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A heavier, yet folky option to mid-70s adversaries FLEETWOOD MAC or JEFFERSON STARSHIP, the mainly two-lady/four-guy alumni from Northwest America (eloquently fronted by songwriting sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson) had all the necessary AOR ingredients to prosper in the years leading up to the harder-edged arena-rock. If one could imagine LED ZEPPELIN extending their protocol with SANDY DENNY further than IV’s `The Battle Of Evermore’, and a little closer to the Mac’s eponymous 1975 set than any “Rumours”, HEART’s piece de resistance was undoubtedly DREAMBOAT ANNIE (1975) {*9}.
Embracing a smorgasbord of genres to embellish their tight-knit soft-rock/“hard-folk”, the evergreen platinum-selling album hosted no less than three exquisite Top 50 hits, `Crazy On You’, `Magic Man’ and the main title track (built from 3 segues) – their sound sitting well with FM radio. Not far removed from the CARPENTERS on `(Love Me Like Music) I’ll Be Your Song’ and `How Deep It Goes’, or JAMES GANG-meets-JEFFERSON AIRPLANE on `Sing Child’ (Zeppelin/YES for `Soul Of The Sea’), their strength was in their ambiguous pop/rock ambrosial.
Several years prior to the emergence of HEART, elder sister ANN WILSON (and The Daybreaks) garnered interest from Topaz Records, who issued a couple of singles in 1969: `Standin’ Watchin’ You’ (b/w `Wonder How I Managed’) and `Through Eyes And Glass’ (b/w `I’m Gonna Drink My Hurt Away’). In the meantime, an embryonic version of Heart were already ticking away under The Army moniker; an all-male band comprising lead guitarist Roger Fisher, bassist/percussionist Steve Fossen, lead vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Don Wilhelm and drummer Ray Schaefer. By the early 70s (dropping off a few musicians/singers along the way), Fisher and Fossen had become White Heart, roping in David Belzer (keyboards) and Jeff Johnson (drums). From 1972-1974, Roger’s brother Michael (on added guitar) hooked up and fell in love with newbie lead vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Ann. One by one, after said Michael dodged the draft, each main member of the expanded sextet followed him to Vancouver, Canada, where they initially played shows as Hocus Pocus.
HEART started to record in 1974/5, although this was without Mike (superseded by Ann’s equally-talented younger sibling Nancy Wilson), David (replaced by John Hannah) and Jeff (replaced by Brian Johnstone). While further romantic links became apparent a la former folk singer Nancy and beau Roger, the absent John and Brian had made way for multi-instrumentalist Howard Leese and Michael DeRosier respectively (at first as only session men); Michael Fisher maintained a link through a side-line job.
Under the direction of producer Mike Flicker, Mushroom Records (mainly Vice-president Shelly Siegal) gave them a contract and time to lay down tracks, tracks that would surface on their well-received aforementioned debut album. Released October ‘75 in Canada and February ‘76 in the States (Britain was slowest on the uptake), it resonated with the times and has since become a classic rock stalwart.
Following Dreamboat Annie’s success, HEART returned to Seattle, Washington, and in the process, inked a new deal with CBS-Portrait Records, annoyed at how Mushroom had used a salacious and suggestion poster-ad for a piece in the Rolling Stone magazine. Still under a tight reign, a disgruntled Mushroom promptly sued them for breach of contract. During these legal challenges and in-court hassles, HEART were forced to comply with the release (April 1977) of their second LP, “Magazine”, a set of only five unfinished studio tracks and unreleased live songs, including versions of KIKI DEE’s `I’ve Got The Music In Me’ and BADFINGER’s `Without You’.
Rightly or wrongly and striking while the iron was still hot, the sextet ploughed on for their official “sophomore” album, LITTLE QUEEN (1977) {*7}; issued that May. A heavier affair, the record was another semi-critical and commercial Top 10 success, spawning the high-pitched hard-rocking single, `Barracuda’, and other gems such as modest hits `Little Queen’ and `Kick It Out’. While punk precluded any real UK success, HEART were consistently popular in North America, the rock babe glamour of the Wilson sisters, incorporating impressive vocal acrobatics of Ann, marked them out from the AOR pack.
In early 1978, a Seattle judge gave Mushroom the rights to re-issue their “out-takes” album, MAGAZINE {*4}, but also ruled that the group could re-cut, re-mix and edit it. Inevitably, the record – somewhat different in track listing and song lay-out – was still a patchy affair, although it surprised many, even the band themselves, by reaching the Top 20; helped in no short measure by the equally re-vamped `Heartless’ hit. But this chapter was now closed.
Later in ‘78, their fourth million-selling album, DOG & BUTTERFLY {*6} – highlighting the title track and `Straight On’ hits – secured another Top 20 success, their last for Portrait as the band underwent personal upheavals and moved along the corporate corridor to Epic Records. Every bit as passionate and lush as its predecessors, hard-rock was sacrificed for a more streamlined and sophisticated sound for the aptly-titled `Lighter Touch’ and `Mistral Wind’.
