I don’t know what it is, but I’ve been in a writing funk recently. I feel like I’ve been just going through the motions with this blog. Honestly, lately I have not been finding the solace in music as I had always done in the past. I’m not sure what to make of this. Of course, I always get a little concerned when this happens because it might mean that I’m at the beginning of a downward spiral in my mental health. Additionally, I do get in an emotional funk during two times of the year: at the beginning of November, which coincides with the beginning of high school basketball season in Indiana and again in the middle of February, which signals the beginning of high school track and field season. Although I enjoy writing at times, nothing has come close to filling my soul the way those two coaching endeavors filled me.
But, at this moment, I do not feel I am having a delayed reaction to basketball because I have been watching more basketball than I have since my early retirement from teaching. No, something else is bugging me, therefore, I will use this platform to fight my way through this funk. I must admit that getting the Prince and R.E.M. remasters recently have gotten me back in my music room to play music lately. Hell, I even put up the black rock & roll Christmas tree in the room complete with my string of dancing Grateful Dead bear lights and various music-oriented ornaments.
So, I went back into my archive of blog entries to see which artists I have not written up. You know what I discovered? I’ve repeated myself several times! God! It’s just like me telling my friends and students the same damn stories time after time, and I don’t have dementia like Mom did…yet! You know, Mom would have appreciated that line! She had a dark and warped sense of humor. So, my question to you the reader is why haven’t you called me out on these repeats?!?! Am I just the weirdo old guy who’s allowed to drop food down the front of his clothes (Note to self: you gotta figure out how to get food stains down your back simply to confuse your future caretakers.)? C’mon! Help a (very white, almost translucent) brother out!
Over the years, I’m certain I have praised the band Heart, but for reasons unknown I have never written about them. Now, everyone knows their story such as getting their big break in 1976 with their Zeppelin-esque debut album, Dreamboat Annie. At the time, the beautiful Wilson sisters were the victims of a sexist scheme to portray them as some sort of male fantasy lesbian sister sicko crap at the time. Slowly, they overturned that stupid image to become a vision of female strength in the music biz, but it took time.
In all honesty, I did not become a big Heart fan until I saw them live in 1982. By that time, the band was nearing the end of the first phase of their career, the one upon which their enduring fame is built. At the time, I truly loved their most recent album, the much-maligned Private Audition. A friend of mine had turned me onto the album, and I thought the band was showing some real growth by showing off their R&B influences. However, the majority of the listeners were off-put by this detour in their sound. Anyway, I went to their concert mostly to see their opening act, fellow Hoosier rock sensation John Cougar (Mellencamp). He was riding high with his American Fool album and those timeless hits “Hurts So Good” and “Jack and Diane.” And, of course, that concert being his triumphant homecoming concert, the crowd was hyped. And, John and his band were terrific.
So, I wasn’t expecting much when Heart took the stage. Yet, that band rose to the occasion and just became bigger than life. I literally was blown away. This band was so much more than the hits on the radio, as great as they were. To this day, I have yet to hear a vocalist as great as Ann Wilson was in concert. Granted, I never saw Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin or Mariah Carey live, but I have seen Pat Benatar. And, as great as Pat is, she is no Ann Wilson. Hell, she was better than Robert Plant, Roger Daltry and Robin Zander for that matter. Ann just may be the most underrated singer of all-time! She could literally raise the roof of the arena in which I saw her. That woman is blessed.
But, Ann is not the sole attraction. Sister Nancy Wilson is a showstopping performer in her own right. Her guitar playing is subtle and tasteful during the acoustic songs and thick and meaty during the arena rocking songs. I truly believe Heart is overlooked by people for two reasons. Foremost, I think there is a definite sexist thing with Boomers. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard WOMEN say they don’t like to listen to female rock singers. WTF!?!?!? Second, and I can be guilty of this, people hold their use of outside writers against them during their second phase that lasted from 1985 to 1990. Sure, they had HUGE hits, some of them I love, but, and I’ve read the ladies saying the same thing, they were barely distinguishable from other hits of the era by hair metal bands, Michael Bolton and others who had hit songs written by Dianne Warren.
