Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Blog By Dr. Lauren Onkey
When we discussed potential artists to include in the Women Who Rock exhibit, everyone wanted Heart included. Breaking out in the mid-1970s, Heart mixed hard rock riffs with intensely rhythmic acoustic songs and powerful harmonies, crashing onto FM radio like they owned it. Since then, they’ve managed to navigate changing trends and definitions of rock in the MTV and grunge eras with both hits and critical acclaim, and their most recent album, Red Velvet Car (2010), ranks with their best.
Ann and Nancy Wilson visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this week for a terrific Legends series. They sat down with me for an interview, and then performed acoustic versions of “Dog and Butterfly,” “WTF,” “Sand” and “Crazy on You.” It was a great night. They shared their thoughts on the history of women in rock and roll, their influences and heroes, and their songwriting craft. They were funny and insightful, and obviously big time rock and roll fans.
Heart came out of the gates strong with their first album, Dreamboat Annie, which was released in the U.S. in February of 1976 and quickly climbed the charts behind the “Crazy on You” and “Magic Man” singles. Album tracks like “Dreamboat Annie” and “Soul of the Sea” were FM radio staples. It was unusual and thrilling to see women fronting a rock band in those days – it still is, truth be told. The core of their sound was all there on the first record: Ann’s powerhouse singing, Nancy’s percussive guitar playing and those harmonies. They showcased that sound at the Rock Hall in a stunning performance of “Crazy on You” featuring Ann’s powerful vocals – as Nancy said when it was over, “they don’t build them like that anymore.” Often a debut like that results in a sophomore slump, a second record that’s recorded in haste. But Heart’s second album, Little Queen, made it clear they were in it for the long haul. The album mixed hard rock with more reflective acoustic songs, as Ann and Nancy came into their own as songwriters and showed their mastery of the studio with beautifully layered arrangements. It features their most well-known song, “Barracuda,” Ann Wilson’s response to a sleazy backstage record man. During our interview, Nancy said she felt like she’d really made it once she heard that song blaring out of a Camaro.
The next night I saw Heart play a terrific show at the Blossom Music Center. The set was a mix of their biggest hits from throughout the career, from rockers like “Barracuda” and “Straight On” to stripped down versions of some of their big 1980s hits, like a smoldering, dramatic version of “Alone.” “WTF” from Red Velvet Car smoked. And they showed their influences, too, starting the show with a version of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” and encores of “Battle of Evermore” and The Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me.” These women rock!
Learn more by visiting Women Who Rock, now on exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.