Their ABBA/FLEETWOOD MAC-stamped inter-band relationship problems resulted in Roger departing and, though subsequent Top 5 set BEBE LE STRANGE (1980) {*6} wasn’t quite “Tusk”, the single-disc LP was on par their previous effort. In order to catch up or get in line with the claustrophobic punk/new wave scene, predominant over the last couple of years, the fast and furious side of the sisters shone through on `Break’, `Even It Up’ (a Top 40 entry) and the title track; stalwart co-writer and guitarist Sue Ennis supporting them on every level.
Showing their prowess and stature as a live entity, GREATEST HITS/LIVE (1980) {*7} – a double – HEART hooked in rave reviews for their honest inclusion on a handful of cover versions; LED ZEPPELIN’s `Rock & Roll’ following a medley of The BEATLES’ `I’m Down’ and `LITTLE RICHARD’s `Long Tall Sally’, with also a Top 10-er in an AARON NEVILLE (BROTHERS) nugget, `Tell It Like It Is’; left out in the cold was their rendition of `Unchained Melody’.
Possibly going through the motions in a complacent 80s scene manufactured for dull-oid arena-rock, 1982’s PRIVATE AUDITION {*4} had little to say but for a Top 30 place and a reasonably placed hit, `This Man Is Mine’. The unsettling set signalled the end of the road for Fossen and DeRosier, whose respective berths were taken by Mark Andes (ex-SPIRIT, ex-JO JO GUNNE, ex-FIREFALL) and Denny Carmassi (ex-GAMMA, ex-MONTROSE). The Keith Olsen-produced PASSIONWORKS (1983) {*5} only added fuel to the fire that HEART were in a kind-of mid-period slump; the group penned `How Can I Refuse’ and the Jonathan Cain-authored `Allies’ were both hits, but not necessarily major ones.
The band’s fortunes were given a bit of a boost when Ann duetted with LOVERBOY’s Mike Reno on the polished Top 10 smash, `Almost Paradise’, one of a handful of hits used in the 1984 dance film, Footloose.
Subsequently signing a fresh deal at Capitol Records, the group rose phoenix-like to top the American charts with the eponymous HEART (1985) {*8}. Full of gleaming, MTV-friendly, Top 10 power ballads (e.g. `What Above Love?’, `Never’, the No.1 `These Dreams’, and `Nothin’ At All’), the wily Wilsons and Co had practically re-invented themselves and had the leather ‘n’ lace-style soft-rock market well and truly cornered. Their move into the mainstream was possibly ambitious, but with outsider songsmiths ready and willing to churn out the hits, HEART were happy to climb aboard.
1987’s BAD ANIMALS {*6} was more of the same; Ann flexing maximum vocal muscle on the chart-busting `Alone’ single (one of two scribed by Tom Kelly & Billy Steinberg), their most glossiest so far and one that catapulted the band in Britain where the song went Top 3. Much in-demand, Midas touch songwriter Diane Warren contributed the set’s other big hitter, `Who Will You Run To’, while one of the team behind `Never’, Holly Knight, paired up with Nancy to secure third attendant 45, `There’s The Girl’.
The formula settled upon when producer Richie Zito took over the controls, the Top 3 BRIGADE (1990) {*6} was almost as fruitful, though not quite as convincing. True to form, HEART were beating hard on the door of the top slot with `All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You’ (penned by Mutt Lange), but despite fewer cuts donated by the Wilsons and/or the band, other power ballad hits came by way of Diane Warren (`I Didn’t Want To Need You’) and Harrington-Kyle (`Stranded’).
Unrepresentative of their career as a whole, but at least harder-edged in its placement of “Brigade” tracks, the concert set ROCK THE HOUSE – LIVE! (1991) {*4} sold poorly in comparison to their studio sets. As a result, the Wilsons could escape back into their own cocoon and, in the process, come up with the LOVEMONGERS. A fully-fledged outfit – also combining the talents of Frank Cox and the aforementioned Sue Ennis – they debuted in early ’93 with a life-affirming cover of LED ZEPPELIN’s `The Battle Of Evermore’.
HEART, meanwhile, reconvened without Andes for 1993’s DESIRE WALKS ON {*5}. Only Top 50, while Lange’s `Will You Be There (In The Morning)’ ended their glorious chart-run on a Top 40 high, sudsy pseudo-pop-metal or the odd contemporary ballad was the order of the day through `Rage’, `In Walks The Night’ and a re-tread of DYLAN’s `Ring Them Bells’.
Bassist Fernando Saunders finally selected over for session people, and Carmassi making way for Denny Fongheiser, THE ROAD HOME (1995) {*6} – cut live between August 12-16, 1994, at Moore Theater, Seattle – showcased a stripped down acoustic sound. Starring most of their classic rock staples, plus covers of Boudleaux Bryant’s `Love Hurts’ and JONI MITCHELL’s `River’, Ann’s dramatic vocals were the key to its critical plaudits.
