David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 344: Linda Ronstadt (Someone To Lay Down Beside Me)

April 23, 2024

I recently attended an annual conference in Chicago. Even though, because I have attended it regularly for 10+ years, I knew a significant number of people there, along with a fellow SMC staff member who attended, I still felt that overwhelming, almost irrational, loneliness that comes from being basically alone in a big city. To be honest, a part of me revels in the anonymity I can have in a city, but there's also a part of me, especially in fancy city hotel rooms, that yearns for more connection.

It didn't help that this time Linda Ronstadt's version of "Someone To Lay Down Beside Me" played at some point while I was stuck in Lakeshore Drive traffic in the final few minutes to reaching my destination. As a result, I spent much of the conference humming the song as I navigated the quieter moments in Chicago. "Someone To Lay Down Beside Me" starts with the specific image of a lost soul in a big city, and that opening verse was hard to shake:

There's somebody waiting alone in the street/

For someone to walk up and greet/

Here you are all alone in the city/

Where's the love that you took to your side/

Lonely faces will stare through your eyes in the night.

Thanks to Karla Bonoff's original haunting melody, especially as delivered by Andrew Gold's piano playing, we quickly feel Ronstadt's vulnerability, identifying with the need for love and companionship, not always mutual, in the cold, crowded city. This vulnerability culminates in the chorus, in the concession that the narrator makes about what she needs to get through the night:

Someone to lay down beside me/

Even though I know it's not real/

Just someone to lay down beside me/

You're the story of my life.

That last line is so achingly perfect, so aptly descript of the desperate hours of the lonely. Ronstadt, or Peter Asher, the producer of Hasten Down The Wind, the album which featured "Someone To Lay Down Beside Me," knew this should be the closing message of the album, sticking the song in as the closing track, allowing the final seconds of the album to be encapsulated with "just someone to lay down beside me/you just can't ask for more."  Really? Who says? Why can't we ask for more? Human need for love is so powerful that we will accept broken versions of it for momentary comfort.

In that way "Someone To Lay Down Beside Me" is the perfect companion track to the title track to Ronstadt's album. "Hasten Down The Wind" was also a cover of another California songwriter's song, in this case Warren Zevon's. Beyond the parallel relative obscurity of Bonoff and Zevon, the prominent featuring of these two songs ("Hasten Down The Wind" closed Side One) allowed for the album to be soaked in the precipitation of painful love. While Bonoff's song had Ronstadt lamenting temporary passion as love, one night stands, so to speak, Zevon's song had Ronstadt capturing the pain of love unrequited with a woman who enjoys keeping her devoted man "on a limb."

For Bonoff and Zevon, the beauty of both of these album inclusions was the opportunity to sell some of their songs, moving Ronstadt away, for the moment, from obvious resurrected hits, such as Buddy Holly's "That'll Be The Day," the biggest single from Hasten Down The Wind, or the Everly Brothers with "When Will I Be Loved," from her previous release. Her renditions of these songs actually tended to be less powerful than the originals (she changes a few key words from "Hasten Down The Wind" that diminish the emotional devastation of the man, and slightly slows up "Someone To Lay Down Beside Me" featuring the keyboard a little more than Bonoff). However, her versions got people to look into Zevon or Bonoff, or later when she covered Elvis Costello's "Alison," to have Costello eventually stop his bitching about her rendition to admitting he was, in so many words, happy to take the money she earned for him from the songwriting credits.

In their own way, a lot of songwriters were glad to lay down beside Ronstadt for a recording. The royalties were very real.

For the rest of you wandering around lonely in the city, here's hoping the story of your lives had happy endings.

Linda Ronstadt. "Someone To Lay Down Beside Me." Hasten Down The Wind. Asylum, 1976. Link here.

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See complete list here.