To me, what makes Heart so compelling is how they handled their next two career phases. During the third phase, they became something of elder stateswomen to the whole Nineties Seattle grunge scene. Those musicians love and respected the Wilson sisters for putting the Pacific Northwest on the musical map. It was during that time that the sisters got back to the clubs thus setting themselves up for the current phase of their career as caretakers of their legacy. You see, they have released some excellent new music during the 2010s. Their last two albums are stuffed full of the kind of music that got them inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
I love Heart! They are my favorite arena rock band. There is such much more to them than their peers like Journey or Styx. Go back to your collection and dig out those old classic Heart albums and listen to them again. And, millennials, go buy their albums from the Seventies and Eighties to hear their talent. Heart is one band for the ages that does not get enough love as far as I’m concerned.
So, with all that said, let me honor one of my favorites from my youth Heart with my 30 favorite songs they have released over the years.
30. “You’re the Voice” (single, 1991)
29. “Fanatic” (Fanatic, 2012)
28. “Stranded” (Brigade, 1990)
27. “Tell It like It Is” (Greatest Hits/Live, 1980)
26. “Back to Avalon” (Desire Walks On, 1993)
25. “Who Will You Run To” (Bad Animals, 1987)
24. “City’s Burning” (Private Audition, 1982)
23. “WTF” (Red Velvet Car, 2010)
22. “Black on Black II” (Desire Walks On, 1993)
21. “Beautiful Broken (with James Hetfield)” (Beautiful Broken, 2016)
20. “Stairway to Heaven (live at the Kennedy Center Honors)” (single, 2013)
19. “Heartless” (Magazine, 1978)
18. “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You” (Brigade, 1990)
17. “Love Alive” (Little Queen, 1977)
16. “Mistral Wind” (Dog & Butterfly, 1978)
15. “What About Love” (Heart, 1985)
14. “Nothin’ at All” (Heart, 1985)
13. “Never” (Heart, 1985)
12. “Straight On” (Dog & Butterfly, 1978)
11. “Barracuda” (Little Queen, 1977)
10. “Little Queen” (Little Queen, 1977). I don’t care whether Ann is singing a ballad or belting a rocker, the woman has the most powerful yet sexiest voice in all of rock. She shakes men to the core probably like what women felt like when Robert Plant sang. Oh, and this is Heart at their funkiest.
9. “Dog & Butterfly” (Dog & Butterfly, 1978). This is Nancy at her acoustic best. Her guitar playing truly shines on the songs when she plays acoustic guitar, which is NOT a knock on her outstanding electric guitar playing. There’s just something fierce yet sexy about her acoustic play.
8. “Alone” (Bad Animals, 1987). This song is immortal, and that’s all I need to say.
7. “Dreamboat Annie” (Dreamboat Annie, 1976). I love the softer side of Heart. And, this song shows that they were WAY more than a Zeppelin knock-off.
6. “Magic Man” (Dreamboat Annie, 1976). This song taught me in no uncertain terms that women do feel lust, no matter what my mom tried to tell me.
5. “Even It Up” (Bébé le Strange, 1980). Brings back so many memories of running track in high school.
4. “This Man Is Mine” (Private Audition, 1982). If I were truthful, I probably would have put this ode to Motown at #1 since it is my go-to Heart song.
3. “These Dreams” (Heart, 1985). What can I say about Heart’s first #1 song? Except, did you know that it was Nancy singing? WTF?!?!
2. “How Can I Refuse?” (Passionworks, 1983). This song was all over Milwaukee radio during the summer of 1983. We used to play it to death on the jukebox at the nearby dive bar, along with Ramones, The Clash and Culture Club. Yeah, that’s right! I said Culture Club!
1. “Crazy on You” (Dreamboat Annie, 1976). There’s nothing better than women singing about lust.