If you have been following rock music since the mid-Seventies like I have, you are familiar with the up-and-down-and-comeback-and-down again-and-rock and roll stateswomen and Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Heart story. I must admit that I was really into their music in the Seventies, with hits like “Magic Man”, “Crazy on You” and “Barracuda”. Then, I kind of put them on my back burner as I started getting into New Wave and Punk music.
Then, one day in the summer of 1982, a good friend of mine stopped by on her way back from Indiana University to drop off a cassette tape of the latest Heart album, Private Audition. While she was still around, I popped the cassette into my stereo and kicked back for a bit of a listen. What I heard was a band that was branching away from its Zeppelin-slash-hippie-folk sound in order to spread their wings with a little metal here “City’s Burning”), a little Beatles there (“Private Audition”), and even a little Motown thrown in to really mess up my mind (the minor hit “This Man Is Mine”). I had to admit that I really liked that album, even though it was a total commercial flop.
I had always felt that the band’s most potent weapon was lead singer Ann Wilson’s unparalleled vocals and sister Nancy’s versatile acoustic and electric guitar work. And, like I said, I always seemed to enjoy their albums. Now, remember, in the summer of 1982, in Indiana, a little rocker by the name of John Cougar was burning up our radio airwaves with his first mega-hit American Fool. One thing about Hoosiers is we are usually VERY loyal to other Hoosiers. We kind of get a bad rap, but we are fairly loyal people when it comes to our athletes and musicians. So, when I learned that Cougar was opening for Heart, I thought what the hell? I’m going to the concert to see Cougar, like most of the 17,000 fan who were there. And, John Cougar did NOT disappoint us at all! And when he opening act stint was over, I thought that now I could just kick back an enjoy a good performance.
Little did I know that I was about to get my butt kicked by Heart. And the biggest effect on that stage was Ann Wilson’s voice! No matter how high a guitar or keyboard note could get, her voice could rise above it. No matter how loud the band played, her voice rose above the fray. I instantly became a fan.
In 1983, the band turned back toward hard rock with their Passionworks album. That album contains my all-time favorite Heart song “How Can I Refuse”. What a great song! To hear song women being vulnerable within a hard rock song was a huge turn on to a young man. I played the hell out of that album. I could hear their subtle influences on the up-and-coming alternative American bands, which was based solely on the band’s musicianship and not because they were women. In my mind, they were always equals.
Then, Heart was dropped by their label, and Capitol signed them. And, to me, when Capitol redid their image to sell their sexuality and make them into a hair metal band, I found it to be demeaning and sexist. Sure, I occasionally enjoyed one of their hits (“Never” is killer), but for the most part I felt the label was treating them in a sexist manner. Yes, Ann was gaining weight, but that was NO reason to hide her in the videos! It was her voice that was driving the songs. Yes, Heart deserved to be mega-stars, make big bucks and have hits. But, Ann should have never been treated as a pariah. She has always been a musical force, whose vocals will blow away anyone. Have you ever heard her sing next to Carrie Underwood, who is supposed to be the younger generation’s diva? Carrie can’t even come close to Ann’s purity and force of nature vocals. I think one person could have come close in his youth and that was Robert Plant, but I seriously doubt it.
When the Seattle grunge and alternative bands began hitting big in the Nineties, they all paid homage to Heart. Heart is to Seattle what John Mellencamp is to Indiana, only on a much larger scale. Heart deserves the RRHOF and their legacy is sterling. They kicked the walls down for women in rock music. But, more importantly, they are equals to those men in the RRHOF.
By the way, Heart has a great new CD out called Beautiful Broken. Many of the songs are old ones that they have redone and they all sound terrific. You will even get the privilege to hear Metallica’s James Hetfield try to keep up with Ann Wilson’s vocals. James does his thing well, but he’s still no Ann. No one is. Thank God for Heart!