Linda Ronstadt's last big pop turn in the '80s was so great, it took two voices to make it magic.
For much of her Rock & Roll Hall of Fame-honored career, Ronstadt was a master interpreter of songs. "You're No Good," "When Will I Be Loved," "It's So Easy," "Hurt So Bad" - all staples of the rock and soul canon, dazzlingly interpreted by her captivating voice. In the '80s, after hit album after hit album, she bet it all on branching out, from starring on Broadway in Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance to recording Mexican folk songs to honor her heritage.
Everything changed on a dime with the help of a little animated mouse. In 1986 Ronstadt and James Ingram duetted on "Somewhere Out There," the theme to the Steven Spielberg-produced family film An American Tail. The powerful ballad hit No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and won two Grammy Awards, including a trophy for Song of the Year. The stage was set for Ronstadt to make lightning strike again - and she did so in exemplary fashion, with the help of another soulful crooner.
1989's Cry LIke a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind was another trip through great songwriting from the likes of Karla Bonoff, Jimmy Webb and the husband-and-wife team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (who co-wrote "Somewhere Out There"). It also featured multiple guest duets with Aaron Neville, a honey-voiced member of New Orleans funk family band The Neville Brothers. The duo had met a few years earlier - nearly 20 years after he scored a No. 2 hit with "Tell It Like It Is" - and Ronstadt found his contribution to the album so instrumental that he was credited as a featured guest on the cover.
Ronstadt later celebrated Neville's unique voice in an interview with The Guardian. "He has a certain singing style related to French baroque opera, which got imported into the American South in the 18th century," she said. "His falsetto is very evocative of that, and that – the Creole tradition – was interesting to me." For Neville's part, he had a delightful time making sweet music with his friend, even if it meant acting like they were a couple in music videos. "Linda's a pretty woman – it wasn't hard to portray that," he later told Mojo. "But they had all kinda stupid rumors out. None of 'em were true 'cos we're friends. We respected each other. But I look at the video and it looks kinda suspect."
Ultimately, three of their duets were released to promote Cry Like a Rainstorm. "Don't Know Much" was a stirring declaration of love in its later years; it reached No. 2 on the U.S. pop charts. Follow-up "All My Life," a ballad with a beat, reached No. 11, while a cover of the Stax soul classic "When Something is Wrong with My Baby" was a Top 5 adult contemporary smash. The album itself would go triple platinum, garnering back-to-back Grammy wins in 1990 and 1991 for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.