Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Heart - The Great Jones County Fair

The '80's were a time when music scrambled as quickly as it could from the '70's and the tight bell bottoms and the evil that was Disco.  Disco and its incarnates appeared from the muck and ooze of the stench filled mud of Woodstock with serious undertones of Vietnam.  It wouldn't be much of a stretch to blame Disco on the hopped up hippies and that ultra vile "peace rock" that they created.  Within the boundaries of the '70's came this amalgam that wedged itself into popular music but despite courageous attempts many of the acts lacked something.  That thing would be "Heart" (I know its corny but keep reading).

Rock music that transitioned from the '70's into the '80's had this weird feel to it, much of it still had the sludge of Disco dripping off of it and it really didn't feel like rock.  As an example the band "Queen" released "The Game" which featured "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and "Another One Bites the Dust" and then a movie soundtrack for "Flash" the same year (1980).  The campy, bubblegum dripping "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" really didn't feel like a rock song, it felt more like a bad Leo Sayer song and "Another One Bites the Dust" was well...  With the title "Another One Bites the Dust" most listeners would think it would sound rough and mean but that didn't happen.  The song title is the first misnomer, the second would be the type of songs (i.e., "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "We Are the Champions") they were known for.  What was delivered was a song that sounded like it should have been a show tune.

Music like that was similar to the "rebound relationship" and subsequently we knew something better was out there.  There really was something better and it didn't feel like the "rebound relationship".  What there was had been there the entire time and it never changed, it didn't need to.

The year 1976 was more than the year I turned eight, it also marked the release of the debut album "Dreamboat Annie" for a band named "Heart".  It was an incredible first release (1x Platinum in the US and 2x Platinum in Canada) and with Heart classics like "Dreamboat Annie", "Magic Man" and "Crazy On You" you can tell why.  Not only did this album cement "Heart" in the world of rock but it was the start of a career that is truly amazing.

Think for a minute about their success, and ask yourself if it is indeed extraordinary.  Ask yourself about all of the "female bands" in the '70's, how many were there and try to think of some.  Its not easy, not by a long shot.  Heart's first FIVE albums before 1980 produced EIGHT songs that could be called classics.  Those songs include "Barracuda" and "Kick It Out" (from "Little Queen"), "Heartless" (from "Magazine"),  "Straight On" and "Dog & Butterfly" (from "Dog & Butterfly"), "Even It Up" (from "Bebe le Strange" in 1980) and including the aforementioned songs from "Dreamboat Annie".

The album "Little Queen" went 3x Platinum (in the US) and 2x Platinum (in Canada), "Magazine" went Platinum once in the US and Canada, "Dog & Butterfly" 2x Platinum (in the US) and once in Canada and not to be forgotten is "Bebe le Strange once Platinum in the US and Canada.  Heart quite simply is one of the best rock bands of all-time (I'm dropping the "female band thing") and their accomplishments of their first FOUR years is extraordinary.

As the '80's raged Heart continued its success with the albums "Heart", and "Bad Animals" and I really think that this is where Heart took over rock for a time.  Included on these albums were songs that catapulted the band into the "hearts" and minds of their constituents (and a crap load of teenage boys).  Through the "magical" world of MTV Ann and Nancy Wilson flooded the television screens with the music of their band "Heart".  I remember actually buying the self-titled cassette (yes I said cassette, don't judge me) and I was was amazed then at the skill, both musically and vocally, the band really was.  It still intrigues me how that album captivated the masses with two other classic songs, "What About Love" and "These Dreams".  No matter where you were either of those songs seemed to follow.  From car stereos, to the grocery store and all points in between, Heart was there.  Interestingly I really loved the music from those first five albums, I listened to them incessantly but the self-titled album, "Heart" trumped all of them.

