One of the essential elements of Heart’s music that was lost as the band turned toward sleek hitmaking in the 1980s was the signature acoustic guitar work of Nancy Wilson.
Classic rock staples like “Crazy On You” — which, after going Top 40 in the summer of 1976, became the band’s first hit — were defined by that sound. But by the time of 1985’s self-titled release, Heart had traded those unvarnished riffs for keyboards. The album was a smash, going on to become their biggest-ever selling project at five-times platinum on the strength of hits like “These Dreams,” “What About Love,” “Never,” and “Nothin’ at All” — each of which went Top 10.
Over the years, critics have derided Heart because it relied so heavily on outside composers: For instance, Bernie Taupin co-wrote “These Dreams,” which became Heart’s first-ever chart-topping single. But for Nancy Wilson, the absence of her signature guitar sound on the records hurts more.
She says now that producer Ron Nevison was at the nexus of that decision.
“The producer was telling me, ‘it’s so out, man,’ and ‘nobody plays acoustic guitar anymore. It’s unfashionable. There’s no place for that in this production,'” Wilson tells Guitar World. “And that was kind of tough for me.”
Of course, Nevison would eventually become synonymous with such moves, having overseen the transition of Jefferson Airplane to Jefferson Starship, as well as Chicago’s similarly criticized No. 1 hit “Look Away.”
“I play a lot of electric as well and I played a lot more in the ’80s,” Wilson adds, “but acoustic has always been my signature that I brought to the band. Beyond electric sound, it’s been an acoustic sound that’s not funky, but more aggressive than rockin’ acoustic that helps define the initial Heart signature sound. I guess we were kind of like, ‘OK, we’ll run with this and see where it goes for awhile.’ It was a very interesting time the ’80s. It got a little shallow there but it was OK.”
Fans of that original Heart sound are eagerly awaiting the release of the group’s forthcoming album Fanatic, which Wilson indicates will have its share of acoustic stylings. This is the band’s first release since 2010’s Red Velvet Car had its Top 10 debut in 2010. Heart will also be touring throughout the summer and fall, continuing through November 17. Alejandro Escovedo and Shawn Colvin will be supporting in October and November respectively.
“My acoustic guitar has survived the decades,” she tells Guitar World. “It’s one of things where every few years people say, ‘Rock is dead! Rock and roll is dead!’ And then a few years later it’s like, ‘Thank God rock and roll has survived!’ And it just happens over and over. And rock always survives. It will always land on its feet because it’s animal, and it’s human and it’s muscular and good.”
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