The Meaning Behind “It’s So Easy” by Linda Ronstadt and How an Afterthought Became a Smash Hit

Linda Ronstadt steamrolled through the ’70s with a stream of hot-selling singles and well-appointed albums. You can’t go wrong with any of those records, but Simple Dreams, from 1977, probably stands out as the commercial and artistic peak. From that album came Ronstadt’s smash hit version (No. 5 on Billboard) of Buddy Holly’s “It’s So Easy.”

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What is the song about? Why did Ronstadt decide to cover it? And how did this “afterthought” become one of her most beloved songs? Let’s take a look at Ronstadt’s version of “It’s So Easy,” from conception to execution.

A Formula for Success

Ronstadt’s formula for her highly successful albums had been honed to a razor’s edge by the time she made Simple Dreams. She and her producer Peter Asher would fill the albums with a clever mixture of songs, each one designed to bring about a different aspect of Ronstadt’s versatile vocals.

The backbone was the thoughtful tunes Ronstadt selected from her favorite songwriters, many of whom she would help greatly by giving their songs such exposure. On Simple Dreams, writers like JD Souther, Eric Kaz, and Warren Zevon were given the Ronstadt stamp of approval.

Ronstadt would also make some choices outside the pop-rock arena to provide balance. On Simple Dreams, she brought her immense talents to a pair of country-tinged traditionals (“Old Paint” and “I Never Will Marry”). Finally, she would include some well-known covers, which she would often use as singles. On this record, she took on The Rolling Stones’ “Tumbling Dice” and Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou.” In addition, she went back to the Buddy Holly well with “It’s So Easy” after she had already done very well with Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day” on her previous album Hasten Down the Wind.

“Easy” Pickings

Holly wrote “It’s So Easy” with producer Norman Petty and recorded it with The Crickets in 1958. It didn’t initially chart, but it became a kind of rock standard after Holly’s death in 1959. Ronstadt explained to PopMatters she only recorded the song to provide a little balance on the album and to give her a concert showcase:

“That was an afterthought that we threw in. We needed an uptempo song because we had so many ballads. The songs like ‘Maybe I’m Right’ didn’t go over in those arenas. Anything with nuance or subtlety got lost.”

This take benefited from the outstanding chemistry of the studio band. Don Grolnick’s clavinet gives the song just a little bit of a twist, while guitarist Waddy Wachtel, bassist Kenny Edwards, and drummer Rick Marotta sink into a gritty groove. But Ronstadt’s fiery vocal is what sells it, as she growls her way through the song with an urgency that plays off the lyrics in clever fashion.

What is the Meaning of “It’s So Easy”?

“It’s So Easy” demonstrated Buddy Holly’s ability to fit words into the meter in the catchiest possible fashion, something that rubbed off to great effect on artists like The Beatles. Lyrically, it’s pretty simple what’s going on here, as the song talks about the simplicity of falling in love. The narrator isn’t worried about what might happen once they’ve fallen: People tell me love’s for fools / Here I go breaking all the rules.

From there, it’s just a matter of what an interpreter can do with the song. Ronstadt explained in the aforementioned interview she built her performance based on where the song originated:

“It’s Texarkana,” she says. “It’s that area of the country (Texas/Arkansas). I grew up listening to that. It’s kind of country, it’s kind of rock ‘n’ roll, it’s kind of blues. It’s a little bit of all those things.”

Of course, not all singers could imbue all of that into their vocal. Or, to put it another way, not too many singers could make “It’s So Easy” sound so doggone easy as the incomparable Linda Ronstadt.

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