Ann and Nancy Wilson are obviously rock "royalty" but their individual capabilities were always questioned.  Each of those detractors always pointed to two things, 1. Ann's voice and 2. "bubblegum" factor.  I remember hearing both arguments but I was taken aback by the "bubblegum" comment.  It seemed that "rock people" would point to sappy, syrup laden lyrics and subjects but I always disagreed as the first five albums weren't like that at all.  Instead I heard incredible music through Nancy Wilson's guitar and Ann's vocals but I wasn't sure about how Ann sounded live.  All too often it has been argued that Ann's vocals had to be enhanced in the studio and that they could never sound that great live (good but not great) but I had never heard "Heart" live before (and I'm guessing neither did the detractors, the pinheads) so I had no basis to judge them by.

On July 19th, 2012 that all changed, I was going to see Heart live at the Great Jones County Fair .  First of all I would like to mention how great the fair was and how great their outdoor facility was, this venue is first rate!  As the sun was trying to set, Heart took the stage to a great start.  The ability of a band like Heart to transport its fans into the vast history of their music is a testament to its staying power within its fan base.  If a band cannot connect with its fans then that band would have disappeared like so many "Starland Vocal Band's" (the people responsible for "Afternoon Delight", yes I went there) before (and after) them.  You can understand then how one would have a certain amount of excitement as the first song was to be performed, what song could it be?  Barracuda?  Heartless?  Even It Up?  The first song was...  "Fanatic".

"Fanatic" is a release from the upcoming release of the same name (release date: October 2nd, 2012) and will be the fourteenth studio release from the sisters Wilson.  With that little nugget of information the choice of a new song makes sense and honestly its a good song.  Heart came out with vigor and through the clamor of the crowd that distinct voice rang out its first notes.   In fairness I doubt most realized that they started with a new song for the simple reason was the excitement of the band just coming out on stage but Heart didn't disappoint regardless.

As time makes the heart grow fonder (no pun intended), time can be a determent to a performer.  As we all age there are so many changes that befall us but to a performer those changes can be devastating.  Thirty-six years can change ones voice, injuries change from simple injuries into debilitating ones and within those thirty-six years since Heart released "Dreamboat Annie" would have to take on a life of their own.  It is a real possibility that the golden voice of Ann Wilson could have taken a turn and who would be surprised if it did?  Well that didn't happen.  Ann Wilson through time has transformed into Ann Wilson, her voice is still as incredible as always.

I couldn't have been more impressed by the vocals of Ann, the guitar of Nancy (in the beginning of "Crazy On You" especially) and the rest of the band, they were amazing.  With exception the first song "Fanatic", the next seven songs were all Heart classics and they were performed to the highest level that anyone could have expected.  With the song "Dear Old America" Heart introduced us to what is destined to be one of their most important pieces of music in years.  As the song was explained so eloquently by Ann she told the crowd of her own (and Nancy's) father being a Marine and how important that, as well as the men and women who have served before and now are to them (and to a Nation) they are.  Its an extraordinary song, and it is a testament to the sisters.

As Heart left the stage I was blown away by the music, the vocals and the entire show but then the Wilson's had one more surprise.  As the band returned to the stage for an encore I began to flush around potential songs that the sisters might drop upon us and when the sounds of Led Zeppelin began to scream through the amps it was utter genius.  Yes I said genius and yes I meant it.  The song "Misty Mountain Hop" is a Led Zeppelin classic because of Robert Plant's vocals and I really believe that pairing that song and vocals with Ann Wilson is perfect.  I think the reason for that is simple, its the dramatic sound of her voice and the similarities of both vocalists styles.  I sincerely think that hearing Heart's version of that song has made it one of my favorite Heart songs.

Ann and Nancy Wilson entered the male dominated of rock with that first release of "Dreamboat Annie" and their career has produced an influence toward success for countless female performers and acts.  The Wilson's struck a vein in slate that was rock music and split it free from what was a solid slab.  Time has smoothed the faces of each slab and despite similar characteristics between the two slabs an indelible mark has been left on the Wilson's side.  That mark is defined when you listen to modern rock both female and male.  Soul, hard work, determination and "Heart", what more is there?

1 comment:

  1. I heard Heart live at a amphitheater in Council Bluffs Iowa a few years ago. I was not quite sure what to expect but I was enchanted by their ability to sound just as good as when they first formed Heart. The vocals by Ann were simply amazing as was the guitar playing by Nancy. Brought back many memories. Thank you for reminding me of how much I love their music.