Little Queen by Heart

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Little Queen by HeartIt wasn’t easy for Heart to follow-up their brilliant 1976 debut Dreamboat Annie. They started and stopped an album for Mushroom Records, which was later patched together as the release Magazine, but this was hardly an apt follow-up. Finally, in the Spring of 1977, the six-piece group recorded and released the eclectic, classic folk-rock Little Queen on Portrait Records. The album was well received critically and it sold well commercially, ultimately reaching triple platinum status.

Following the success of their debut album, Heart wanted to get back to the studio quickly and soon recorded some tracks with producer Mike Flicker in Vancouver. Meanwhile, Mushroom ran a suggestive full-page advertisement featuring lead vocalist Ann Wilson and her sister, guitarist Nancy Wilson. This infuriated the band members and led to their defection from that label and the subsequent legal battles over Heart’s next album. Mushroom compiled five unfinished tracks along with two live recordings and a previously released B-side to forge the Magazine album in early 1977.

Meanwhile, the band started over,  recording for Little Queen with Flicker in Seattle and delivered ten fresh tracks of differing rock and folk styles in just about three weeks. Eventually, the court allowed Heart to release the album with the caveat that they deliver a proper second album to Mushroom by re-recording and remixing Magazine for a 1978 release.


Little Queen by Heart
Released: May 14, 1977 (Portrait)
Produced by: Mike Flicker
Recorded: Kaye Smith Studios, Seattle, February–April 1977
Side One Side Two
Barracuda
Love Alive
Sylvan Song
Dream of the Archer
Kick It Out
Little Queen
Treat Me Well
Say Hello
Cry to Me
Go On Cry
Group Musicians
Ann Wilson – Lead Vocals, Flute
Nancy Wilson – Guitars, Mandolin, Piano, Vocals
Roger Fisher – Guitars, Mandolin
Howard Leese – Guitars, Piano, Keyboards
Steve Fossen – Bass
Michael DeRosier – Drums, Percussion

 

The album launches with its most recognizable and indelible track, “Barracuda”. The inception of this track began with Ann Wilson’s anger towards Mushroom’s attempted publicity stunt involving her and her sister Nancy. Musically, this is an apt attempt at Zeppelin-style heavy metal with Wilson’s vocals nicely cutting into the dry deadened rock rhythms by guitarist Roger Fisher and bassist Steve Fossen for an overall masterful effect.

“Love Alive” makes a big change in sonic direction with a slow, harmonized acoustic and electric guitar medley during the long intro and an overall fine folk/rock track that breaks out slightly into standard rock later in the song. On the instrumental “Sylvan Song”, Fisher and Nancy Wilson provide acoustic guitar and mandolin respectively with plenty of forest atmosphere, acting as intro to “Dream of the Archer”, which seems to pay homage to Led Zeppelin’s “Battle of Evermore”. “Kick It Out” completes the first side by rotating back to pure rock, electric riff-driven with a good, strong hook, animated bass and choppy piano by Howard Leese.

Heart in 1977

On the title track “Little Queen”, a long guitar textural intro gives way to a funk/rock song proper, making for a potent and enjoyable musical combination. “Treat Me Well” features Nancy Wilson on lead vocals for her acoustic jazz composition with plenty of melancholy moodiness throughout, accented by slight harmonica and later orchestral strings arranged by Leese. The album’s diversity expands with the Caribbean feel of “Say Hello” with Fossen and drummer Michael DeRosier providing the distinct rhythms. The album loses a bit of steam through its closing mini-suite, the acoustic ballad “Cry to Me” and the long, repetitive sequences of “Go On Cry”, which feels mainly like filler to end this otherwise fine album.

Little Queen reached the Top Ten in the US and Canada and charted well in several other countries. Heart’s momentum continued through the late 1970s and well into the 1980s.

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1977 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums.

 

Heart by Heart

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Heart 1985 albumIn 1985, Heart made a dramatic comeback, fueled by an equally dramatic alteration to their traditional sound. A successful hard rock band in the late 1970s, the group had nearly fallen off the face of popular music in the early 1980s before deciding to make a transition towards more mainstream pop/rock. The result was their self-titled record, Heart, which brought this American group its greatest commercial success, reaching quintuple platinum status and becoming their first and only chart topper.

