Graham Reid | | 2 min read
In 1997 when Rolling Stone had a substantial Women of Rock issue, they paid scant attention to Heart, just half a dozen sentences.
Admittedly their best days seemed to be behind them, but with six multi-platinum albums to that point they certainly deserved more space than Yoko Ono whose contribution to “rock” was marginal. Yet she scored twice as much space as the Wilson sisters Ann and Nancy who were the core of Heart as songwriters, singers: Ann the lead singer and Nancy an impressive guitarist.
Their brief Rolling Stone entry barely mentioned their music or hits (“a decade's worth of big hair, humongous guitar chords and sizable hits between 1976 and 1990”) but managed to describe Ann as being grumpy when fielding the regular question back in the late Seventies: “You know what I hate being asked, what's it like being a woman in the rock business”.
It also mentioned their first label's sexist ad campaign for their Dreamboat Annie debut in which they appeared bare-shouldered (as on the album cover) with the tag line, Heart's Wilson Sisters Confess: “It Was Only Our First Time”.
Heart deserved better from that label, and better from Rolling Stone.
Their biggest hit was Barracuda – about a DJ who suggested to Ann she and her sister were in an incestuous relationship, the result of a hint dropped by the record company as a publicity stunt.
And although Barracuda would appear on their subsequent album Little Queen, their debut Dreamboat Annie certainly announced a fine, mainstream rock band arriving.
The hit single Magic Man – about Ann's older man, their producer and her lover Michael Fisher – has a neatly ambiguous quality: it could also be read as being about a drug dealer.
The album version runs to five and half minutes (it was edited for radio) and showcases Nancy's guitar prowess as one of three getting solo space. It's very Steve Miller/AOR stadium rock/Seventies.
The repeated theme of Dreamboat Annie appears three times, in a brief acoustic piece early up, as a longer mid-tempo ballad at the centrepoint (the last half might not have been out of place in Midnight Cowboy) and as a long, orchestrated reprise right at the end. It's a nice song but you do wonder if you needed it this many times.
Nancy is decent acoustic player throughout and if the songs and production do sound a bit period-generic, you had to admire their ambition of the orchestrated six minute-plus folk-prog of Soul of the Sea.
If you've only known them from the excellent Barracuda and the slippery Magic Man some of this album will come as a disappointing surprise (Love Me Like Music is bland and closer to MOR country-pop than rock, How Deep It Goes is more folk-pop).
It's when they hit their straps on White Lightning and Wine, or the more sensual Sing Child, you can hear their distinctive rock sound coming through.
You might conclude Heart's Ann Wilson wrote better songs when she was angry than happy and settled.
You can hear this album on Spotify here
Elsewhere occasionally revisits albums -- classics sometimes, but more often oddities or overlooked albums by major artists -- and you can find a number of them starting here