Friday, September 18, 2020

Nothin' left to do at night

Nancy and Ann Wilson

What a run of singles Heart released between 1975 and 1977. "Magic Man" and "Crazy On You" (from the band's debut, Dreamboat Annie) and "Barracuda," the lead single from Little Queen, run fearlessly from desire, curiosity, and risk to betrayal, rage, and catharsis—with a night of straight-up joyful fucking in between, though even that pleasure's made complicated. Ann and Nancy Wilson wrote each track (guitarist Roger Fisher and drummer Michael Derosier pitched in on "Barracuda") and have down the years discussed the songs' origins: "Magic Man" concerned, in part, Ann Wilson's relationship with Heart's manager Michael Fisher, who was older; "Barracuda" stemmed from the Wilson sisters' outrage after their label Mushroom Records concocted an obnoxious publicity stunt hinting at an incestuous affair between the two, and a male radio promoter's gross "follow-up" with Ann; the sex in "Crazy On You" is an effort to block out the messy world, specifically the Vietnam War and attendant social upheaval. So: rocking songs about relationships, sex, sexism, hurt, outrage, and denial. That's a pretty broad spectrum the band traverses in under fifteen minutes. Ann Wilson's fearless, feral singing—Joni Mitchell and Robert Plant busy in bed—Nancy Wilson's and the band's propulsive playing, the moody keyboard flourishes, and the transcendent harmonies, shaped by producer Mike Flicker, whose arrangements were striking (dig the disco hi-hat in "Crazy On You"): all of this soundtracked drama and yearning, and anyone who was around in the mid-1970s when these songs were all over the radio remembers their sexiness and mystery, the irresistible, sinuous melodies and rocking pleas-cum-assertions. Like the best pop music, this clutch of singles is very much of its era, an evocative time capsule of Top 40 positioned between singer-songwriters and New Wave, yet paradoxically also timeless and eternal. Great stuff.

Photo by Michael Marks/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

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