Linda Ronstadt with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra “What’s New”

Posted 07 Mar 2012 in Albums of 1983, Albums of the 80s, Vocal


Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#647 in the Series) is Linda Ronstadt with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, What’s New

Linda Ronstadt with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra’s What’s New was a very big deal when it was released in 1983.  My guess here is that it was much bigger of a deal than you may remember. Why so you ask?  It wasn’t a big deal so much that it was a Linda Ronstadt album, nor was it a big deal because it included the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. What made it a big deal was that it was one of the first times that a genuine rock and roll star tackled the “Great American Songbook.”

I’m sure there are more out there, but the only one I could think of quickly was Ringo Starr’s Sentimental Journey.  That album was released in 1970 and while yes, Ringo is a very legitimate rock star, I don’t think his vocal abilities will ever be compared to those of Ms. Ronstadt. At least in a positive note they won’t be.

By the early 80s, the usual crooners, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra etc., weren’t the biggest things with the youngsters. Yes, they were indeed respected and probably loved even, especially Frank, but they weren’t really selling many units to younger baby boomers. So when What’s New was released it really opened the eyes to a generation that wasn’t all that familiar with the works of George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin (except during the Holidays) but this album changed that.  Yes, they were known to a point, but not like they should have been.

This really did change all that. It sold three million units in the United States. It also started a trend (for good or bad) that has continued until today.  As we know, Paul McCartney just did a standards album.  Rod Stewart released  a ton of them and the list goes on and on. It’s probably grown tiresome now, in fact I’m sure it has, but it wasn’t in 1983.

I loved the rocker Linda Ronstadt and was a little disappointed when I heard of this albums upcoming release.  Then I got a copy of it. No, I didn’t play it when the gang was over on a Saturday night, but I did end up playing this very often. I loved it. It was new to me in many ways even though it was very old. At least the writing was. It was great in the car when you were in a mellow mood. Yes, I did play this often.

Linda’s voice was still a strong as could be at this point. She just nailed these songs. The arrangements were just spectacular. The album was produced by her longtime producer Peter Asher.  Peter (formerly of Peter and Gordon) also worked with other great acts at the time like James Taylor, Randy Newman, etc.

It was also engineered by another master, that being George Massenburg. You may also know him from producing the great string of Little Feat albums after their reformation in the late 80s.

Another unique aspect about this album was that it was the first album created by the latest mastering technology at the time called: Pure Analog 32-bit 192 Capture! Yes. It is the first highest resolution album with pure analog sound.

I really only have one thing negative to say about this project and that was one, maybe two of these albums would have been enough. Unfortunately, Asylum Records decided after this album’s success that they wanted two more. The follow up Lush Life wasn’t as good and didn’t sell as well. The trend continued after that with For Sentimental Reasons. What’s New peaked at #3, Lush Life at #13 and Sentimental at #46. The public was sending a clear message at that point. NOTE: What’s New sold enough units that would have normally made it an easy #1 selling album, however, this was the same time period as Michael Jackson, Thriller and Lionel Richie, Can’t Slow Down. 

I’d suggest giving this one a listen. You can hear it all below. Especially check out “Someone to Watch Over Me”, the title track “What’s New” and “I’ve Got a Crush On You.” Brilliance I say!

— Larry Carta

 Track listing

  1. “What’s New?” (Johnny Burke, Bob Haggart) – 3:55
  2. “I’ve Got a Crush on You” (George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin) – 3:28
  3. “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry” (Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne) – 4:13
  4. “Crazy He Calls Me” (Carl Sigman, Sidney Keith Russell) – 3:33
  5. “Someone to Watch Over Me” (G. Gershwin, I. Gershwin) – 4:09
  6. “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You” (Crosby, Washington, Young) – 4:06
  7. “What’ll I Do” (Irving Berlin) – 4:06
  8. “Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be?)” (Davis, Sherman, Ramirez) – 4:18
  9. “Goodbye” (Gordon Jenkins) – 4:47


  • Linda Ronstadt – vocals
  • Ray Brown – bass
  • Dennis Budimir – guitar
  • Tommy Tedesco – guitar
  • Don Grolnick – piano
  • John Guerin – drums
  • Jim Hughart – bass
  • Plas Johnson – saxophone
  • Bob Cooper – saxophone
  • Oscar Brashear – trumpet
  • Tony Terran – trumpet
  • Chauncey Welsch – trombone


Back to the Cool Album Home Page
Give What’s New a listen below

Here’s more album to check out from 1983

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Posted by Larry Carta

1 Comment

  1. Emily (09 Mar 2012, 13:12)

    Yes, this was a very big deal at the time; and yes, the idea has become tired now. I’m talking to you, Rod Stewart. Enough.

    I seem to recall that Ronstadt did a concert of this album on Showtime on HBO. I’m remembering her sitting on a moon that descended from the ceiling.

    The only negative thing I have to say about this album is that it could have used some more variety in the tempo.

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