Why Linda Ronstadt Never Liked Her ‘Long, Long Time’ Vocal
Linda Ronstadt had already been working in the music industry for a little less than a decade by the time she started releasing solo music in 1969.
She formed a folk trio with two of her siblings while still living in her hometown of Tuscon, Ariz., before moving to Los Angeles at 18 and becoming part of the folk-rock band the Stone Poneys. They were signed to Capitol in the summer of 1966 and released three albums within 15 months. They had a hit single with "Different Drum," which was written by Mike Nesmith before he joined the Monkees. In the spring of 1969, still contractually obligated to Capitol Records, Ronstadt released her first solo album, Hand Sown ... Home Grown, which didn't chart.
"I felt I was floundering as a singer, and my style hadn't jelled," she wrote in her 2014 book, Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir.
In 1969, Ronstadt opened for singer-songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker at the Bitter End in New York's Greenwich Village. He was accompanied by another guitar player, David Bromberg, who brought Ronstadt with him to the nearby Cafe Au Go Go. He told her his friend Gary White was playing and had a song that might suit Ronstadt. "I was prepared to be disappointed," she later wrote. "I thought it difficult for someone else to know what I looked for in a song."
Following the performance, Ronstadt went backstage to meet White. "He had already packed up his guitar," she explained. "So he took it back out of its case, sat down and began to sing a song called 'Long Long Time.' I told Gary I wanted to record it immediately."
Ronstadt recorded the song - and her second album, Silk Purse - in Nashville. Her producer, Elliot Mazer, brought in a group of session musicians known as Area Code 615, whose methods were somewhat unconventional. Weldon Myrick, for example, had an electronic device attached to his pedal steel guitar that generated a sound he dubbed the "Goodlettsville String Quartet." Bassist Norbert Putnam handled the arrangement of "Long Long Time." "It was an unusual sound for the time, with a touching emotional quality," Ronstadt later wrote. "I thought the musicians played it beautifully."
But she didn't think she sang it all that beautifully. "I never liked my performance on the record," she explained. "It was recorded at 10 in the morning, somewhat early for a singer, and we used the live vocal."
Listen to Linda Ronstadt's 'Long Long Time'
Ronstadt was often self-critical, a trait Bromberg noticed over the years. She once compared herself to Emmylou Harris, who she insisted was a far better performer. (Ronstadt and Harris later teamed up with Dolly Parton for a pair of Trio albums.) "I don't doubt that's what Linda thought," Bromberg told Delaware Online in 2013. "But nobody ever sang with more passion than Linda."
In a conversation with Bromberg in 2015 for Delaware Online, Ronstadt acknowledged that her relationship with her music was complicated. "I don't like to listen to my own recordings," she said. "I always hope they are better than I remember them, but they usually aren't. If I stumble onto one and have to hear it, it's usually not as good, and I remember [it] as not being good enough. It's just hard to judge your own work."
Plenty of other people in 1970 didn't think so critically of "Long Long Time," which was released as the first single from Silk Purse and reached No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It remained on the list for 12 weeks and also earned Ronstadt a Grammy nomination in 1971 for Best Contemporary Female Vocal Performance.
By the time the song hit its peak on the chart, Ronstadt had gotten more comfortable with the vocal, noting later that it "bought me time to learn."
Watch Linda Ronstadt Perform 'Long Long Time' in 1970
"Long Long Time" went on to be covered by a variety of artists, including Jerry Jeff Walker in 1989, and appeared in several films and TV shows. It was featured in a 1975 episode of The Rockford Files and the 2018 coming-of-age film Hot Summer Nights. In 2023, it appeared in an episode of The Last of Us, the critically acclaimed post-apocalyptic drama based on a hit video game that scored HBO some of its highest viewing numbers in a decade. The day the third episode aired, Spotify reported that "Long Long Time" saw a "4,900% increase in U.S. streams."
In The Last of Us, the song serves as a connecting bridge between two characters. "I knew that song needed to hit certain things about longing and aching and endlessly unrequited love," the series' executive producer and director Craig Mazin told Variety. "I could not find the right song for the life of me. I was trying and trying, and then I texted my friend Seth Rudetsky, who is the host of Sirius XM['s] On Broadway and a savant. I told him, 'Here's all the things I need,' and two seconds later: 'Linda Ronstadt, 'Long, Long Time.'' I was like, There it is. That's it!"