'The best thing I ever heard Eddie Van Halen play': After rebuffing his advances, Heart's Nancy Wilson was given a song

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When Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart crossed paths with Van Halen in 1979, the brothers Eddie and Alex were at the height of their wild-and-crazy days. Nancy, in Heart’s just-released memoir, says the pair even propositioned her and her sister.

The Wilsons, Nancy says in Kicking and Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul and Rock & Roll, demurred, and the conversation — held at a hotel while on tour — apparently soon turned to music. During a separate discussion about Nancy’s guitar playing, Eddie Van Halen revealed that he didn’t own an acoustic.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: A busy year for Heart began with ‘Strange Euphoria,’ this terrific career-spanning set that finally collects key tracks from both their 1970s and 1980s hitmaking periods.]

Wilson simply couldn’t believe a player of his skill was without one and, in a moment of charity, handed Van Halen her instrument as a gift. She says Eddie was overcome with emotion and, after returning to his room for a cocaine-and-alcohol-fueled composing session, called her room at 7 a.m. to present a newly written song in her honor.

Wilson, in one of the book’s most vivid moments, describes the “truly amazing” song as a lengthy suite. Van Halen was playing the song from a hotel room so close that she could hear it both through the phone and down the hall. Soon, however, the line went dead, Nancy says. Eddie Van Halen, she now surmises, had passed out.

“I don’t know if he ever played the song again, or even if, when he sobered up, he remembered anything about the night,” Wilson writes, “except that he and Alex didn’t manage to take the Wilsons to bed. But it was the best thing I ever heard Eddie Van Halen play. I only wish I could hear it again.”

Heart’s newest album, Fanatic, is due on Tuesday, October 2, 2012, from Legacy.

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Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Heart and Van Halen. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

HEART – STRANGE EUPHORIA (2012): Heart, like many legacy bands in the 1980s, struggled to marry its original sound with the synthesized style of the day. Strange Euphoria, a sweeping new compilation from Epic-Legacy, charts that journey, as Heart transforms itself from hippie-chick singer-songwriters, to feminist heavy rockers, to glossy MTV stars, and back again. Heart, like the title of this endlessly fascinating new box set, still boasts an abiding, very involving complexity. It’s good to be reminded.

VAN HALEN – A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH (2012): It’s interesting that A Different Kind of Truth doesn’t always go for the easy hook (recalling Fair Warning), something that may surprise late-arriving fans of keyboard-driven pop successes like “Jump” (and certainly the subsequent period with David Lee Roth’s successor, Sammy Hagar). Some of the material requires more than one listen to completely absorb, and Anthony’s cloud-bursting tenor is missed at times. But A Different Kind of Truth has a way of burrowing in. That’s largely thanks to the presence of Roth, of course. He’s always good for spandex-splitting laugh or two.

HEART – GREATEST HITS (1998; 2011 Audio Fidelity Remaster): The distractions when it comes to Heart (gender politics, obvious curtsies to Led Zeppelin, wall-to-wall 1980s power-ballads, etc.) are swept away with this single turned-up-to-11 instrumental interlude during “Magic Man.” I’m struck all over again by guitarist Roger Fisher’s ever-increasing distortion, just before a smeared prog rock-influenced keyboard descends from the heavens. Heart’s “Magic Man” (a No. 9 hit in 1976) has, right there inside of it, this brilliant piece of in-the-moment, well, magic — unlikely to happen again in the age of auto-tune, but buried for decades in a muddy pre-digital mix. Now, this small joy has been spit-shined into a revelatory moment, and it’s almost worth the price of admission itself. This band, you quickly realize all over again, wasn’t led by a couple of Girls Who Rocked. They were, simply, rockers. And very good ones, at that.

SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST: VAN HALEN: A long-waited reunion with original lead singer David Lee Roth has Van Halen back in the news … and us digging through some old albums. Here’s a look back at a few favorite moments with Roth — and yes, Sammy, too — along with updated tour date information. Let’s start shredding!

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