The story of the band Heart revolves around sisters Ann & Nancy Wilson, who became pioneers of women in Rock.
What caused these young girls to want to perform Rock & Roll? Ann (left) and Nancy were about to turn 14 and 10 when they saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show in February of 1964. Nancy says that TV show, plus seeing The Beatles perform in their hometown of Seattle in 1966, were two major events that made them want to play guitars and become professional musicians.
It was about a decade later that the sisters released their first album with their band Heart. Dreamboat Annie was recorded in 1975 in Vancouver, Canada, and released in 1976 in the U.S. Their first single, “Crazy On You” broke into the Top 40 at #35, and “Magic Man” made the Top 10 at #9. The album itself hit #7 and went platinum (a million sold).
The two singles are considered Hard Rock, while the title track is an acoustic song that leans to Folk. Ann & Nancy had previously performed songs by Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon, but their biggest influence by the mid-seventies was Led Zeppelin. The Wilson sisters became the first women to front a Hard Rock band.
While other women were integrated into Rock bands…like Grace Slick in Jefferson Airplane, and Stevie Nicks & Christine McVie in Fleetwood Mac…Ann & Nancy were the leaders of their band. Of course the men in the band made significant contributions, but Ann & Nancy wrote the songs, Ann sang lead, played flute & acoustic guitar, and Nancy switched off on lead & rhythm guitar, and sang harmony & sometimes lead. You can tell by the cover of their first album (above)…they were the faces of Heart.
In 1977, Heart had another rocking hit with “Barracuda” (#11), plus their second album Little Queen rose to #9 and went triple-platinum. Their success continued with the album Dog & Butterfly in 1978. It peaked at #17, and went double-platinum. Singles included “Straight On” (#15) and “Dog & Butterfly” (#35). Their 1980 album Bebe le Strange was highly ranked at #5, but sales dropped off dramatically to about half-a-million copies. Thus ended their first major bubble of success. During the next four years it looked like their careers might be winding down. But soon, they would achieve their greatest popularity.
It took a move to Capitol Records, which invested a great deal to help transform Heart into an even bigger hit-making band. In the 80’s, MTV was an important part of marketing musicians. Capitol made impressively shot videos of the group that accented Ann & Nancy’s sexuality. The two have expressed some regret for agreeing to the videos, but really it was just the era, and there were many similar videos by other artists. The biggest change was actually the songwriting.
While Ann & Nancy wrote their 70’s hits, they were in a dry spell, so Capitol recruited professional songwriters, and it really paid off. The album Heart topped Billboard’s album chart for three weeks in 1985, and went quadruple-platinum. There were four big hit singles…”What About Love” #10, “Never” #4, “Nothin’ At All” #10, and “These Dreams”, which was their first #1 hit. The song features Nancy on the lead vocal, and it was written by Bernie Taupin (of Elton John fame) and Martin Page.
Ann got her first #1 with Heart’s next release. “Alone” was sent to radio stations as a CD single in May of 1987. When we previewed it at our Rock station, it was easy to predict the song would top the charts. “Alone” is one of the best power ballads from a decade of power ballads. It showcased the strength and clarity of Ann’s amazing voice.
That hit ended up on Heart’s 1987 album, Bad Animals. It also included the hits “Who Will You Run To” #7 (by famous songwriter Diane Warren), and “There’s The Girl” #12 (written by Nancy Wilson & Holly Knight). The album hit #2 and was triple-platinum.
There was one album left in this second big bubble of popularity that started in 1985. It was Brigade in 1990. The album went to #3, and was double-platinum. The main single was “All I Want To Do Is Make Love To You” #2, written by producer “Mutt” Lange. The album also had “Stranded” #13, which turned out to be the last major hit for Heart.
After 1990, Heart had successful tours, but their major album releases were variations of “Greatest Hits” packages. There were individual projects, such as Nancy working on movie soundtracks (including Almost Famous) with her then-husband, writer/director Cameron Crowe. Heart did hit #10 on the album chart with Red Velvet Car in 2010. That meant they had Top-10 albums in four decades. Their total sales of albums exceeds 35-million.
Heart was inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 2013. It was an honor they richly deserved. Their work in the 1970’s paved the way for female bands and female Rock singers of the 1980’s and beyond.