As a commercially successful American hard rock band fronted by two women in the 1970s, Heart was unique, and while it’s Patti Smith and the Runaways that have turned legendary (with merit, no doubt) for their stories, Heart’s impact on women in rock is, must be, outsized, and deserving of the same attention. While their 80s albums were marred by a soft rock sheen (but still, wildly successful), the early catalog resonates strongly: “Barracuda” with its gallop and biting reaction to a record company and music press that wanted, badly, to portray the Wilson sisters as objects of sexual intrigue; “Crazy on You”; “Magic Man”; “Straight On”; “Heartless”; “Dog and Butterfly”; “Dreamboat Annie.” For what they did and when they did it, Heart’s story is that of women in rock and roll itself, playing off and pushing against an industrial complex bent on making them something they weren’t.
What Heart was in the 70s was a band with a heavy jones for Led Zeppelin, a singer with unearthly vocal breadth and firepower, and a band with the chops to back it up. They could bring it live and in the studio, and even if their records had the typical filler allowed for groups tasked with putting out an album or two a year, Ann Wilson’s vocal flights had every bit of Plant-ish Zep swagger with room to spare. Nancy Wilson’s light acoustic touch was given heft by Roger Fisher’s advanced, melodic shredding, and was propelled by a cracking rhythm section. They could lay waste.
“Mistral Wind” is straight out of the school of Houses of the Holy, with, in its no-nonsense thundering second section, a darker lean towards Sabbath. Written with friend and co-writer Sue Ennis for Dog and Butterfly (1978), the song never received radio play but maybe describes Heart — both the music and the relationships and tensions in the band –as well or better than any of their other work. Along with the studio version here are two live versions, one from the year of its release and the other from the 2007 Dreamboat Annie anniversary show. All are worthwhile in their way, but the 1978 Largo version, even with all its bad lighting and video dropouts, is most compelling, the song still fresh, growing as a performance piece. Get out your lighter….