Friday, October 12, 2012

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.   


  1. I see the "better or worse than their records" question as focusing on influence and quality that might not be reflected in the sales/hard numbers. E.g., "Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em" is a Diamond album in the US, and "Baby One More Time" has sold over 30 million copies. Both spawned a bunch of hit singles. Neither is a great album, and neither Hammer nor Spears will be going into the HOF, I expect. (Contrast with, say, Velvet Underground and Nico, which has never sold big, but is universally acclaimed as a great album, and VU is in the HOF.)

  2. isaac_spaceman12:26 PM

    I don't see how that question isn't answered implicitly in all of the influence and best-band and innovation questions. If that's what the question is getting at, then its implicit premise seems to be that the numbers are the most important thing and everything else is a supplemental argument. That's true for baseball (the Keltners' original purpose) but not for music.

  3. Adam B.12:29 PM

    Our Keltner questions are as close analogues to the baseball ones as I could construct; we can always remove them further from the initial source to suit our needs.

    One other argument in their favor, of course, is that the Hall needs Women Who Rock in the same way the baseball hall is short on third basemen. There are plenty of Female Singers In Post-WW2 Popular Music in the Hall already, but in terms of actual rock-and/or-roll? It's worth making sure the good ones get recognized.

    And I'm working on my Keltnerization of NWA.

  4. Adam B.1:06 PM

    How about more of a narrative "Tell us about their peak years -- how big, how long" inquiry? Or we can just shave unhelpful questions.

  5. Jordan1:13 PM

    If you head over to, there's an "awards" section on the artist's page that has all of their chart positions and grammys.

  6. So, if the Genre were narrowed, not best hard rock band but best female hard rock band... what happens to Keltnerization? I've often thought that Heart's strength in those 4 early songs partly springs from the female lead vocal. Not imagining the other front men doing them so well. Maybe narrowing would be a cop-out, certainly you could always make the category narrow enough for someone to be the best, but, I think female rock band in the 70s with female lead vocals might be a legitimate category. Anyway, that's just a long way of saying I don't think Heart is a close call at all.

  7. isaac_spaceman1:32 PM

    Either Allmusic doesn't list nominations or Heart was never nominated for a Grammy or there is an error on the Allmusic page. But I hate Allmusic, which is reductive in general and very bad about actually describing music. I guess Allmusic is somewhat valuable as kind of an IMDB for music, but on anything subjective at all, it is horrible.

  8. Wiki says 4 Grammy nominations, but apparently no wins.

  9. Lurker David1:57 PM

    The Heart Official Website ( says their 1985 "Heart" album was nominated, "Bad Animals" album from 1987 was twice nominated, and the album "Brigade" (1990) was nominated. They note no wins (or what the nominations were for.

  10. isaac_spaceman2:33 PM

    That's a pretty narrow category (pool of potential Hall candidates pre-1990: Heart, Jett, maybe Pat Benetar if you reeeeally stretch the definition of hard rock, and who?). But I also think it's not accurate. Part of the point I was trying to make was that 1970s Heart and 1980s Jett were not part of a genre separate from hard rock. There are genres that I think have strong gender affiliations. I would be okay, I think, with defining a female singer/songwriter genre separate from a male singer/songwriter genre, for example, or "boy band" separate from "teen pop." But I do not think that Jett and Heart were in any gender-affiliated genre. They were making the same kind of music as their contemporaries.

  11. Marsha2:39 PM

    I see the question as focusing on what they did outside of their recording career. the Grateful Dead might be a good example - their influence and legacy has (I'd say) much more to do with their live performances and their relationship with their fans (following the band, allowing recording and sharing of recordings, etc) than with their albums. They created a certain kind of concert experience that most bands don't do and couldn't sustain - playing not just a bunch of hits and then stuff off whatever album they are promoting, but instead playing a different set every night, playing more obscure material, riffing on their own music, and rewarding repeat attendees. That's the kind of band that I'd say needs to have stuff taken into account in Question 8.

  12. Marsha2:41 PM

    What's the Rolling Stone cover controversy? I know nothing about this and can't find anything about it through Googling.

