Linda Ronstadt is known for her ability to perform in both country and pop genres. In 1974, she released an album, “Heart Like a Wheel.” One of the singles was the now-classic, “You’re No Good.” By February 15, 1975, both the album and the single, “You’re No Good” reached No. 1 on their respective charts.
The legacy of “You’re No Good”
The song was written by a man, which is ironic given its place in the “no-good man” subgenre that was popular at the time. Clint Bullard wrote the song in 1963. It was first performed by Dee Dee Warwick. In that version, the song was an r&b single. It seems that all but a few fans have forgotten about that version. The song still seemed to resonate with listeners and in both 1963 and 1964. During those years, the song actually charted with versions by Betty Everett in 1963, and The Swinging Blue Jeans in 1964. Ronstadt’s version was the first to reach No. 1. Even after Ronstadt’s version, or perhaps because of it, “You’re No Good” continued to have a life in the collective mind of the listening public. However, a cover of “You’re No Good” showed up in the most unlikely of places – – on “Van Halen II” (1979).
The list of performers who have taken on the song is varied and in some cases, humorous. Other versions of “You’re No Good” have been undertaken by The Muppets, Ike & Tina Turner, Elvis Costello, and Dusty Springfield.
While research proves that the song endures, the bigger question is why? For a “no-good man” song, it doesn’t fit the mold, regardless of who sings it. Although, it makes more sense when a woman sings it. Then it functions as a “no-good man” song. When a man sings it, the song takes on a tone of regret. Instead of a “no-good man” song, maybe it is simply an “unfaithful lover” song, with a side of remorse.
The sound of “You’re No Good”
The song begins with bluesy guitars that hint at rock music without crying or searing too much – – at least not in the beginning. The motif goes on long enough that listeners are entranced by it. The sound is gentle as Ronstadt begins to sing, but the guitars build as the song moves toward the chorus. The drums keep up a steady metallic clink until the break, and the toms sound hollow and add a rock edge to the whole thing.
The vocals, too, shouldn’t be missed here. While obviously, Ronstadt’s clear, but sultry voice is the main one listeners hear, the way her lines are punctuated by the enthusiastic backup singers is one of the things that make the song enjoyable. By the time the song has reached its essential end, the women’s voices raise in a call and response kind of vamp that show that they are all in agreement about this guy who was not worth breaking any hearts over.
The universal theme and near-universal soundscape make “You’re No Good” a classic in more than genre. The album “Heart Like a Wheel” also contains another hit of Ronstadt’s with crossover appeal, “When Will I Be Loved?”
That “You’re No Good” was covered by artists in different genres speaks volumes about how effectively the song expressed its theme. More than 40 years ago Ronstadt was rewarded with a No. 1 album and single. It is as much an accomplishment now as it was then.