Led by sisters from Seattle, lead vocalist Ann Wilson and guitarist Ann Wilson, Heart found instant success with their 1976 debut album Dreamboat Annie and the follow up Little Queen the next year. However, some legal entanglements between early labels caused the group to lose some commercial momentum before bouncing back with the double-platinum selling Dog and Butterfly in late 1978. After a trio of less-than stellar releases in the early 1980s, along with a short foray by Nancy Wilson into motion pictures, the group moved to Capitol Records and decided to makeover their image and their music.

Heart was the second album to feature the rhythm section of bassist Mark Andes and drummer Denny Carmassi, following their respective debuts on 1983’s Passionworks. Produced by Ron Nevison, the album also used several outside musicians and songwriting teams to write and record a good portion of the material in a concerted effort to reach mainstream pop audiences. In doing so, the group all but abandoned the acoustic and folk sounds which were present in much of their early work.


Heart by Heart
Released: July 6, 1985 (Capitol)
Produced by: Ron Nevison
Recorded: The Record Plant, Sausalito, CA, January–April 1985
Side One Side Two
If Looks Could Kill
What About Love
Never
These Dreams
The Wolf
All Eyes
Nobody Home
Nothin’ at All
What He Don’t Know
Shell Shock
Group Musicians
Ann Wilson – Lead Vocals
Nancy Wilson – Guitars, Mandolin, Vocals
Howard Leese – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Mark Andes – Bass Guitar
Denny Carmassi – Drums

Right from the jump, Heart delves into a full, 1980s hair band aura with the opener, “If Looks Could Kill”. Driving rhythms and clichéd lyric hooks rule the day, and this is not the last time they cover this territory, but overall may be the finest of its type. The fine, “What About Love”, begins with a slow and dramatic synth entrance leads to a fine verse with Ann Wilson’s vocals nicely floating above these richly orchestrated (albeit fake) strings. While the song is steady in its approach, it still has strong teeth, especially during the guitar lead by Howard Leese and during the outro which features excited vocals by Ann Wilson and a driving bass by Andes. “What About Love”, which was originally recorded by the Canadian rock group Toronto, was a Top Ten hit for Heart.

An original composition by the group, “Never” was another Top Ten hit. With a good mixture of bright keyboards and crunchy, distorted guitar riffs, the song features simple vocal hook which is one of the best on the album. A fresh musical arrangement during the third verse also adds some nice variety to the track. Co-written by Martin Page and Bernie Taupin, “These Dreams” was the biggest hit of all, becoming Heart’s first single to hit number one on the Billboard charts in early 1986. This fine, upbeat ballad is the only track to feature Nancy Wilson on lead vocals, who had a bit of cold when she recorded the track resulting in the happy accident of distinct raspy vocals. The track also features fine drum accents by Carmassi and a bridge section which is uplifting even as song maintains its dreamy, romantic vibe.

Bookending the sides of the original album, “The Wolf” is a straight-forward, driving rocker where Ann Wilson’s vocals reach new heights and Leese provides some interesting, double-tracked guitar textures, while “All Eyes” has a sound that reverts back slightly to a bluesy, hard rock seventies sound, with Nancy Wilson’s guitar work leading the way. “Nobody Home” is the closest to a power ballad on the album. Driven by an electronic piano which leads the way under Ann Wilson’s melodic vocals, the song gives the album that added dimension as a sweet but sad song complete with a soaring lead guitar by guest Frankie Sullivan.

“Nothin’ at All” leads into the final section of the album and serves as Heart‘s final high-water mark. Another mid-eighties pop rocker, this popular tune has a more subtle rock rhythm held together by Leese, Andes, and Carmassi, in much the same vein as eighties-era Journey. Unfortunately, the album finishes with two of its weakest tunes. “What He Don’t Know” does offer some decent rock elements musically, with acoustic verses over a choppy rhythmic beat, but falters due to its totally trite lyrics. The closer, “Shell Shock”, seems to have even less substance as a formulaic rocker, which may strike a certain mood, but has little true musical substance.

Beyond topping the American charts, Heart also charted well in the UK (#19) and other national charts. Heart’s follow-up album, Bad Animals in 1987, continued in much the same musical direction and scored further commercial success for the group.

