Where other female-led hard rock outfits have come and gone, Heart has endured. There is little question about the immeasurable talents of Ann and Nancy Wilson, who have kept the band together in its many forms since 1974. Like most, they've experienced their highs and lows, but usually manage to bounce back with the sort of resiliency reserved for only a handful of classic rock bands still in business today. Way past the 'greatest hits' stage, Legacy is shooting the works with a three CD and single DVD set called Strange Euphoria — overseen by the Wilsons and filled with demos, outtakes, live tracks, unreleased material, deep cuts and a few, but not as many as you'd think, hits.
The first disc lifts off rather inauspiciously with a song from 1968 called "Through Eyes & Glass" by Ann Wilson & The Daybreaks. This is followed by several demos that includes the groups 'earliest hits like "Magic Man" and Crazy On You." Hearing these in their rawest form offers a glimpse into the band's process and work ethic. Early on, the Wilson sisters, guitarist Roger Fisher, bassist Steve Fossen, drummer Michael Derosier and guitarist and keyboardist Howard Leese were on more equal footing, and tracks like "Love Is Alive," "Little Queen" and a late 70s live version of "Barracuda" bear a truly unified sound.
As time went on, the focus landed squarely on the Wilsons. They brought in friend Sue Ennis to help pen "Dog & Butterfly" (an acoustic demo is on this set), "Straight On" and "Nada One." Both Ennis and Fisher had a hand on "Bebe le Strange," which starts off the second disc, but "Even It Up" is a clear sign that the ladies were now in charge. Songs like "Sweet Darlin'," "Angels," inspired by John Lennon, and "Love Mistake" lack the edge of Heart in the 70s; and it's by no strange coincidence that the group experienced a major upheaval with its personnel, popularity and general stability at around the time of these recordings. That would all change when Heart signed on with Capitol Records.
In the 80s, bands like Heart, Yes and ZZ Top all enjoyed a tremendous resurgence in popularity thanks to MTV and major makeovers, musical and/or image-wise. As was the practice those days with some artists, outside songwriters were also brought in to assist in commercializing the songs. Ann and Nancy Wilson had a hand in only a few of the tracks on their smash 1985 self-titled album; high-profile songwriters like Jim Vallance and Holly Knight were hired to sweeten the songs for success, a formula that apparently worked. While some of the videos were a bit over the top, the Wilson sisters apparently had no problem using outside writers. They state in the liner notes that they "fought" to record "These Dreams," written by Martin Page and Bernie Taupin, which went on to become Heart's first No. 1. The live acoustic version of "Never" with Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones is so cool, it makes you forget it was a Top 10 hit for the band.
"Alone," Heart's second No.1 from 1987's Bad Animals, was also penned by outside writers, but the Wilsons contend it was written with Ann's voice in mind. In the scope of everything that's good and pure about Heart, one can say that even an intriguing demo of "Desire Walks On" doesn't quite capture the true spirit of the band. Maybe that's what the Lovemongers, the Wilsons' side project prominently featured on the third disc, was supposed to do. Indeed, the first few tracks meander between mostly live Lovemongers, demos and oddball solo tracks from Ann and Nancy Wilson. Heart eventually returned to their blend of hard rock and folk, which is well-represented with the inclusion of the more recent "Fallen One" and "Queen City," a song Nancy Wilson wrote about missing her hometown of Seattle.
Speaking of Seattle, the DVD contains a rare 1977 performance originally aired on Northwest Public Television. The classic Heart lineup is featured in all their glory, albeit a bit wet behind the ears, young and eager to please. Playing on what appears to be a University of Washington multipurpose room stage, Ann Wilson's between-songs banter reveals a shy and reserved girl who would eventually become an arena staple. Seeing the band at this stage in their career is to see greatness in the making. The liner notes for Strange Euphoria include track-by-track commentaries from the Wilson sisters. Packaged with 19 previously unreleased tracks included with a strong mix of live material, demos and hits, plus the DVD, this is one set every Heart fan should have in their collection.
~ Shawn Perry