Heart Moved Away from Hard Rock to Enjoy '80s Pop Success

'70s Hard Rockers Turned '80s Power Ballad Practitioners

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Sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson founded the smashingly successful 1980s rock band Heart in 1973 in Seattle, Washington. Along with Roger and Mike Fisher, Steve Fossen, Howard Leese and Michael DeRosier — and later Mark Andes and Denny Carmassi — Heart achieved great commercial success with such releases as "Barracuda" and "Crazy On You" in the 1970s. 

The story of Heart cannot be accurately told without an acknowledgment of the band's central duality between its success during the 1970s and its comeback of the 1980s. Having emerged in the mid-Seventies as a self-sustaining hard rock band led undisputably by two strong women, the group unfortunately splintered by the end of the decade and was forced to become something else entirely to rekindle its spark.

Sadly, this involved the Wilson sisters' reduced songwriting input in favor of outside pop songwriters. While the music of '80s Heart was still often of high quality, it seemed at times to have lost some of its soul.

Early Years of '70s Hard Rock

Fans of the 1980s version of Heart may be unaware that the origin of the band had absolutely nothing to do with the Wilson sisters and stretches all the way back to 1963 when the Fisher brothers formed a band in Vancouver.

Only after a whole decade of existence did the band — formerly dubbed the Army and White Heart —settle on its lasting name, soon after which Ann Wilson joined up as a vocalist. By 1974 Nancy became a member as well, moving the developing group toward its smash debut, 1976's "Dreamboat Annie." The album became a huge hit in America, buoyed by the classic rock staples "> Magic Man" and "Crazy on You."

For that first album, the Wilson sisters immediately announced their songwriting dominion, establishing a vision that balanced gentle ballads with rockers in true '70s rock fashion. The group's next two proper albums continued this streak of hard rock success, unleashing popular scorchers like "Barracuda" and "Straight On" but also mixing in folky acoustic numbers like "Dog & Butterfly."

"Magazine," an album delayed by record label conflicts, seemed a lesser effort, though it features a solid rocker in "Heartless." By the end of the decade, Heart was a major force in mainstream rock.

Lost in the Wilderness to Power Ballad Practitioners

Through those early years of success, the Wilson sisters were involved in respective romances with the Fisher brothers, so when those relationships ended and Roger Fisher left the band, major changes were unavoidable.

1980's saw the band unsure of its place in the post-punk and new wave landscape. "Even It Up" holds up as a trademark Heart rocker, but elsewhere the whole affair feels unfocused, a trend that would continue on the transitional albums with softcore names: "Private Audition" and "Passionworks." If nothing else, however, these albums set the stage for Heart's new arena rock identity to come.

When the band returned in 1985 with a self-titled album for Capitol, it became clear that Heart had completely embraced the '80s in both image and approach. This didn't have to be as negative a change as it was, but the prominence of professional songwriters and the undeniable success of those tunes compared to the band-written material was unfortunate.

It must have irritated the Wilsons that the album's four Top 10 hits were creatively external efforts. Still, that doesn't negate the fact that "Never,"  "What About Love?,"  "Nothin' at All," and "These Dreams" are excellent mainstream pop/rock tunes skillfully delivered.

End of an Era and Embracing the Millennium

Perhaps the Wilsons weren't haunted by their diminishing artistic contributions as the '80s wore on, having proved themselves quite capable of stardom as pop/rock interpreters. 1987's "Bad Animals" and 1990's "Brigade" maintained the attention of Heart's adjusted but still voracious audience, continuing to rule the charts with passionate power ballads like "Alone" and "All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You." The fact that the sisters now looked completely like heroines from romance novel covers was probably no coincidence, given the band's embrace of lovesick, sappy compositions from the likes of Diane Warren.

Heart's chart presence may have faded rather quickly as the band released music much more intermittently during the '90s, but the group's '70s work remained a vital cog in classic rock playlists. And the strong female leadership of the band has continued to influence scores of artists from various genres over the last 20 years.

Eventually taking on a new lineup in support of the ever-constant Wilson sisters, the band continues to celebrate its distinctively two-pronged career through consistent touring. Plus, in 2004, the group released its first studio album in more than a decade, Jupiter's Darling, an effort that features a welcome revival of the sisters' songwriting contributions. They still produce music to this day.

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