crowd the list. The previous country generation gave us Patsy Cline and Butcher Hollow’s own
“You’re No Good” is a low-down, twisted yarn about a woman who has thrown over one guy, a good one, for a louse. She then attempts to humble herself in front of the good guy lover:
I broke a heart, that’s gentle and true
Yes, I broke a heart over someone like you
I’ll beg his forgiveness on bended knee
I wouldn’t blame him if he said to me
You’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good
Baby you’re no good.
Rockin’ Ronstadt – top of the heap listening
Ronstadt’s deep, sexy, soulful voice – part Blues, part Rock, part Country – rises up out of her deepest insides (is the diaphragm the seat the soul?) and pours out her sorrow, bitterness, embarrassment and resolve to leave the bastard.
Meanwhile, her backing band spins up a cyclone of sound. It’s some of the best Rock-N-Roll ever played behind a female singer and, a blessing on Linda, she is willing to step aside to let the boys fire up the engines.
In the studio version Eddie Black, and Andrew Gold, who plays the solo in the bridge, are the guitarists. Gold also plays piano, drums and percussion on the song. Background vocals were by Clydie King and Shirley Mathews. Clydie King has sung background for the Stones, Steely Dan, Joe Cocker, and Bob Dylan.
The powerful drumming, the pulsating bass, and the stormy, pained guitars reflect the depth of the remorse the singer projects. There are a number of neat and precise tempo changes, a superior instrumental bridge and… all the elements to make this version a million seller and the lead single on the double platinum album it vaults off of, the uber classic Heart Like A Wheel.
In later, live versions, a whole other set of musicians would step in to fill the original band’s shoes admirably. Among them are Waddy Wachtel, who worked on other Ronstadt albums and most famously backed up Warren Zevon and Jackson Browne.
The whole rocking tempest is produced by Peter Asher, once of Peter & Gordon (“A World Without Love”) and big brother to Jane Asher, the mid-’60s girlfriend of Paul McCartney.
“You’re No Good” had a handful of incarnations before and after Linda’s.
Betty Everett turned out a bauble of the hit tune, lazily spooning out a version that would have been more palatable in the hands of Eartha Kitt or Sarah Vaughn. Everett would go on to score the 1964 smash hit “It’s In His Kiss (The Shoop-Shoop Song).”
Dee Dee Warwick, younger sister to Dionne, delivered a smoldering R&B rendition that accents the more sexual side of the piece. The singer has cheated, she loved the sex, but oh my my the love hangover is costly.
An oddball version by Liverpudlians The Swinging Blue Jeans is entertaining enough, but sounds like a reject song from an Austin Powers movie. It’s just a little too shagadelic Mod-Brit to survive the crushing and grinding teeth of the last five decades. Additionally, although written by a male, it seems more at home in the world of female hurt. (Part of the double standard, one supposes.) The lead male singer of the Blue Jeans sounds like he’s piqued about someone cutting in line on him, not having his woman running off with another guy.
Songwriter Clint Ballard, Jr., penned another huge hit, “Game Of Love,” made popular by Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders. (“The purpose of a man is to love a woman, the purpose of a woman is to love a man…”)
Van Halen, always full of surprises like a jack-in-the-box (the toy not the restaurant), covered the song on its second album in 1979.
But Linda Ronstadt set the benchmark, bolstering her spot as the greatest female Rock-Pop performer of the ’70s and ’80s. And one of the top Country stars, male or female. And, one of the finest singers of pop standards, Mexican and Anglo-American.
Linda was pretty much the top of the heap no matter what she undertook.
- Maria Muldaur turned down “You’re No Good” after her first hit album (with “Midnight At The Oasis” on it) in1973/74, saying in a later interview that she wanted to avoid lyrics that were neurotic or negative. What she ended up avoiding was a multi-million seller.