No. 41: Heart, ‘Barracuda’– Top 100 Classic Rock Songs
For Heart, the May 1977 arrival of their second album, ‘Little Queen,’ should’ve been an unqualified triumph. The Pacific Northwest band had become superstars in Canada and the U.S. during the previous year on the strength of their Mushroom Records-released debut, ‘Dreamboat Annie,’ and its hit singles, ‘Crazy On You’ and ‘Magic Man.’
However, ‘Little Queen’ arrived around the same time as the odds ‘n’ sods collection ‘Magazine’ — an LP which represented the fallout of Heart’s dispute with Mushroom, who released the album in retaliation after the band left the label.
Relations between the two camps had soured in recent times, partly because of the publication of an ad which insinuated the band’s principals, sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, had an incestuous relationship. The incident was just one in a long line of sexist experiences the siblings faced as Heart’s fame increased.
The song ‘Barracuda’ sprang from the anger Ann Wilson felt about this misogyny — and specifically, one backstage encounter with a “real slimeball guy.”
“He just felt the need to say really denigrating things to us, because we were women, right?” she said in a 2007 A&E interview. “We were new into the business at that time, and it hit us right between the eyes, that we were going to meet a lot more people like this. It was really a feeling of rage I felt; I felt sort of trapped and really insulted.”
‘Barracuda’ reflects her rage: Stacked, Zeppelin-esque riffs rumble with the power of a buffalo stampede in tandem with the galloping drumming and her powerhouse voice — an instrument that’s simultaneously operatic, twang-touched and blues-based. When she spits out “barracuda”—or “And if the real thing don’t do the trick / You better make up something quick / You gonna burn, burn, burn, burn, burn to the wick”—her contempt is evident.
But ‘Barracuda’ is also effective because it’s subtle. Underneath the barreling top layer, sustained guitar flourishes add flickers of unease. And the song’s lyrics are metaphorical rather than direct: The Wilson sisters are referred to obliquely as the porpoise and me, and by the end of the song swim far away from the jerk which insulted them.
Heart’s entry onto our Top 100 Classic Rock Songs list has lost none of its power over the years. In fact, as a continued staple of Heart’s live shows, it’s become a showcase for still-underrated guitarist Nancy Wilson, who traditionally takes the spotlight as she strikes the strident opening chords.
Watch Heart Perform ‘Barracuda’