Heart – Heart [1985]

In 1985, the veteran 70s hard rock band Heart released their first album on Capitol Records. Titled simply “Heart”, the album represented a new direction for the band fronted by sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson. When Heart decided to return to the fold, boy did they know how to do it. Not only did the Wilson sisters look totally gorgeous but they selected a series of songs which reflected the popularity of soft rock at the time without abandoning their vocal and musical prowess.

Despite the change in direction, certain elements remained the same. Beautiful harmonies by the Wilson sisters, blistering guitar solos from lead guitarist Howard Leese, and most importantly, strong, impassioned lead vocals from Ann Wilson, who
is considered by many one of the greatest female rock singers of all time. In addition, the era saw the emergence of Nancy as a vocal force to be reckoned with as her lighter approach to her leads provided a nice counterpoint to Ann’s vocal work. The smoother streamlined sound resulted in Heart’s biggest selling album ever, as it yielded five singles, four of which hit the Top ten.

These songs overflowed with all the passion, excitement, romance and love that typical meat and potatoes, male rockstars of the era, felt too embarrassed to express. On this album, Heart is easy listening, hard rock and progressive new wave pop, all at the same time. There’s an excellent balance of guitar and synth with thrillingly uplifting moments and heart melting ballads. I was blown away by the glorious, dramatic “What About Love’ and “These Dreans”, and the infectious “Never” and “Nothin’ At All” two decades ago and am just as impressed today. Ann Wilson’s voice is undoubtedly enthralling and magical, but what surprised me is how Nancy took the lead singer role on their number one single, “These Dreams”, and her heart warning voice is so pure.

You get your upbeat, energetic, chugga-chugga hard rock guitar riff in opener “If Looks Could Kill”, which was the second single from the album. This is one hell of a hard rocking tune, written by a couple of LA based song writers (Jack Conrad and Beau Garrett) for a minor movie released in the early 80s. Ann provides a ferocious vocal for a song about a woman who catches her man cheating. Though the sound of the song is hard rock, the song structure is pop with a catchy chorus. I’m sure you’ve heard the next song “What About Love” which was their big radio hit and their first single and marked that the band was ready to join the mid 80s. It’s a melancholy, mid tempo, lyrically heartfelt ballad, but in spite of those characteristics it is filled with emotion that only Ann can deliver in song and music that helps her cause immensely. Ann practically screams out the song lyrics and turns this into an anthem rage, while Leese’s blistering guitar solo in the middle enhances the mood. The last half minute pulsates double time with unbelievable excitement and conviction.

You’ll continue to hear the song in your head even after you turn off your stereo. The song features Grace Slick (Jefferson Starship) on background vocals. Next is “Never”, which is yet another ballad. This time, however, the sad sound is replaced with a more up beat, happy feel. The song was the third single from the album and I really like the rhythm arrangement and guitar work on this song. Ann and Nancy’s harmonies on the chorus are the icing on the cake. Holly Knight (of Spider and Device) co-write this song and played the keyboards on this one. Written by Bernie Taupin and Martin Page, “These Dreams”, has to be among the very best ballads of the 80s. This is Heart at its most romantic and seductive. It’s medieval lyrical imagery gives it a timeless appeal. The song emblazons a gorgeous fantasy world upon your emotions. This song would be Heart’s first #1 hit single (Billboard Hot 100). Nancy Wilson grabbed a hold of the song and demanded she sing lead. The lyrics are mystical and ethereal.

This is the most synth oriented of the songs on the album, and while it marks the recordings as totally of its era, the song would become staple of Heart’s live show. The song was originally written for Stevie Nicks who rejected it and given to Heart. In my opinion the only really awful track is the next one “The Wolf”, which tries hard to be uniques, but is really dreadful.The song was written by the band in collaboration with Ann and Nancy’s long time song writing partner Sue Ennis, uses primal imagry tomput down the unwanted advances of sleazy guys. It’s guitar solo will floor you with a determined and indomitable hopefullness! “All Eyes”, scores again with an alternately sexy seductiveness and lovestruck passion. Written by Holy Knight and the Wilsons, it’s a little more hard charging than “Never”, but not as catchy.

The plaintive ballad, “Nobody Home”, is beautiful, written by the Wilsons and Sue Ennnis, proves they could still write a good song. This is a pensive synth based ballad with a delicate, restrained vocal from Ann as she sings to a lover who wants to be free to think twice about what may happen if he discovers he doesn’t enjoy life on his own. The song ends with a mournful guitar solo. “Nothing At All”, has a pure pop genius. It’s got that top of the world, 80s happiness to it. The fifth and final single from the album, is a mid paced affair with a backing keyboard/drum rhythm similar to “Every Breath You Take” but not as dark. “What He Don’t Know”, is a decent soft rock ballad, penned by Wilson/Ennis, about the pleasures of cheating on your clueless boyfriend.

The Wilson sister harmonies give the song a special touch and it’s about the only song where one can hear Nancy’s acoustic guitar in the mix. The closer “Shell Shock”, is a bit cheesy, but displays an ample pop rock sensibility and describes what Ann gets when she sees some hunk of man. Some good blistering Leese solos add to the raucous on this slice of pop heavy metal and it’s an energetic way to close out the record.

This album may look bizarre when paired with the classics like “Dreamboat Annie” or “Little Queen”, but it’s definitely one of the band’s very finest work and one very fine example of what the formula for 80s success truly should sound like. Yeah, I know, just because people are successful doesn’t mean they’re good…well this, my viewers, absolutely does. This is a fine example of a time when music was good unlike today!

Band Members
Ann Wilson – Vocals
Nancy Wilson – Lead guitar, acoustic guitar, mandolin, backing vocals
Howard Leese – Lead guitar, keyboards, mandolin, backing vocals
Mark Andes – Bass
Denny Carmassi – Drums

Additional Musicians
Peter Wolf – Synthesizers, acoustic piano
Mickey Thomas – Backing vocals (What About Love, Shell Shock. All Eyes)
Johnny Colla – Backing vocals (Nothin’ At All, These Dreams)
Grace Slick – Backing vocals (What About Love)
Lynn Wilson Keagle – Backing vocals
Holly Knight – Keyboards
Frankie Sullivan – Guitar solo (Nobody Home), additional guitar (Nothin’ At All)

Tracks
01. If Looks Could Kill
02. What About Love
03. Never
04. These Dreams
05. The Wolf
06. All Eyes
07. Nobody Home
08. Nothin’ At All
09. What He Don’t Know
10. Shell Shock

 

 

 

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