It is difficult to imagine now just how
revolutionary Heart’s debut album, Dreamboat Annie,
was at the time.
Apart from Janis Joplin, Suzy Quatro, and perhaps Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac, it is difficult to think of many women who were really rocking out at the time. Branded the “female Led Zeppelin,” Heart’s lead singer Ann Wilson and her younger sister, guitarist Nancy Wilson, blended ballads and folk-influenced songs with some serious hard rock jams. “There [is both] an instant focus on feminine strength and gentleness,” one reviewer said about that time.
"It was a real first to see two women who were not just the ornaments, but the writers and the singers and the players too," Nancy Wilson said. "I think if anything it gave [women in the business] a lot of encouragement and a lot of hope."
Produced by Mike Flicker, the album was released by Mushroom records in Canada in 1975 and then re-released in the US on Valentine’s Day in 1976. The band’s popularity quickly spread, with the album reaching No. 7 in the U.S Billboard Top 200, and delivering two Top 40 singles: Magic Man and Crazy on You.
"When it was finished, we looked back amazed at what we'd done, because there had been no real road map," Ann said. "It was nothing like anything that was being played on the radio. It was something else. I never dreamed they would eventually dig it in Detroit … but they did."
Often missed is the fact that this is a concept album, which gives it an epic feel. Specifically Dreamboat Annie is a song that is reprised three times, with the protagonist seemingly growing as a person on each occasion. It begins with Annie, as a young girl, full of hope and wonder, “Riding on [the] diamond waves.” The tempo and mood changes on the second - best known – version, with growing layered harmonies and some wonderfully intricate acoustic guitar from Nancy Wilson. Almost inevitably, the final version of the song is more of a wistful lament, with Annie presumably forlorn after disappointment in love: “Going down the city sidewalk alone in the crowd, No one knows the lonely one whose head is in the clouds.”
The album however kicks off in style with the rocking Magic Man, containing a powerful guitar solo by Roger Fisher on his Gibson Les Paul goldtop. “Come on home girl,” Ann sings, “I cast my spell of love on you, a woman from a child!”
Next up is the massive radio-hit Crazy On You, in which Nancy Wilson begins with some great guitar work on her Guild Jumbo acoustic. It was a particularly tough instrumental to play. “Because that first part was a solo piece, I had to get the whole thing down in one take,” said 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!”
The lovely guitar ballad Soul Of The Sea follows, and that song, along with the bluesy White Lightning and Wine, prove that this album has real depth. In particular Nancy again shows she has chops while playing her Ovation 1992 acoustic and producing another amazing solo. The song is about a woman being in control of what she wants, despite being rather ‘worse for wear’ in some lost bar; it is difficult to think of anything remotely similar around at the time.
Dreamboat Annie, with its catchy mix of folk, heavy rock and blues represented an incredible first offering by Heart. The band later became more pop-oriented and had more hits, but their debut was the one that remains the solid gold classic. "As a band we really solidified our own character by the end of the ‘Dreamboat Annie’ sessions," Nancy Wilson said. "A lot of styles and poses that we offered up in clubs were stripped off for the all original, new Heart, that felt most like us to us."