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1985 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.

 

Dreamboat Annie by Heart

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Dreamboat Annie by HeartHeart, originally labeled the “female Led Zeppelin,” had an impressive debut with Dreamboat Annie. The album was appropriately released on Valentine’s Day in 1976. Produced by Mike Flicker, the album has a simple and direct sound that accentuates the rock dynamics within the instruments and vocals. The Seattle based band recorded the album in Vancouver and first released it in Canada only in 1975 on the Mushroom Records label, which at the time did not have a U.S. distribution system. But, due to heavy sales and radio play in Canada, Mushroom expanded to the U.S. solely to promote Heart, starting in Seattle and then working city by city through the United States, as the band’s popularity spread. The ultimate goal was to land a national distribution contract, but soon relations between the band and Mushroom deteriorated due to questionable ads. The result was Dreamboat Annie never quite reaching the heights that it legitimately deserved as a top-notch rock album with an original approach until the 1980s when Mushroom went out of business and Capitol Records picked up distribution of the early Heart material.

In the mid 1970s, there were very few women who performed and recorded the assertive, Zeppelin-esque rock that Heart had developed. Lead by singer Ann Wilson and her younger sister, guitarist and songwriter Nancy Wilson, the band developed something unapologetically strong and within the realm previously exclusive to male musicians and fans. These strong yet melodic rockers made for a potent combination which would be copied in future decades but was quite unique at the time Dreamboat Annie was released. But even within this new sub-genre, Heart added some variety with ballads and folk-influenced numbers, making this album an interesting listen.

 


Dreamboat Annie by Heart
Released: February 14, 1976 (Mushroom)
Produced by: Mike Flicker
Recorded: Can-Base Studios, Vancouver, July-August 1975
Side One Side Two
Magic Man
Dreamboat Annie (Fantasy Child)
Crazy On You
Soul Of the Sea
Dreamboat Annie
White Lightning and Wine
(Love Me Like Music) I’ll Be Your Song
Sing Child
How Deep It Goes
Dreamboat Annie (Reprise)
Group Musicians
Ann Wilson – Lead Vocals, Flute
Nancy Wilson – Guitar, Piano, Vocals
Roger Fisher – Guitars
Howard Leese – Keyboards
Steve Fossen – Bass

 

The album blasts out of the gate with the popular rocker “Magic Man” with a simple, rocking beat which provides the perfect backdrop for Ann Wilson’s voice. The song conatains a long mid-section with extended leads by guitarist Roger Fisher and keyboardist Howard Leese in turn, giving it a more “epic” feel beyond its melodic hook in the verse and chorus. This “epic” or “concept” structure is extended to the album itself with three different versions of the title song “Dreamboat Annie”. However, only the version which closes side one acts as true song, a fast picked folk song with layered harmonies and picked acoustic guitar and banjo. The other two kind of sound like alternate takes which were added as filler.

Probably the best song that Heart would ever record, “Crazy On You” is an absolute gem which employs all the elements that make a great rock song. It has a finger-picked acoustic intro which highlights the skills of Nancy Wilson, divergent instrumentation throughout as the acoustic makes a soft bed for the dynamic electric guitars to pierce through melodically, a good riff and hook, beautiful interludes, and a sense of mystique brought out by the chord arrangements. Once again, the dynamic and emotional vocals of Ann Wilson push the song over the top.

 

 

There is a lot to like about the album, especially when you explore some of the lesser known songs. “Soul Of The Sea” is a nice guitar ballad with layered strings which contrasts with “White Lightning and Wine”, a pure, bluesy rocker, driven by the rhythm of Steve Fossen and the sultry vocals of Wilson. “(Love Me Like Music) I’ll Be Your Song” features strummed acoustic by Nancy Wilson and some nice slide guitar by Leese, making the vibe almost country in ways, while another acoustic ballad “How Deep It Goes” features nice bass flourishes, fine synths, and good harmonies. “Sing Child” is the only group composition and really presents early Heart as a true band as it includes a guitar solo and jam in the middle along with some Ian Anderson-like flute by Ann Wilson.

Heart would go on to produce more popular albums, especially as they morphed towards being a more pop-oriented band. But Dreamboat Annie displays them at their most innovative and talented and is a most impressive debut.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1976 albums.