Thursday, September 25, 2008

Mr Mike's Highschool Record Collection: Heart - Bad Animals (1987)

Almost Famous - Nancy Wilson inspires Vixen and a flood of young girls to sport the "rocker girl" look in the 80's.
In the summer of 1987, I lived with my aunt in an amazing glass house overlooking the California coast outside of San Francisco. I spent that summer working for the company my aunt worked at and played certain tapes a lot - John Waite Rover's Return, Fleetwood Mac Tango In The Night, Expose Exposure, Def Leppard Hysteria and this gem, Heart's Bad Animals. Those albums often recall that summer living in that amazing house, the kind of house you usually see in those Lethal Weapon movies, working during the day and looking for stuff to do at night. Bad Animals accompanied me on many drives around the Pacific Coast Highway and visits to home.

For Heart, it was the big follow up album to their smash self titled 1984 release. The band was a hard rockin' unit in the 70's but by the early 80's they seemed tired and uninspired. They switched labels, switched clothes, got Ron Nevison to produce and an army of outside songwriters to drive them to a clutch of Top 10 hits and a big arena tour. Ann and Nancy Wilson were back on top of the rock heap along with guitarist Howard Leese, bassist Mark Andes and drummer Denny Carmassi. And like most successful ventures in the 80's, the next step was to do the same but bigger and louder.

1. Who Will You Run To

Did you know that Diane Warren once wrote a song that wasn't a ballad? Until I read the CD jacket, I didn't know that. I knew Heart didn't write it, but Diane Warren - I wouldn't have guessed. But I still get a good feeling from this Top 1o hit, the second single from the record. From the first snare hit, the song moves at a comfortable pace as Ann Wilson conveys the ups and downs of the relationship with a melody that does the same. I like how the glossy synth riff highlights the end of every other phrase. AOR Nirvana.

2. Alone

One of the greatest power ballads ever, the Wilsons took the Tom Kelly / Billy Steinberg ("Like a Virgin", "I Touch Myself") tune and transported it to another level. Ann Wilson's pensive verses lead to a spellbinding belting chorus displaying the power and authority in her voice. Meanwhile, Nancy Wilson sexes up the video with her trademark "rocker" moves. Love it when that piano blows up at the start of the clip. The lead single and #1 smash proved Heart's comeback wasn't a fluke and inspired a whole generation of would be singers on American Idol.

3. There's The Girl

Nancy Wilson surprised on the prior album when her lead vocal on "These Dreams" helped take the Taupin tune to #1. So she got two lead vocals this time out, the first being the this polished pop rock ditty that was the third single from the disc. Nancy Wilson doesn't have as strong a voice as her sister, but it does have a more fragile character which can be a positive except the Teflon coated production nearly swallows her up here. But Wilson toughs it out and comes through enough to sell the song. Songwriter Holly Knight ("Never", "The Warrior") teams up with Nancy Wilson relay the rush of bad girl crush with Reagan era precision.

4. I Want You So Bad

Back to the Kelly/Steinberg songbook! This swirling, slow stepping ballad was the fourth single from Bad Animals. Ann Wilson's voice has this processed production sound that hasn't aged well but the ache in her voice hits home. This song sounds great while watching the Ocean waves hit the beach at night.

5. Wait For An Answer

This was on rock radio quite a bit back then when I returned to school in Sacramento. Again, Ann Wilson commands the stage as she scales a mountain of cascading synthesizers and echoey drums as her heroic shouting waits. For an answer. I think she's waiting for a dude to call her. Dude! Call her! It was 1987, it only costed a quarter at that time.

6. Bad Animals

The song and album title I believe was based on a nickname the band gave themselves for the reaction they got in hotels. That summer, my aunt's roommate had her daughter and friends spend a few weeks at the glass house. They were L.A. rocker girls with the mile high hairsprayed coif, my friend Ron used to refer to their heads as "plane snaggers". The first song on the album to be written by the band, a slow moving rock jam with one of those circular synth parts running all over it.

7. You Ain't So Tough

Steve Kipner strikes! Kipner has this way of writing soft yet bouncy sad lyric but upbeat melody kind of songs (like "Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back" on the Two of a Kind soundtrack.). Adapted to Heart, the song is a determined little pop rocker with the most exciting guitar solo on the record (a little shred here and there) and one of those "I'm an army of people" group vocals on the chorus. How could I not like this jam?

8. Strangers of the Heart

Nancy Wilson's second lead vocal comes on this sequel to "These Dreams". It's a little less fake mystical than "Dreams" but amps up the soap opera cliche's to give a touch of dark romanticism. Not quite as good as the first (most sequels are that way), a bit of "high school talent night" feeling creeps into the song as it makes a run for the big finish. Nonetheless, it's a very pleasant song.

9. Easy Target

The last two songs were reserved for more of a "classic" Heart sound, meaning they wrote the pair and get a little more organic. As much as they could without it sounding like a different record. The rocking "Target" has some 70's rawk kick to it though in no way threatens their Little Queen era.

10. RSVP

A nice acoustic ballad to close the record out. It's a good tune, even if I hate RSVPing. Can't I just show up if I feel like it?

If the songs were meant to show where the band's heads were at, Heart came across mostly like love lorn victims that go off on people every now and then. Producer Ron Nevison had a knack for placing Ann Wilson's dramatic vocals into situations where she sounds backed into a corner. Intentional or not, combined with her video image of looking cross all the time it made Nancy Wilson's on screen bopping and grinding necessary to add some fluff (visually, not her musicianship). The dichotomy of the Wilson sister's images apparently created some tension and when combined with the "sell out" philosophy of their Capitol era, they tend to dismiss this fantastic period where they were slick AOR giants. That's too bad, because as much as I like 70's Heart I'm a bigger fan of their shoulder padded teased hair commercial peak.

One more 80's moment to go, the Seattle based band spent the decade prepping Generation X for their biggest addiction - coffee.

Heart - Coffee Achievers


Arsenette said...

I love Heart.. just about every variation of Heart.. the open Nancy.. the Nancy behind bars and black curtains.. classic Heart.. synth 80's Heart.. every version of Nancy. Just love the sisters :D

Jeannie said...

I don't quite remember "There's A Girl" this way. The part where Nancy Wilson keeps putting in, "She's setting you up my friend". Was that on my tape I bought back then??

I've been in a "Wait For An Answer" phase for a while now. Great song. Great band. I can't wait until tomorrow!!

Mr. Mike said...

Heart is a great band, one of the first I ever really liked, the Wilsons know how to rock! I spent half the week listening to 70's Heart before choosing Bad Animals to write about.

That line about "setting up" in "There's the Girl" wasn't on the tape, it's probably the single mix. I can't wait for tomorrow either!