How Heart Took Control With ‘Bebe Le Strange’
Heart's career has been full of twists and turns — and one of the first big challenges the band faced came before they recorded Bebe Le Strange.
Most notably, this LP – the band's fifth — was their first one without original member Roger Fisher, whose innovative guitar manipulation was prominent on songs such as "Barracuda" and "Mistral Wind."
Fisher was asked to leave Heart in October 1979, the culmination of a period where his partying ways (and dissolution of his relationship with guitarist Nancy Wilson, who had started dating drummer Mike Derosier) caused tension and fissures within the group.
Wilson recalled the fateful decision in Kicking & Dreaming: A Story Of Heart, Soul, and Rock & Roll: "There was a band meeting where we voted on whether to kick Roger out of Heart. He had helped form the band, so we knew it was a serious decision. ...[But] the vote was unanimous, and Roger was out. [Bassist] Steve Fossen had been Roger's best friend for 15 years, but even Steve felt it was best for Roger, and for Heart."
Later in Kicking, Ann and Nancy Wilson's long-time friend, Sue Ennis, explained what Fisher's departure meant. "When Nancy and Roger broke up, the power in Heart shifted forever. Nancy and Ann hadn't really claimed it before, but with Roger out of the band, and [manager, Roger's brother and Ann's then-boyfriend] Michael Fisher's influence on the wane, it was if they were hurled toward it. Heart had always been their band, but now they owned it in ways they hadn't before."
Watch Heart Perform ‘Even It Up’
That's certainly evident on Bebe Le Strange. Released on Feb. 14, 1980, the album's marble-edged, hard rock sound was a significant departure from the folk-leaning vibe of 1978's Dog & Butterfly. With Howard Leese now assuming lead guitar duties — and a co-production credit, along with long-time collaborator Mike Flicker, the Wilsons and Sue Ennis — the LP sounds more tenacious and lively. Songs touch on heavy blues ("Down on Me"), nervy proto-punk ("Break") and funky boogie (the Stones-y "Even It Up," which featured sizzling Tower of Power horns).
The Wilson sisters also exude confidence as musicians — from the epic, Led Zeppelin-esque flourishes of a glam-kissed "Rockin' Heaven Down" to Nancy's piano strut "Raised on You" — and as lyricists.
Bebe Le Strange is full of characters taking control of their romantic and emotional life. The title track boasts a forward seduction of a musician; the boyfriend in "Even It Up" is told, in no uncertain terms, to shape up and pull his own weight, and the protagonist of "Down on Me" pleads for tenderness and understanding, not meanness. The Ann-penned "Break" is even a not-so-subtle allusion to the end of her relationship with Michael Fisher: "Now I know there's a crack in this plan / After a while there just ain't no more magic, man."
Despite the subject matter, Heart maintained their collective sense of humor — as Ann noted in Kicking: "Maybe it was our gallows humor, but we released Bebe Le Strange on Valentine's Day 1980." The album reached No. 5 on the Billboard albums chart and was eventually certified gold.