Heart: Dreamboat Annie
Nancy and Ann Wilson of Heart (photo courtesy of the artist)
Album ReCue, a part of FUV's EQFM initiative, takes an on-air and online look back at influential releases by women that altered our perspective not only of the artist, but her invaluable impact on music history. Above, listen to a conversation with Alisa Ali and Eric Holland about Heart's 1975 (U.S. 1976) debut, Dreamboat Annie, and below, Kara Manning's overview.
Debating the best debut albums of all time is bound to be a circuitous conversation, like running ‘round a corn maze for infinity, but one thing is certain: Heart’s Dreamboat Annie had better be on that list.
The album was first released in Canada in 1975 and rereleased in the States on Valentine’s Day 1976, a Vancouver-by-way-of-Seattle story of serendipity, romance, and a label deal that eventually mushroomed (pun intended) into a legal conundrum. Emerging from that mist of convoluted mid-seventies band lore came two remarkable songwriters: the Wilson sisters. There’s Ann, with her wondrous behemoth of a voice, ferociously savage or as fragile as milkweed; and Nancy, a virtuosic rhythm (and sometimes lead) guitarist — her hummingbird-swift A minor flat pick on the prelude of “Crazy On You” is one of the most famous rock intros ever written (and "hellish" to record, as Nancy has said).
Heart in the Dreamboat Annie phase —the Wilsons, guitarists Roger Fisher (Nancy's boyfriend) and Howard Leese, bassist Steve Fossen and drummer Michael DeRosier — was as much a soothing folk-rock band as a thunderous hard rock one. The erotically explosive “Magic Man” (written about Ann's then-beau and Roger's brother, Heart's quasi-manager Mike Fisher) and “Crazy On You” are forever FM rock radio staples. The funky dagger of “White Lightning and Wine” should be too.
But Dreamboat Annie is not just a hard rock breakthrough; the deeper, quieter tracks are as sublime as the seismic hits. There’s wistful urgency to the woodsy reverie “How Deep It Goes,” free floating with the sisters’ easy harmonies interlaid with Nancy's acoustic strums and Ann’s puckish flute. The album is bracketed as a conceptual arc with the title track in triplicate (“Dreamboat Annie (Fantasy Child),” “Dreamboat Annie,” and “Dreamboat Annie (Reprise)”), underscored with the faraway cries of seagulls and sighing ocean tides.
Also wading into waves is “Soul of the Sea,” a languid ramble with a hazy Led Zeppelin vibe (a touchstone more directly referenced on “Sing Child"). Ann has called 1971’s Led Zeppelin IV her “teaching album," a debt affectionately repaid via Ann and Nancy's electrifying performance of “Stairway to Heaven” at the Kennedy Center Honors for the British rockers back in 2012.
Heart was a unicorn in the late seventies, one of the very few female-led bands that seized a berth in male-ruled AOR radio. Fifteen years after their debut, the band was also the flag bearer for Seattle's emerging grunge dynasty; Ann and Nancy Wilson were hometown heroes to a generation of that city's rockers who listened to the lessons laid down by Dreamboat Annie, Little Queen or Dog & Butterfly. When the late Chris Cornell of Soundgarden inducted Heart into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, he rightly noted that Emerald City pride, observing that the sisters "blasted down any sexist barriers in front of them, armed with the pure ballsy power of rock and roll."
"I was never really aware of being a woman in a band," Ann said to host Paul Cavalconte in an FUV interview in 2018. "I was just a person in a band. When Heart started to get famous, that was really loudly pointed out to us."
But Ann and Nancy did encounter —and countered when they could — a gulf of inequality and misogyny in the music business. While the Wilsons are sanguine about it, they're very aware of the road they paved for other women in music.
"It's interesting because going into it, I wanted to be The Beatles," Nancy explained to NPR in 2017. "Because that's why I started doing rock music. And along the way I sort of figured out that you are identified by your gender more than just being a musician. I think the best part of it all, though, was that other women have come to us in droves and said, 'Thank you for being the woman who did that. Because then I was able to have the courage to do it myself, or try to do it myself, and be taken seriously!' So I guess as we go we find out what our imprint is, and what our purpose has been."
WFUV's EQFM Album ReCue: Heart's Dreamboat Annie