  13. Jordan3:47 PM

    Found this on Wiki: In 1977 Mushroom ran a full-page advertisement in Rolling Stone magazine showing the bare-shouldered Wilson sisters (as on the "Dreamboat Annie" album cover) with the suggestive caption, "It was only our first time!".[8] When a reporter suggested, backstage after a live appearance, that the sisters were sex partners, the infuriated Ann returned to her hotel room and began writing the lyrics to "Barracuda".[12]

  14. Jordan3:47 PM

    Found this on Wiki: In 1977 Mushroom ran a full-page advertisement in Rolling Stone magazine showing the bare-shouldered Wilson sisters (as on the "Dreamboat Annie" album cover) with the suggestive caption, "It was only our first time!" When a reporter suggested, backstage after a live appearance, that the sisters were sex partners, the infuriated Ann returned to her hotel room and began writing the lyrics to "Barracuda."

  15. isaac_spaceman5:52 PM

    Guess I screwed it up -- it was an ad, not a cover. Per a quick google search, they had the cover at least two more times, once in 1980 (also bare-shouldered in close-up so you can't see if they're wearing clothes, with the caption "Rock's Hot Sister Act") and once later in the 1980s, fully clothed (shocking!).

  16. I'm not sure we were/are disagreeing. Joan Jett once told me "I love you too." Despite that, I don't revere her in the same way I do Heart. When Heart was doing their 70's thing, they were the only ones like them. Like I guess I'm saying, doesn't Hendrix get his own category? What is Hendrix's music?

  17. I think they deserve to be in. Not just because they've had alot of albums, but mainly because they still sound great as a live band and they've had almost five decades of longevity. Their 80s output isn't any worse than Aerosmith's output during the same period, and both bands were guilty of going the "hair metal" ballad route. While Heart may not have done anything groundbreaking (other than having women leading a hard rock band), there are a heckuva lot of women trying to channel Anne Wilson these days -- both the "Barracuda" Anne and the "Alone" Anne.

    Also, you mention only four early hits but there are alot more than four 70's era songs being played regularly on classic rock radio. "Magic Man", Crazy On You", "Straight On", "Barracuda", "Even It Up", "Kick it Out", "Dog and Butterfly", "Little Queen", "Heartless", "Bebe Le Strange", "Tell It Like It Is", and "How Can I Refuse" all still get airplay in addition to the 80's stuff.

    And after all these decades they are still releasing albums and having chart success. According to their Wiki they've had Billboard Top 10 albums in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2010s, not to mention they have a current song being played on current rock radio and it's not a bad tune.

    I have alot of respect for the Wilsons not only because of their talent because they've always seemed like the underdog that always manages to come out on top. Any group that has the longevity they've had must be doing something HOF worthy.

  18. michelle9:57 AM

    I don't understand why Heart's efforts have gone so unnoticed by elitist fucks that point their fingers around in the RRHOF. It's fucking ridiculous and it disgusts me when music snobs feel the need to make a list of their personal "qualifications" that determine if a band should be inducted in the RRHOF or not. Get over yourself. Who are you, Isaac Spaceman? That's right, no one fucking cares. Where is your induction, sir? That's right, hiding behind your little computer screen, typing out half-thought answers to idiotic questions you made up yourself. You're so cool, man. As you were.

  19. isaac_spaceman11:34 AM

    Hi, Michelle. Glad you could join us. Since you don't want me offering my own opinion on my own blog, maybe you can put together a counterargument and prove me wrong. I promise we'll publish it (or Disqus will) even if you don't have your own induction.

  20. isaac_spaceman11:39 AM

    Also, elitist? Didn't I just defend Deep Purple on the basis of its influence on hard rock?

  21. Wow. I've never seen a comment quite like this one in the [I have no idea how long because it is so long] that I have been reading this blog and its predecessor blogs. You get points for originality. This Blog is my happy place. When I saw your post it made me a little less happy. As you were.

  22. But Adam, we've gotten used to them the way they are and the one thing I hate more than anything else is change. Hate it.

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