Friday, February 8, 2013

Heart: Bebe Le Strange

Heart had a pretty amazing ride in the '70s. Coming from nowhere in 1976, they ripped up the charts with their debut Lp, "Dreamboat Annie", and the radio killers "Magic Man" and "Crazy On You". Fans were in love with Ann & Nancy Wilson, not only because they were smokin' hot, but because they were women who could rock. Ann's delivery was regularly likened to that of Robert Plant (it didn't hurt that a bootlegged concert cover version of "Battle of Evermore" leaked out from Heart fanboys). They were on fire.

Then came "Heartless", and "Little Queen" and "Barracuda", and "Dog And Butterfly". It seemed the band was unstoppable, but personnel changes behind the scenes were making things rough. By the time 1980 came around, Heart had already released 4 Lps; "Bebe Le Strange" would be their 5th, and it was the hardest rocking album to date.

The title track was an FM radio hit, played on every album-rocker from KMET to WMMS. And "Even It Up" was a Top 40 hit, but it only got to #33, a victim of the punk/New Wave tide that was sweeping over pop radio. The ladies tried to update their sound to match the trend, but it was a bust - songs like "Break" and "Down On Me" rocked hard and edgy, but the melodies were nowhere to be found. As a result, the record sounds unfocused and uneven, even with the presence of the two aformementioned radio hits and the gorgeous "Silver Wheels", which ends Side 1.

I think this album has aged poorly due to this lack of focus, but it's certainly not Heart's worst - that (dis)honor would come a couple of years down the road, when the Wilsons traded their guitars for synthesizers to regain radio play.

For further research:
  • "Magic Man" performed live on The Midnight Special, 1977, with original guitarist Roger Fisher rippin' it up. Ann is at her most Plant-ish here.
  • "Dreamboat Annie" recorded live on stage, but with no audience about the same time, 1976-'77 or so. This clip showcases Nancy fingerpicking her acoustic while the band harmonizes behind her.
  • The controversy surrounding Heart's 2nd Lp, "Magazine", is not only the stuff of legend but an inside look at how the music industry works. Read about it on Wikipedia.

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