Song Of The Day 3/20/2014: Linda Ronstadt - "Willin'"

Accidents of Adult Contemporary: In her country-rock years Linda Ronstadt actually did quite a bit of material that clashed with the table settings of the easy-listening crowd, but relatively few of them were hits. I had a few contenders to choose from, with a slight nod toward songs about controlled substances. My first choice was her version of "Carmelita" by Warren Zevon ("I'm all strung out on heroin on the outskirts of town"). For a minute I considered her very early cover of Waylon Jennings' "Mental Revenge" ("I hope that friend you've thrown yourself on gets drunk and loses her job"). Yes, this was the same person who gently serenaded a cartoon rodent back into the arms... er, claws of his family with James Ingram and bell synths.

I finally settled on her cover of Little Feat's "Willin'" from her 1974 album Heart Like A Wheel. Not so much because it paints her with a different palette, and not even so much because of the subject matter, which is the trucking industry. It's because of three words: "Weeds, whites and wine." And more because of the way they come about in this song, similar to how Little Feat did it, but even more -- how do we put this? -- let's say, emphasized. Verse ends, Linda sets up the chorus "And if you give me..." Then the band comes to a stop, there's a bowling ball sized pause, a brief moment of suspense, and then Linda's full-on, XXL-brassy, mildly apocalyptic bullhorn moment: "WEEEEED, WHIIIITES AND WIIIIIINE!" She does this twice. Linda had a fantastic voice, but in this moment it's almost like she traded places with Ethel Merman for a second.

The late Lowell George, who wrote "Willin'," mentioned this particular pop moment in an interview with Bill Flanagan mere days before he died: "Linda Ronstadt’s version of 'Willin’' is pretty good, except she gets a little bit 'WuhEEED, WuhHITES, AND WuhIIIIINE!' Linda was a little bit too on."

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