Synopsis of Pop Music
Dreamboat Annie, my little ship of dreams…
When rock and roll gender roles got handed out in the mid-1950’s, the girls somehow got shafted. Female groups ended up with harmony, sugar-coated voices and a wave of Motown hitmakers, but the machine-gun guitar riffs, scruffy hairdos and strutting attitudes went straight to the boys—Steppenwolf, Led Zep, Thin Lizzy and the like. Somewhere down the line, some brave soul had to stand up and show the world that the hard rock gene wasn’t found only on the Y chromosome. Pioneering all-femme band Fanny and proto-punk rock girl Suzi Quatro had helped start the revolution, but sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart took it to the mainstream, paving the way for every Pat Benetar and Lita Ford that would follow.
Formed in the early 1960’s in Seattle, the band that would become known as Heart (after stints as the Army and White Heart) originally consisted of bassist Steve Fossen and guitarist brothers Roger and Mike Fisher. Ann Wilson joined the group in 1970 and began dating Mike. In 1974, Nancy came on board as well, and the band soon reshaped itself in the image of the Wilson sisters. Mike Fisher quit performing to serve as the band’s manager and sound engineer, still seeing Ann romantically. In the meantime, Nancy became involved with Roger, setting up a complex brothers/sisters/bandmates double dating love quadrangle.
Romantic entanglements aside, the revamped Heart was beginning to take shape musically, blending the folk balladry Ann and Nancy had been working on since their childhood with guitar-driven hard rock in a grand Led Zeppelin style. Migrating north into Vancouver, Canada, the band signed with Mushroom Records, releasing Dreamboat Annie in Canada in 1975. Equal parts folk (“Dreamboat Annie”) and metal (“Crazy On You”), the album soon headed back south to the U.S., where the hard-rocking “Crazy On You” and “Magic Man” both reached Top-40 status (“Magic Man” even cracked the Top-10). The two were both Wilson sisters originals, both becoming staples of rock radio from then until now.
Heading back to Seattle, Heart released 1977’s Little Queen under their new label, CBS/Portrait. Once more, the new album was a ballad/rocker hybrid, but also once more, it was a rocker that hit the biggest: the hard-charging, biting “Barracuda,” another rock radio favorite. The band’s Mushroom obligations were finished out by Magazine in 1978, while Portrait released Dog and Butterfly (including the #15 single “Straight On”) later that year.
1980’s Bebe Le Strange gave Heart another Top-10 single with the Aaron Neville cover “Tell It Like It Is,” along with its fifth straight platinum-selling album. The band’s ‘Femme Zeppelin’ style was a consistent draw in record stores and in concert, but the band’s makeup was a little less consistent. The Wilson/Fisher relationships had both dissolved during the recording of Bebe Le Strange, and both men had left Heart to work elsewhere. Howard Leese provided the second guitar (and several other instruments) for Heart’s Bebe Le Strange tour, staying with the band as a permanent member afterward.
Both Fossen and Derosier soon quit Heart as well, leaving the Wilson sisters as the only members still remaining from the Dreamboat Annie era. The band continued to release albums—Private Audition in 1982, Passionworks in 1983—but fan and radio support was dwindling. Many felt Heart’s time had passed, but Capitol Records signed the group for another album. It turned out to be a very smart move.
With Capitol’s support, Heart revamped its image into a more polished power pop band, adding synthesizers and more melodic arrangements to the band’s repertoire. The makeover was announced to the world in the 1985 single “What About Love?,” which instantly shot to the Top-10. Though they hadn’t really gone anywhere, fans and critics hailed Heart’s comeback. By December of ’85, the album Heart was at the top of the charts, and second single “Never” was #4. Power ballads were the group’s new bread and butter, giving Heart’s hard rock roughness a bit of production smoothing that mid-80’s audiences found irresistible. “These Dreams” gave the band its first #1 single in March of 1986, and the follow-up, “Nothin’ At All,” closed out an impressive string of four Top-10 cuts from the same album.
1987’s Bad Animals LP was more of what newfound Heart fans had come to know and love. The piano-led power ballad “Alone” was another #1 single, and both “Who Will You Run To” and “There’s the Girl” proved that the softer-edged (but still rocking, mind you) Heart was now even more popular that the Heart of “Magic Man” and “Barracuda.” The 1990 album Brigade completed the comeback trilogy of platinum albums, scoring another Top-10 single with the Harlequin-novel-set-to-music “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You.”
Like many other bands on the slickly-produced power ballad circuit (Def Leppard, Whitesnake, etc.), Heart found its fortunes changed with the emergence of Nirvana and grunge in late 1991. Unlike the others, however, Heart was actually from grunge mecca Seattle, and the Wilsons even guested on a track for Alice in Chains’ Sap EP. Heart continued to release albums through the 1990’s, but 1993’s Desire Walks On and the acoustic/orchestral live album The Road Home (produced by former Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones and praised by critics and fans alike) were not the chart-dominating forces their predecessors had been.
Ann and Nancy Wilson continue to record and tour, working both together and separately on a variety of projects. But regardless of their place in the future of rock, the sisters at the core of Heart will always have a treasured place in rock’s past. Their riff-heavy anthems and soulful ballads not only topped the charts and ruled the rock airwaves, they showed the world that rock and roll wasn’t just for the boys any more.
Artist Release History1976 - Dreamboat Annie
1977 - Little Queen
1978 - Magazine
1978 - Dog & Butterfly
1980 - Bebe Le Strange
1980 - Heart Greatest Hits: Live
1982 - Private Audition
1983 - Passionwerks
1985 - Heart
1987 - Bad Animals
1990 - Brigade
1991 - Rock the House Live!
1993 - Desire Walks On
1995 - The Road Home
1995 - Definitive Collection
1998 - Greatest Hits
2000 - Greatest Hits: 1985-1995
Pop Sub Categoriesrock
Essential Music AlbumsGreatest Hits (Legacy/Epic)
Greatest Hits: 1985-1995 (Capitol)
Band MembersAnn Wilson vocals, guitar
Nancy Wilson guitar, vocals
Roger Fisher guitar
Steve Fossen bass
Michael DeRosier drums
Howard Leese keyboards, guitar
Mark Andes bass
Denny Carmassi drums