Back in the Summer of 1982, I was spending what would become my last summer at home, although I did not know that at the time. Back then, it was very difficult to find a summer job because Trickle-Down Economics was not trickling at all in the Rust Belt. So, I spent my summer doing the time-tested Corn Belt job of detassling corn. Back in the pre-automated days, a crew of 40 teenage boys or teenage girls would be dropped off in a cornfield where the company farmers were attempting to grow a pure breed of corn by essentially castrating the cornstalks by removing the tassles, or male parts, of the corn from the top of the stalk. This would keep the corn from incestuous breeding and allow for the proper crossbreeding of corn species in the cornfields of a surrounding area. We would be picked up at 6 AM, ride a school for an hour to the cornfields, get dropped off to work until our noon lunch break. Then, we would be back in the field by 12:30 PM until 4 PM.
The money wasn’t too bad, plus you would get a decent upper body workout. Plus, I liked it better than baling hay, which would always trigger my allergies. Plus, baling hay was way harder than detassling corn. Plus, when I got hired to detassle, I got made a crew boss since I was a college student, so I got more money, more leadership experience, and required less physical labor since I was just following my crew to make sure the younger guys were not missing many tassles. And, since I was living at home, most of the money I made was going into my bank account. Except for the albums I purchased that summer, and the two concerts I attended, that is. I got to see Queen for the second time that summer, with opening act Billy Squier, whom I saw for the second time as well. But, it was the second concert of the summer that had a life-changing effect on me.
When I heard that Heart was headlining an upcoming concert, I actually had no interest in the concert. At least, until I heard that their opening act would be none other than Indiana’s own newly anointed rock superstar John Cougar, as he was known then. Of course, I am talking about John Mellencamp. It was then that I decided to go to that concert. However, everything changed after the concert was over. First, Cougar came out and owned the crowd. This was his first arena concert in Indiana since his American Fool album had become the big summer hit album, and his first two Top 10 singles, “Hurts So Good” and “Jack and Diane” dominated the radio airplay in Central Indiana. After his set, I was prepared to leave Heart early. Well, that didn’t happen.
Lest just say that Heart played one of the better shows I have ever seen. The band came out and simply blew me away with their musicianship. But, the best weapon the band had was (and is) lead singer’s Ann Wilson’s voice. No one in rock music can wail like she can. For my money, Ann Wilson is rock best vocalist. She can do a Robert Plant-in-Zeppelin banshee wail, then move into a soft, soulful Diana Ross-like ballad, sing in a ballsy blues-oriented voice not unlike Janis Joplin, all the while maintaining her own unique personality. Plus, the woman is down right beautiful and has a humble yet powerful stage presence. Then, there’s her sister, the guitarist extraordinaire Nancy Wilson. Her guitar playing is exceptional, whether she is playing a hippy-like acoustic folk lick or playing a balls-to-the-wall scorching guitar solo. Nancy has to be one of the most underrated guitarists in rock history.
So, why has Heart always gotten lost in rock history? Well, I have three intertwined theories. First off, it is the old sexist thing left over from the Seventies (and Eighties). Back in the day, those women were objectified as sexy objects. Rarely were their unparalleled talents ever given their due credit. And, when Ann began to gain weight, the critics were lining up to criticize her looks as opposed to praising her pipes. And, Nancy was always told to sell her sexuality without a word being dropped about her guitar playing. Then, in the mid-Eighties, the Wilsons’ music was not selling. So, instead of sticking to their guns to maintain their artistic integrity, they did the survival-thing and began to record songs written by outside writers. Sure, those initial songs helped re-invigorate the ladies of Heart, but then those songs became a crutch, as well as making the band lazier. Nancy’s great guitar work was suffering as she and Ann stuffed their bosoms into bustiers that accentuated their bodies and not their musicianship.
The great thing that saved the integrity of Heart came from an unlikely source. As the Eighties turned into the Nineties, the sound of Seattle – grunge – became the “now” sound. And all of those bands who were experiencing success, like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam, were singing the praise of their Seattle fore-bearers, Heart. To those band members, Heart blazed their trail, and those men paid Seattle’s first women of rock back in full. It was during that heady time for the rock scene of Seattle to have Heart rediscovering their sound, as well as themselves.
Since the release of Jupiters Darling in the mid-2000s to today, Heart’s music has found its muse again. And, we, their fans, are the true benefactors of this. I have always loved how Heart has been able to deftly move from acoustic folk-based rock to hard rock power-chords and back to soulful ballads and Motown-infected pop ditties. Heart is one of the most underrated bands in rock history. So, get over it Baby Boomers! Women can rock out! And should be recognized for the talents and not their cup sizes. This is rock music, not some beauty pageant.
So, in honor of one of rock music’s most underrated rock bands, here is a list of My 30 Favorite Songs by Heart.
- “How Can I Refuse” (Passionworks, 1983)
- “This Man Is Mine” (Private Audition, 1982)
- “Crazy on You” (Dreamboat Annie, 1976)
- “Never” (Heart, 1985)
- “Barracuda” (Little Queen, 1977)
- “Magic Man” (Dreamboat Annie, 1976)
- “WTF” (Red Velvet Car, 2010)
- “Down on Me” (Beautiful Broken, 2016)
- “Dog & Butterfly” (Dog & Butterfly, 1979)
- “Straight On” (Dog & Butterfly, 1979)
- “Even It Up” (Bebe Le Strange, 1980)
- “Fanatic” (Fanatic, 2012)
- “City’s Burning” (Private Audition, 1982)
- “Dreamboat Annie” (Dreamboat Annie, 1976)
- “Heartless” (Magazine, 1978)
- “Kick It Out” (Little Queen, 1977)
- “Bebe Le Strange” (Bebe Le Strange, 1980)
- “These Dreams” (Heart, 1985)
- “Beautiful Broken” (Beautiful Broken, 2016)
- “Tell It like It Is” (Greatest Hits/Live, 1980)
- “Fallen Ones” (Jupiters Darling, 2004)
- “Down the Nile” (Jupiters Darling, 2004)
- “If Looks Could Kill” (Heart, 1985)
- “Love Alive” (Little Queen, 1977)
- “I Jump” (Beautiful Broken, 2016)
- “There’s the Girl” (Bad Animals, 1987)
- “Alone” (Bad Animals, 1987)
- “Who Will You Run To” (Bad Animals, 1987)
- “What About Love” (Heart, 1985)
- “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You” (Brigade, 1990)
One final thought: several years ago, on CMT’s Crossroads TV show where the channel pulls together two disparate artists, one country and one rock, and turns them loose together on stage and lets the film roll. Well, one young country diva, Carrie Underwood, whose big voice has been praised as one of the greatest of the current generation. It seems that Carrie is a huge fan of Heart, especially Ann Wilson’s voice. So, the show gets to the point where the two artists sing a song together. Carrie is singing Heart’s 80s comeback hit “Alone”, which she apparently sang to victory on American Idol. Well, she’s singing a verse, then passes the mic to Ann. It was at that moment that I realized there was Ann Wilson’s vocals, and then everyone else’s. I’m certain that country fans around the world were totally deflated when their golden girl got totally schooled on their network by a woman with impeccable rock credentials, but still just a rock star in their minds. Sorry, no one compares to Ann Wilson. I would love to her a sing-off with Whitney Houston (RIP), Jennifer Hudson, Aretha Franklin, Christina Aguilera (just to prove my point to the millennials), as well as anyone else you can think of. My money is on the voice of Heart.
See you tomorrow!