MAMA SAYS SHE'S WORRIED/GROWING UP IN A HURRY, YEAH: With Heart's nomination to the Hall of Fame, you really have to ask yourself which Heart you're talking about. Because there were two Hearts (and maybe three): pre-1980s Heart, who made classic rock and roll music and sold a decent amount of records; 1980s-and-later Heart, who cranked out a string of hugely popular bland power ballads; and, maybe, if you are charitable, Lovemongers-era Heart, mentors to a Seattle music scene of which they were really not a part. It's not just that you have to consider the three key criteria for HOF induction, quality, popularity, and influence; it is that you have to evaluate each of those criteria for each period of the band's history. Most bands have a peak and a decline. Heart has different peaks for each of the different criteria. They're a weird case. Keltner (explanation) me!
1. Was Heart ever regarded as the best band in rock music? Did anybody, while they were active, ever suggest that Heart was the best band in rock music?
I doubt it. In the early period, I'd guess that 90% of the people who were fans of Heart, including every member of Heart, would have said they liked Led Zeppelin better. Later, I think people would say their popularity was broader than it was deep.
2. Was Heart ever the best band in rock music in its genre?
No. I won't even bother to explain myself unless somebody shows up to say that they honestly believe that at some point (please identify the point), Heart was the best band in its genre. Honest opinions only, please; no straw men.
3. Was any individual member of Heart ever considered the best at his instrument/role?
Heart's musicians were competent but not virtuoso players. Ann Wilson had some serious pipes, though, especially in those early years. It's a bit sharp-edged for me, but I wouldn't argue with someone who said it was his or her favorite voice. Also, what's with the sexism in this question? What about HER instrument/role?
4. Did Heart have an impact on a number of other bands?
In a lot of ways, Heart, along with fellow inductee Joan Jett, is the best response to the moronic line that women aren't good guitar players. When people say that, I don't think that deep down inside they're talking about technical guitar ability. Maybe some of them are, but it's easy to ignore them. I think that what most of those knuckle-draggers are getting at is that music made principally by women isn't rock guitar music -- it's vocal-oriented (or piano/orchestration-oriented) music with the guitar added as adornment. Songs like "Crazy on You," with its frantic (Nancy Wilson) Am/F strum, and like "Magic Man" and "Barracuda" are a refutation of that theory (even though later work like "Alone" and basically all of the power ballads fit it). Early Heart, I think, was more popular among boys than among girls, and it was because it was just like all the other stuff they were listening to -- aggressive guitars, aggressive vocals, vaguely menacing lyrics -- and not because of the Wilson sisters' sex appeal. It's hard to say how much influence that had on later musicians because of the rock-side industry's poor record with women outside of pop, R&B, and singer/songwriter genres, but it must have had an influence, right?
Later on, like I said, the Wilsons basically became godmothers to the Seattle music scene -- fixtures at shows, veterans available to give advice, occasional collaborators, and sometime patrons.
They also influenced a generation of American Idol stars, for what it's worth. Not many people can say "I worked with guys from Alice and Chains and am partly responsible for the rise of Carrie Underwood."
5. Was Heart good enough that the band could play regularly after passing its prime?
If you define their prime as the period through Dog and Butterfly, which I do, yeah, they played way too long. If you define their prime as the period where they did most of their commercial damage, they still played past that. Incidentally, I'm counting Lovemongers as Heart, because I think that any band with both Wilsons is essentially Heart. That's probably unfair to the other members, but eh.
6. Is Heart the very best band in history that is not in the Hall of Fame?
I wouldn't say that. I think they have a close but credible case for the HOF.
7. Are most bands who have a comparable recording history and impact in the Hall of Fame? How many #1 singles/gold records did Heart have?
Heart had extraordinary radio success, both in the early period, with four songs that quickly became staples of classic-rock radio and top-1000 lists ("Magic Man," "Crazy on You," "Barracuda," "Dog and Butterfly"), and in the later period with the power ballads ("What About Love," "Never," "These Dreams," "Alone"). They had a number of platinum and multi-platinum albums. Wikipedia says they've sold over 30 million albums. That probably compares favorably with the popularity threshold for the HOF.
But consider this: Wikipedia says Heart sold over 30 million albums, and the Internet (including Wikipedia) says that Deep Purple, whose career spanned essentially the same period, has sold somewhere between 80 million and 110 million albums. If those numbers are right (and I'm not vouching for them), it's a good example of how radio play and cultural prejudices (toward the mainstream and away from genre music) can skew views of a band's popularity and influence.
8. Is there any evidence to suggest that the band was significantly better or worse than is suggested by its records?
They tanked their recordings so that they would surprise people live? I still don't understand this question.
9. Is it the best band in its genre who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?
If the genre is hard rock, I'd say that they're not even the best band in the genre eligible this year (Deep Purple). If the genre is arena balladry, no band anywhere is worthy of the Hall of Fame, because yuck.
10. Did Heart ever win a Grammy award? If not, how many times was Heart nominated?
Wiki says they were nominated four times. For what, I don't know. They seem like the kind of band that would have won a "best new artist" Grammy in like 1970 and then again in 1985 or so, because that's how the Grammys do. I don't really care about Grammys. Would their case be better if they won for "Alone" or "What About Love?" (I don't know if they did or not). I say no.
11. How many Grammy-level songs/albums did Heart have? For how long of a period did the band dominate the music scene? How many Rolling Stone covers did they appear on? Did most of the bands with this sort of impact go into the Hall of Fame?
Quality peak, five or six years in the early 1970s. Popularity spike in that same period, then a huge, long peak later in the 1980s and 1990s. At least one famous RS cover (which led to the writing of "Barracuda"), maybe more. They probably have the appropriate amount of influence to be inducted by current HOF voters.
12. If this band was the best band at a concert, would it be likely that the concert would rock?
The concert would ballad so hard? You would wallow yourself crazy?
13. What impact did the band have on rock history? Was it responsible for any stylistic changes? Did it introduce any new equipment? Did it change history in any way?
See above for the discussion of women who rock. Heart were not innovators, though.
14. Did the band uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
Facetiousness aside, I think Ann and Nancy Wilson have conducted themselves with an extraordinary amount of dignity througout their careers.
What Marsha said about my Deep Purple Keltner made me think that there isn't really a good place in the Keltner format to just say what you think about the band's music generally. I think that Heart's early catalog has some really strong songs. When I was a kid, "Crazy on You" and "Magic Man" would absolutely terrify me. They are full of ambivalence, of acknowledgement of the seductive power of bad ideas. But the big four songs of the early Heart catalog are just not enough, in my opinion, to get them in. And then when they got popular, they did it with cynical, factory-produced music. So my opinion is that the quality of Heart's catalog is not great enough to warrant induction, even if they have a solid case on the numbers and a decent argument on influence. But that's my prescriptive opinion. My predictive guess is that they'll get in, for two reasons. First, I gather that HOF voters won't have the same problems I do with later-period quality; and second, Heart's career is inextricably bound up with Rolling Stone in so many ways (the early cover and ensuing controversy; the way that who Heart was largely moved in parallel with what RS cared about throughout the '70s, '80s, and '90s; even the way that Nancy Wilson married into the RS family) that the Wenner contingent is not going to vote against them.