Top 10 Heart Songs
With Heart's upcoming induction into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the music shrine has finally recognized something fans have known for years: Principal members Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson are incredibly talented musicians.
Ann's vocal prowess is legendary---she's one of the few musicians who can successfully tackle Robert Plant's tunes---and Nancy is a criminally underrated guitarist, while together the pair are also dynamic songwriters. In fact, it was difficult to narrow down Heart's catalog to just 10 tunes. Read on below, however, for our list of the Top 10 Heart Songs.
Our list of the Top 10 Heart Songs begins with the monstrous title track of Heart’s fifth album. It is obviously indebted to Led Zeppelin, from its heavy riffs and drastic tempo shifts down to its sinewy grooves and Ann Wilson’s Robert Plant-like vocal mannerisms. Appropriately, the song depicts a fan’s obsession with a rock star, although in clever Heart fashion, the lust object’s gender isn’t specified. Such ambiguity imbues lines such as, “I wish I knew what you're really like / A touch so shy and fine / But the way you move with that guitar / Just gives me other signs” with seductive mystery.
In hindsight, ‘Straight On’ is as close to disco as Heart ever got, what with its funky, bass-heavy underbelly and Ann and Nancy Wilson’s rebel soul yawps. But like many of the band’s late-‘70s tunes, the Top 20 Billboard hit -- which utilized gambling imagery to explain romantic overtures -- isn’t easy to pigeonhole. Jangly guitars chime in during the chorus, hinting at then-embryonic power-pop influences, while a brief but cutting guitar solo is undeniably classic rock gold.
There’s more than a hint of renegade Southern rock & roll in the pulse-racing ‘Kick It Out,’ but Heart wear the style well. Jaunty honky-tonk piano and careening riffs match the song’s depiction of an untamable soul (described at times like a wild filly) intoxicated by her unfettered freedom and zest for life: "'Come on, come on, kick out your motor and drive while you're still alive—kick it out!’”
Although ‘Magazine’ was Heart’s most controversial album---Mushroom Records released it in an attempt to sabotage the band’s career---you wouldn’t know it from the music. The strutting, country-tinged opening track ‘Heartless’ documents the pain inflicted by an emotionally remote lover you just can’t shake: “Never realize the way love dies when you crucify its soul.” Bursts of bluesy piano and rubbery bass provide the bite, while synth zaps and the Wilsons’ misty harmonies cushion the bitterness.
The protagonist of this aggressive, blues-flecked hard rocker commands her selfish beau to get the balance right in their relationship: “A good man pays his debt / But you ain't paid yours yet / Even it / Even it up.” Squirrelly horns from Tower of Power add menace to the song---and underscore that Heart means business.
Heart’s ’80s output is, to put it mildly, polarizing. Although it helped boost the band to new heights of popularity, it was at the expense of their familiar sound and (in many cases) their songwriting talents. ‘Never,’ which kicks off the second half of our list of the Top 10 Heart Songs, is an exception: Co-written by the Wilsons, Greg Bloch and Holly Knight (of hard rock band Spider), the tune is an optimistic plea for togetherness. And despite a glossy radio-pop sheen, the song is a driving rocker at heart, as recent live video of the song proves.
Ann and Nancy Wilson always stress the importance of duality to Heart’s music. “I think we’re always rebellious,” Ann Wilson told UCR last year. “The minute somebody says, ‘Okay, you have the obligation to rock,’ then we’re going to go ‘No, we want to permission to do a ballad’ and then back and forth, you know?” The poetic, romantic ‘Dog & Butterfly’ embodies the group’s folkier side. Driven by delicate acoustic guitar, understated lead vocals and lovely harmonies, the song is an uplifting tale about keeping the faith and never feeling trapped, no matter the circumstances.
'Magic Man’ has a little something for everyone. Creaky, understated guitars. Innocent-yet-worldly vocals. Deceptively simple lyrics about being charmed by an inappropriate (but alluring) “magic man,” to the great distress of a mother. A bridge full of squealing riffs and psychedelic flourishes. And, finally, a bridge after that with proggy keyboards and atmosphere. The result? A No. 9 Billboard chart hit---and a song that remains a Heart set staple to this day.
Besides ‘Barracuda’ (see No.1 on our list of the Top 10 Heart Songs), the most dynamic opening of a Heart song is inarguably ‘Crazy On You.’ For that we can thank Nancy Wilson---or, more specifically, her flamboyant acoustic guitar intro, which is as fluid as it is strident. With this acoustic picking as an anchor, ‘Crazy On You’ proceeds to layer on evocative electric guitar and the sisters’ Beatles-esque harmonies---as well as desperate (but confident) individual vocal performances. Even today, the song is a stunning display of aggressive longing.
In the Top 100 Classic Rock Songs entry for ‘Barracuda,’ UCR said: “Stacked, Zeppelin-esque riffs rumble with the power of a buffalo stampede in tandem with the galloping drumming and [Ann Wilson’s] 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.”