Heart have often been described as the “female Led Zeppelin,” as much for their arena-ready hard rock riffs as for singer Ann Wilson’s powerful, Robert Plant-like vocal histrionics.
But the thing about the Seattle five-piece that most closely resembles the mighty Zep is their ability to shirt effortlessly between bombastic rock and roll and the most delicate folk-based music. Both sides of Heart are displayed in full glory on “Crazy on You,” the enduring hit single from the band’s 1976 debut album, Dreamboat Annie.
With its mix of breezily strummed acoustic and big, distorted electric guitar riffs, “Crazy on You,” exemplifies “the duality that is the essence of heart,” says guitarist Nancy Wilson, who joined her older sister’s band in 1974 after watching them perform in clubs in and around Vancouver, where they were living at the time.
“They were playing this really heavy stuff, and I had been doing a lot of acoustic work,” she recalls. “When I got involved with Heart we stared blending the two together.”
In the studio, Nancy strummed the acoustic rhythm part that anchors “Crazy on You” on a Guild Jumbo whose particularly high action made it “hellish to play.” To play the song’s quasi-classical instrumental opening section, she used a thumbpick in conjunction with her fingers. “Because that first part was a solo pieces, I had to get the whole thing down in one take,” says Nancy. “I didn’t want to do a punch-in because it would have been obvious. So by the time I got it right all the way through I had blisters all over my fingers. It felt like they were going to fall off!”
While Nancy took great pains — literally — to record the acoustic guitar parts for “Crazy on You,” her sister was dealing with a different sort of anguish in the song’s lyrics.
Ann, who at the time was romantically involved with Heart guitarist Mike Fisher, “was singing about the world being really out of whack, when all you want to do is just be with the person you love instead of dealing with all the insanity going on around you,” says Nancy. “Heart had originally relocated to Vancouver because Mike evaded the draft to protest the Vietnam war. We had to deal with a lot at that time — it was a tough period for the band.”
Almost four decades later, Heart is still together and things are looking fine. “We see people from 6 to 60 years old at the shows,” says Nancy. “We get notes sent to us backstage from college students that say, ‘My parents used to play your albums all the time! I grew up with you and I love the new stuff.’ It’s really great to see all these new people coming out, and after all these years it’s still a lot of fun.”