What Hath Ronstadt Wrought?

By digging into the great (and usually corny) American songbook, Linda Ronstadt opened the door for countless other to do so, too.

It's become an annoying trend, the recent attempt by onetime rockers to reinvent themselves and thereby salvage their careers by making albums stocked with standards. If the blame's to be laid on anyone, point the microphone at Linda Ronstadt. After wearing out her welcome on Top 40 radio following a string of '70s smashes, Ronstadt suddenly switched gears, headed to Broadway to star in the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta Pirates of Penzance,and proceeded to record three albums of big band ballads with orchestra leader Nelson Riddle. Many pop fans heaved a collective sigh of indifference as Ronstadt's reign on the rock charts gave way to middle-aged respectability. Still, the lesson wasn't lost, as evidenced by this current crop of crossovers:

Rod Stewart's transformation from randy rocker to sentimental stylist is arguably the most radical high-profile turnaround. His MOR manifestation coincided with his signing to J Records, a label that could dull the edge of a switchblade. Many who have tracked Stewart's career — from his days of belting the blues with the Jeff Beck Group and his rowdy revelry with the Faces — were justifiably dismayed when he embarked on his Great American Songbook series. Four albums on, Stewart's songbook selection seems a bit dog-eared (two would do), but his smooth moves still have their charm. The question is... do ya think he's sexy?

We'd bet that few Michael Bolton fans (if there is such a thing) realize that before he became a soul-sucking pseudoballadeer, the former Michael Bolotin was a big-haired vocalist for wannabe heavy-metal outfit Blackjack. Still, with four albums of classic covers to his credit (including a set of arias, no less), Bolton's attempts to emulate his idols are as vapid as his ability to court credibility. A perennial target of critical scorn, he still finds favor with those who believe Kenny G plays real jazz.

Pat Benatar's hit-making days were long behind her when she switched gears with her standards album, True Love. Still, credit her with taking her best shot by stocking it with vintage blues and R&B chestnuts. Benatar's brassy pipes still tend to over emote, but even so, she's no heartbreaker; the sass and soul are genuine, not artificially induced.

Girls just wanna have fun, but eventually they just gotta grow up too, which was apparently the point of Cyndi Lauper's At Last. Unfortunately, the idea of the giddy gal with the multihued hair as a torch singer just didn't jell. Her latest try at being taken seriously finds her cast in The Three Penny Opera on Broadway. As for a comeback, we're still waiting, time after time. Lee Zimmerman

Linda Ronstadt performs at 8 p.m. Saturday, January 14, at the Sinatra Theatre at the BankAtlantic Center, 1 Panther Pkwy., Sunrise. Tickets cost $57.25 to $97.25. Call 954-835-8499.Prez Play

Following the successful September release of The Bill Clinton Collection: Selections From the Clinton Music Room, the estates of several other presidents released their own music compilations in time for the holiday season.

The CD honoring William Henry Harrison is tentatively titled Beginnings and will feature the first minute of 30 different songs, one for each day he served in office. "We'd like people to remember him for something other than, well, dying," explains Sarah Pulliam of the William Henry Harrison Memorial State Park in North Bend, Ohio. "After all, the Claims Convention was signed with Peru during his time in office. Oh, and he was secretary of the Northwest Territory." Rumored to have been included on the CD is the first minute of Johnny Rivers' "Rockin' Pneumonia," a lighthearted nod to the illness that claimed the life of the ninth president as a result of his particularly long, hatless inauguration speech in freezing weather.

Having the distinction of its namesake's being the only swinging bachelor to live in the White House, the James Buchanan Society is marketing to the 18-to-35 male demographic with music fit for a White House bender. Its playlist pulls heavily from the Beastie Boys ("Hey Ladies" and "Funky Boss") and Sublime's 40 Oz. to Freedom. While the James Buchanan Society concedes that Buchanan was never in a fraternity while in college, they say he totally hung out with guys who were. And he was kind of a hottie.

John F. Kennedy's forthcoming release, Video Killed the White House Star, links JFK across generations to other great Americans — like Kelly Clarkson — who were voted upon by the American public owing largely to their television appearances and general good looks.

At press time, the Supposed Illegitimate Sons and Daughters of Thomas Jefferson would neither confirm nor deny the whispered existence of their own collection, reportedly called T.J.'s Hiztory Jamz. Kristie McClanahanEvil, Done Doggystyle

Since his debut solo video, 1993's anthropomorphic "Who Am I (What's My Name?)," Snoop Dogg has been one of our most cherished hip-hop icons. In the first phase of his career, he was Shaggy to Dr. Dre's Fred — slightly mischievous and dopey and generally too silly to be taken seriously. Since that time, we've rewarded him with one of the most profitable and long-lasting careers in hip-hop. Last year's "Drop It Like It's Hot" was his umpteenth major hit, and Snoop has recently appeared in ad campaigns for Mobile Sidekick and Chrysler.

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