Greatest Hits


Epic/Legacy, 1998

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Like many groups of long vintage and considerable commercial success, Heart has had their hits collected roughly as many times as Michael Jackson has had his nose done.  Know this, though -- for the fan of the original 1970s incarnation of the band (read: me), the 1998 collection from Epic/Legacy is the best option out there.

Still, putting this disc in for the first time is bound to be a strange experience for a fan like me who’s followed the band off and on for 30 years.  The starting point feels pretty obvious when your first hit -- the heavy, churning “Magic Man” -- was also the first song on side one of your debut album.  Right? 

Wrong.  Because this particular greatest hits album starts off with the at-the-time new bonus track “Strong, Strong Wind,” a number that sounds like a Diane Warren adult contemporary ballad.  Whatever you want to say about Warren’s spectacular commercial success, Heart should not be singing anything that even resembles a Diane Warren song.  Heart is a rock and roll band, and this cut sounds like lead voice Ann Wilson auditioning to take over Celine Dion’s headlining slot on the Vegas Strip.

And then we’re back -- back where we belong, back where it all began for Heart.

There is something positively tribal about the pulsing beat that lies coiled at the core of “Magic Man”; it sounds more like jungle love than “Jungle Love” does.  “Crazy On You,” though, is where Ann, sister Nancy Wilson and the rest of Heart made their first real statement of musical identity, as the soft/heavy yin/yang female-Zeppelin vibe comes through crystal clear as a dynamite acoustic intro leads into a powerhouse electric riff that drives the song right into your face.  The version of “Dreamboat Annie” included here is the reprise, which is nice enough, but in my book the third best of the trio of different versions from the group’s debut album of the same name.  This one has a bit of a country feel with piano and strings, and I prefer the straight acoustic version with no strings, and bells in place of piano.

Moving on, “Barracuda” is simply a great rock and roll song -- a great galloping riff, great rhythm section, great vocal, great lyric.  “Little Queen” has a chunky, chugging rhythm to it that reminds me of the Doobie Brothers, not to mention a couple of other Heart songs, “White Lightning & Wine” (notably missing here) and “Straight On.”  Since all three of those songs are among their best, you’re forced to conclude it’s an approach that works well for them.  “Kick It Out” is short sweet and to the point, three minutes of pure pedal-to-the-metal joy.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Of the slower, more pastoral songs from the first couple of Heart albums, “Love Alive” is the obvious star, with a gorgeous melody, a nice groove and a superb arrangement in which Ann’s vocals and a flute play off each other beautifully.  Among Heart’s early hits, “Heartless” is probably the most underrated; it’s got a great hook and Ann is a hundred percent behind the lyric.  This track also shows off the band’s secret weapon, Nancy Wilson’s equally underrated harmony vocals.  Yeah, Ann’s got the big voice, but on an awful lot of Heart tunes, the beauty of the melody comes through in the two sisters’ harmonies.  The bridge on “Heartless” is terrific as well, as they keep the hook going and bring in the synths under Ann and Nancy’s harmonies as they hit ascending notes.  It’s a moment that manages to be very pretty without losing the song’s essential drive, and leads into a sharp, economical guitar solo.

“Dog & Butterfly” goes on the list with “Love Alive” as one of the best of the group’s early “soft” songs, with stunning acoustic guitar work and a lyric that explicitly explores the duality that the band is all about, that Zeppelin-esque balance between soft and hard, heavy and light.  “Even It Up” feels a lot like “Straight On,” but – interestingly -- with more of a new wave edge and kick to it, plus the novelty of a horn section.

“Bebe Le Strange” is a strange tune (no surprise there), with weird dynamics that are loose where most early Heart songs are quite structured.  It’s not a great song, but it’s different and has an intriguing adventurousness.  “Tell It Like It Is” is Heart doing an old school doo-woppy ballad, which isn’t the best fit, but again, it’s different.  For the dark side of different, though, we get “This Man Is Mine” from the group’s disastrous 1981 Private Audition album, a bit of completely out-of-character nightclub jazz-pop that finds Ann singing that she’s “Using every little trick I know to make sure he doesn’t go”…!  If there is one thing Ann Wilson has never been, it’s coquettish.   

Unfortunately, like far too many of their peers, in the 80s Heart succumbed to the era’s evils of tinny, echoey drums, slick guitars and formulaic songwriting.  For all that, “How Can I Refuse” from 1983’s Passionworks is not a bad song.  It just doesn’t have the essential grit and humanity that was always part of Heart’s appeal.  Classic 70s Heart was Zeppelin sung by Janis; this is Journey sung by Pat Benatar.  Heart has always been better than what they turned into in the 80s, and the saving grace of this album is that it stops here.

A nice bonus at the very end is a storming live rendition of Zep’s “Rock And Roll,” in which Heart reminds you where their original inspiration came from.  Ann in fact pulls off one of the better Robert Plant banshee wails ever recorded. 

Overall, the track selection on Greatest Hits is excellent for the era it covers, giving you almost everything you could ask for in a one-CD set.  Just as importantly, this album mercifully cuts short Heart’s devolution into prefab arena rock hitmakers in the 80s, focusing instead on the rich, reputation-making classics that fill their 70s catalogue. 

Rating: B+

User Rating: B+



© 2009 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Epic/Legacy, and is used for informational purposes only.