Heart is an undeniably cool band, and not at all embarrassing to admit to loving. Especially if you’re referring to the band in the seventies, when Ann and Nancy Wilson were dating brothers Roger and Michael, blazing a trail for women in rock, posing as folkies with goats and pirate shirts (Little Queen, ’77), or topless, unintentionally insinuating incest against their iconic bubble-font logo, (Dreamboat Annie,’76).
Of course I love the original Heart. Who doesn’t quiver in awe at Nancy’s bitchin’ guitar intro to Crazy On You? Or lose their shit when Ann snarls, “He’s a magic man Mama!” If the Divine Feminine has a voice it’s Ann Wilson’s. Heart brought Robert Plant to tears with their rendition of Stairway, while Jimmy Page grinned in joyous amazement. In the seventies, The Wilson sisters proved once and for all that women can not only hold their own in male dominated rock, but kick most of them right out of the eagle’s nest.
But my secret obsession, the song that I never skip, that I adore belting out tunelessly, is the swollen 1987 power ballad, Alone. And I am not alone! The song is and remains Heart’s most successful commercial hit, a song which they didn’t even write, and is such a massive musical departure from their metal/folk/Renaissance Fair/Medieval Times seventies greatness that one might be forgiven for mistaking it for a different band, were it not for Ann’s epochal wail.
In Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, a travelling salesman wakes one morning to find himself transformed, without explanation into a monstrous venomous bug. The same thing happened to the music business in the eighties, and unfortunately for Heart, they were caught in the crosshairs of a feminist backlash so nefarious that it would take them years to break free. During this era, Ann put on weight and Capitol Records freaked out. Their “solution” was to shroud Ann in a smog of dry ice and push slim Nancy to the front, teasing her hair to ever-increasing heights of Aquanetted insanity, sparks flying from her guitar, at one point even giving her a blowtorch instead of an instrument.
What bullshit. Heart’s sex appeal was always a very distant second to their majesty as artists. Meatloaf was a huge man and no one concealed him from public view, but Ann really got slaughtered, not only by the press, but even by her own band mates, who would’ve done well to realize which side their bread was buttered on. After Bad Animals, the album that boasted Alone, the Wilson babes kicked those assholes to the curb. Ann and Nancy were, and always will be, the heart of Heart.
Alone is cheesy. It’s got really corny chord changes. It’s full of synth and hairspray. It is perfect. Ann’s wail before the second chorus speaks directly to the longing and passion in everywoman. It is a song to make wild love to, to vacuum to, to sing at tequila fuelled karaoke nights (guilty). It’s a song to sob to. It’s one for the treadmill of life. Alone is the final word on power ballads, as there is nothing more powerful than a woman in love, if only she gives herself permission to be her all.
Ann and Nancy, I salute you! Thank you for enduring the vile sexism of the music industry and delivering to us music that only gets richer with time.
A couple of months back I was at a record store in Los Angeles looking for the perfect sweet sixteen album to gift to my niece. I selected Dreamboat Annie, knowing that I would be giving her an album to cherish her whole life through. At the precise moment I was paying for the LP I received a message from a friend of a friend, keyboardist Chris Joyner.
“Hi, I’m in New Zealand playing with Heart and Ann wants to know where to get a tattoo in Auckland.” Like, wow. I am from Auckland and used to own a tattoo shop there. Our logo was inspired by Heart’s.
Ann once described us all as river stones being slowly smoothed by the flow of time. But Heart only grows sharper and more brilliant with age. I don’t know if they ever got inked in New Zealand, but I will forever have Heart’s songs tattooed across my soul.
Sing it to me!