The song “Different Drum” by The Stone Poneys features the powerful vocal by Linda Ronstadt.. In 1964, Linda Ronstadt had just completed her first semester at University of Arizona when she suddenly decided to move to Los Angeles. Once there she started a band with Bobby Kimmel and they named it after Charley Patton’s 1929 song “The Stone Pony Blues.” Following the popular fashion of the day, they intentionally misspelled the name and become The Stone Poneys.
In 1965, they were discovered by two record executives while rehearsing in Olivia’s, a Santa Monica soulfood restaurant. After a few false starts they finally wound up with Capitol Records superstar producer Nick Venet who signed them to the label in 1966.
Monkees guitarist Mike Nesmith had written “Different Drum” a year earlier. It’s the story of a pair of lovers — one wants to settle down, and the other (the singer) wants to stay free. The singer explains “We’ll both live a lot longer if you live without me.” Although the song had previously been released without much success by bluegrass artists The Greenbriar Boys, Venet felt it could be a hit if it were sung by Rondstadt. Also, if it was sung from a woman’s point of view rather than a man’s.
From all accounts, the 1967 recording session was a wild affair, with keyboard player Don Randi improvising a baroque harpsichord part, and contractor Sid Sharp leading the string section through an amazingly complex arrangement written by Jimmy Bond (also the bass player.) The superstar section was rounded out by legendary drummer Jim Gordon and guitarist Al Viola. In fact, Linda Ronstadt was the only member of the Stone Poneys to actually perform on the recording. Ronstadt later remarked she had been “confused” by Venet’s complex approach to the song, and that she hears a “fear and a lack of confidence” in her performance. Fortunately the public does not agree. “Different Drum” not only went to #13 on the Billboard Hot 100, but was #1 in Los Angeles and is now considered a classic of the 1960s.