On the back of low-key LOVEMONGERS sets, WHIRLYGIG (1997) {*6} and the festive-fuelled HERE IS CHRISTMAS (1998) {*4}, NANCY WILSON delivered her inaugural solo set in `Live At McCabe’s Guitar Shop’ (1999), while sister ANN WILSON worked on the score to husband Cameron Crowe’s coming-of-age “rock” flick, Almost Famous.
The Wilson’s now the very lifeblood to a resurgent HEART (roping in guitarist/singer Scott Olson – ex-ALICE IN CHAINS, keyboard player Tom Kellock, bassist Mike Inez – ex-OZZY OSBOURNE, ex-ALICE IN CHAINS, ex-SLASH’S SNAKEPIT, and sticksman Ben Smith), the all-encompassing live double ALIVE IN SEATTLE (2003) {*6} proved beyond doubt that their songs had stood the test of time; all towered tall next to readings of Zep’s `Black Dog’ and `The Battle Of Evermore’ (not forgetting covers of The SONICS’ `The Witch’ and ELTON JOHN/Bernie Taupin’s `Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters’).
Eleven years since their previous studio album of fresh tracks, JUPITERS DARLING (2004) {*7} entered the Top 100 for a week. While Olson and Kellock were replaced by Craig Bartock (guitar, keyboards, vocals) and Darian Sahanaja (keyboards, stylophone) respectively, this riff-tastic record straddled the missing link between Zeppelin and grunge-rock; note that stoner Jerry Cantrell (from ALICE IN CHAINS) provided the strums on `Fallen Ones’, while Mike McCready (PEARL JAM) guested on the three run-ups, `Led To One’, `Down The Nile’ and `I’m Fine’.
Fans spoilt for choice with the near simultaneously-released ANN WILSON solo set `Hope & Glory’ and the concert CD/DVD redux of DREAMBOAT ANNIE LIVE {*6} hitting the shops in autumn 2007, HEART were drawing in fans from the cold. The latter artefact recalling their glorious debut, it still had room enough to fit in `Black Dog’ and a re-tread of `Misty Mountain Hop’, while PINK FLOYD’s `Goodbye Blue Sky’ and The WHO’s `Love, Reign O’er Me’, seemed somewhat out of sync within its scope and concept; Debbie Shair (keyboards) and Ric Markmann (bass, didgeridoo) had now replaced Sahanaja and Inez.
Subsequently swapping Shair for seasoned multi-instrumentalist Ben Mink (ex-k.d. LANG), 2010’s RED VELVET CAR {*6} soared into the Top 10, their first to do so since 1990’s Brigade. Steeped in bluesy hard-rock through opening cuts `There You Go’ and `WTF’, or teasing the listener through reversions into folk-rock (reviving the Lovemongers’ `Sand’), HEART had undergone a bypass and survived to fight another day.
When Bartock bailed, Debbie Shair was only too happy to step into his shoes for the Wilson’s dreamy hard-rock production, FANATIC (2012) {*6}; a sort of supplement to their publication of memoirs, Kicking & Dreaming: A Story Of Heart, Soul And Rock And Roll. Another success in terms of Top 30 status, HEART could reminisce and freewheel through the passages of time, by way of `Rock Deep (Vancouver)’ – a tribute to their stamping ground – `59 Crunch’, `Mashallah!’ and the ballsy opening title piece. For completists, 2014 unveiled the obligatory deluxe CD/DVD packages, FANATIC LIVE FROM CAESAR’S COLOSSEUM {*5} and the partly festive from HEART & Friends HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS {*6}; SAMMY HAGAR, RICHARD MARX and SHAWN COLVIN among the stars, plus `Stairway To Heaven’ and `Ring Them Bells’ closing the show.
Although bassist Dan Rothchild had long since subbed Markmann (back in 2012), a further recruit, Chris Joyner, was found in time to replace Shair in time for summer 2016’s BEAUTIFUL BROKEN {*7}. Conjoining old, new, borrowed and blues pieces from the first half of the 80s to the present day; the best echoing from the back-to-back `Johnny Moon’, `Heaven’ and `City’s Burning’, the cloud-shaking HEART stretched their acumen when melding a cover of NE-YO’s `Two’, the retro-fuelled newbie `I Jump’ and the opening leftover title track (from Fanatic) featuring METALLICA’s James Hetfield on co-vocals/co-credits.
A few years down the line, ANN WILSON’s `Immortal’ (2018) was basically a covers set, featuring once-classic songs from the pens of GERRY RAFFERTY, GEORGE MICHAEL, AMY WINEHOUSE, EAGLES, CREAM, COHEN, BOWIE, PETTY, among others.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Jan2016-Sep2018

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