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Today's Song: "Different Drum"

August 30, 2019

My All-Time Greatest Songs


By Songbook Volunteer: Dick Schwartz


Author's Note: This blog has its origin in my interest – maybe, obsession – with songs. It seems there is usually some song in my head at nearly any time.  When I hear certain songs, I’ll sometimes think or say “Ooh! That’s one of my all-time favorites!” The range of my favorites is broad and diverse. These songs might be popular or obscure, from Broadway or the back roads, simple or complex, ballads or rockers. 


I hope that you will enjoy my blogging exploration of contenders for my all-time-favorite songs and that you’ll be moved to consider and share your own favorites that have held a timeless presence in the soundtrack of your life, or rather, your own personal Songbook. Enjoy!


My choice this week for My All-time Greatest Songs is “Different Drum,” and it’s unique from previous selections. Usually, my favorites are based on the song itself, rather than the performer. “Different Drum” became one of my songs only when Linda Ronstadt recorded it as Stone Poneys in 1967.


“Different Drum” was copyrighted by Michael Nesmith in July, 1965, before he became a member of The Monkees made-for-TV band. The show featuring the band aired from 1966-1968. Nesmith reportedly performed the song as early as 1963 with the folk group The Survivors. He liked the song and even managed to sneak a condensed version of it into a Monkees comedy skit, where he was pretending to be a country singer named Billy Roy Hodstetter (Season 1, Episode 15). The song was first recorded in 1966 by a folk roots band, the Greenbriar Boys, in a bluegrass style, and it was included in their album “Better Late Than Never.”




Linda Ronstadt had been singing only harmonies. In late 1966 she was looking for a song where she could sing lead. Linda heard the Greenbriar Boys record and thought it would be a fit for her Stone Poneys trio, which was playing mainly acoustic folk music. Their agent and recording producer Nick Venet wanted a more upbeat folk/rock sound featuring two guitars, bass, and drums, with a baroque-style harpsichord bridge. (The harpsichord solo, longer on the album version, was played by Don Randi who had been playing keyboards with L.A.’s Wrecking Crew studio band with the Beach Boys and Phil Spector.) It worked out that Linda Ronstadt was the only member of Stone Poneys to appear on “Different Drum,” although the record label credited the song to “Stone Poneys.”


From Marc Meyers’ 2016 book Anatomy of a Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop: Linda has said she was confused during the recording session. She had no rehearsal with the group, no lyric sheet, and no lead sheet – she couldn’t read music anyway. Yet she quickly adapted to the new arrangement and faster tempo. Linda says: “We did a rundown take and then recorded the second take without any overdubbing. That became the version you hear on the record.” (She has also stated that it was not one of her favorite recordings.) Michael Nesmith first heard Linda Ronstadt’s “Different Drum” vocal on the radio, and he loved it. He said: “She infused it with a different level of passion and sensuality. Coming from the perspective of a woman instead of a guy, the song had a new context.”


By 1967, female artists were no longer singing mostly about love and romance. “Different Drum” carried what was seen as a feminist message, though that was neither Nesmith’s nor Ronstadt’s intent. This singer and song joined a wave of empowering themes from female artists:


  • Laura Nyro: “Goodbye Joe” (1966)
  • Sandy Posey: “Born a Woman” (1966)
  • Janis Ian: “Society’s Child” (1966)
  • Aretha Franklin: “Respect” (1967)
  • Grace Slick: “Somebody to Love” (1967)
  • Janis Joplin: “Women is Losers” (1967)


Linda Ronstadt was the top female recording artist of the 1970s. She’s gone on to be one of the biggest selling recording artists of all time and has sung in a wide range of genres, including folk, rock, pop, Great American Songbook, Spanish, stage and film musicals (“Pirates of Penzance”), and opera (“La Boheme”). She earned 10 Grammy Awards, three American Music Awards, two Academy of Country Music Awards, an Emmy Award, and an ALMA Award. Linda was nominated for a Tony Award and a Golden Globe Award. Other recognition includes a Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (2011) and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (2016). She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2014) and the Great American Songbook Hall of Fame (2014).


“Different Drum” notable releases and cover versions:

  • Greenbriar Boys (1966) – “Better Late Than Never” album
  • Stone Poneys (1967) – single and “Evergreen, Vol. 2” album
  • The Lennon Sisters (1968) – “Lennon Sisters Today” album
  • Kenny O’Dell (1968) – “Beautiful People” album
  • Michael Nesmith w/First National Band (1970) – “Loose Salute” album
  • Michael Nesmith (1972) – “And the Hits Just Keep On Comin’” album
  • Flying Emus (1989) – “The Collection 1984-1990” album
  • Lemonheads (1990) – “Favorite Spanish Dishes” EP
  • The Pastels (1993) – “Truckload of Trouble” album
  • Bridget Ball (1993) – “Bricks and Windows” album
  • Victoria Shaw (1997) – “Ladies of Country” album
  • P. Arnold (1998) – “The New Adventures of P.P. Arnold” album
  • Me First and The Gimmee Gimmees (2001) – “Blow in the Wind” album
  • Frog Holler (2001) – “Papa Nez: A Loose Salute” album
  • The Guts (2001) – “Sensitive Side of The Guts” album
  • We Five (2002) – 60s Medley
  • Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs (2006) – “Under the Covers” album
  • Jenny Wolfe & The Pack (2007) – “Jenny Wolfe & The Pack” album
  • Robyn Spangler (2011) – “Why I Love Linda Ronstadt” album
  • Lobo (2013) – “Final Vinyl the 70s Underground Rock Collection” album


Check back next week for the next installment of "My All-Time Greatest Songs". In the meantime, listen to a few renditions of today's feature, "Different Drum"!


Stone Poneys – live performance on Vevo   


Carrie Underwood – R&R HOF induction of Linda


Michael Nesmith – 2013 live in Chicago


Michael Nesmith as “Billy Ray Hodstetter” on The Monkees