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Heart's Nancy Wilson: 8 songs that changed my life

Nancy Wilson
(Image credit: Ricky Steel)

While American rock legends Heart are currently enjoying a schedule that's less fraught than it might be, there's plenty for fans of guitarist Nancy Wilson to enjoy.

Solo album You and Me was released earlier this year. She's worked with Gibson to manufacture an affordable guitar, The Fanatic. Upcoming is an expanded edition of the Almost Famous soundtrack, which features Wilson's original score for the movie (and 14 tracks which weren’t used in the film and have not been released before), plus a number of demos written for the movie's fictional band, Stillwater, recorded with Peter Frampton. 

In October there's a "highly anticipated evening of rock'n'roll" with the Seattle Symphony orchestra. And early next year, Wilson is one of the hosts of the first Women Only Rock Camp in Los Angeles, alongside Melissa Etheridge, Kathy Valentine of the Go-Gos, Orianthi, Vixen's Roxy Petrucci and more.

"I wish I could tour to support this album," Wilson tells Classic Rock. "But there are still a lot of unknowns, right? I think live music is going to happen again, but maybe not until next year. I’m gonna be really happy when I can get on stage again." 

Below, Nancy Wilson picks the eight songs that changed her life. 


Stevie Wonder - All In Love Is Fair (Innervisions, 1973)

This whole album is so perfect, and so special, but if I have to go for just one song from it, I’ll go with All In Love Is Fair. It’s such a classically structured song that it could come from any era, and be sung by any great singer in history, and it would still break your heart. 

When I said ‘Yes’ to my husband’s marriage proposal this song was playing in the background, which was perfect, as it’s a super romantic song. I was in high school when Innervisions came out, and that album, plus the follow-up, Fulfillingness' First Finale, were as much part of my DNA back then as breathing and walking and talking. They still are.  

Led Zeppelin - The Rain Song  (Houses Of The Holy, 1973)

This is one of the most melodically sophisticated songs in the history of rock‘n’roll and also one of the most beautiful pieces of written poetry ever. It’s such an insightful meditation on life through the seasons, and it balances poetry and rock ‘n’ roll perfectly in a way that no-one but Led Zeppelin has ever been able to do. 

Along with the other artists I’ll mention here, Zeppelin were one of the bands that saved my life in high school. There’s a real magical mystery to this song. Every good guitar player that I’ve ever been at a party with knows how to play this song, but every one of them plays it differently, everyone had their own interpretation. Only Jimmy [Page] truly knows I guess.

The Beatles - Fool On The Hill (Magical Mystery Tour, 1967)

The Beatles are the reason I ever picked up a guitar. I was nine years old when I saw them on The Ed Sullivan Show [on February 9, 1964] and it was like being struck by a lightning bolt. Instead of wanting to marry a Beatle, I wanted to be a Beatle. Fool On The Hill is such a beautiful, melancholy, introspective and wonderfully melodic Paul McCartney moment and it just transports you from the bustling real world into this beautiful space. 

I remember exactly where and when I first heard it: I was sitting in my sister Ann’s red Chevrolet Impala in a parking lot in Seattle outside a choir rehearsal during a really intense downpour. Back then radio stations would announce in advance exactly when they were going to play the new Beatles album and you had to be there to hear it in its entirety. What a moment to hear this for the very first time.

The Beatles - I Am The Walrus (Magical Mystery Tour, 1967)

This was such a radical-sounding piece of music, such a mind-bending, psychedelic trip of a song. There was a lot of mind expansion going on in those days, and you would mind expand for the purpose of listening to music, and …Walrus just took you to this surreal, [Frederico] Fellini, La Dolce Vita place. 

It’s so outlandishly different to anything that had come before. This was The Beatles shifting and shaping our culture in real time in the studio with George Martin, a magical call across time and space.  When you first heard this you just wanted to go to London and walk across the famous Abbey Road cross-walk – which of course Ann and I did as soon as we came to London for the first time. 

The Beatles - Hey Jude (single, 1968)

I know this is kinda a stock answer, but Hey Jude is just another perfect song. Paul McCartney has so many great gospel songs – like Let It Be, like Maybe I’m Amazed – but in Hey Jude he captured something which, to me, really encapsulated his love for John Lennon, amid the disintegration of their band and their friendship. 

It’s also got a very universal message, about true love, about picking someone and wanting to stick with them through thick and thin, sweet and sour. I’ve met Paul McCartney a few times, and of course I became just another gushing fan. McCartney was born to rock. My guitar tech just saw him on his recent tour and he said he was astounding. Well, of course he was!

The Beach Boys - God Only Knows (Pet Sounds, 1966)

Maybe another obvious choice, and again, this dates me, but really, this is one of the most melodically sophisticated and heart-rendingly beautiful songs in rock history. I defy anyone to try to write a better song than this. If you listen to just the vocals alone, it’s just astounding what Brian Wilson did here. 

I was maybe 12 years old when this came out and I was trying to work the song out on guitar, but it’s such an elusively beautiful thing, and it’s almost sacrilegious to try to pull this kind of perfect art apart. Brian Wilson gave a real gift of music to the world, completely distinct from anything that came before or since.

Elton John - Where To Now St. Peter? (Tumbleweed Connection, 1970)

Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote such beautiful, cinematic songs. I remember, as a kid, seeing the short film An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge about the American Civil War on our black and white television, and I think this song was inspired by the same story. It’s about a wounded soldier taking himself into the woods to die away from the fighting, a cautionary tale about finding peace amid war, and because I come from a military background, it always had a real resonance and depth to me. 

There are iconic songs on so many Elton John albums, on this and Madman Across The Water especially, so it’s almost impossible to choose just one, but this one always moved me.

Joni Mitchell - A Case Of You (Blue, 1971)

There has to be a girl on this list somewhere, so I’m going to go with Joni Mitchell, the poet of a generation. Again, this whole album is masterful and a masterpiece, but I’ll go with this one song, as I’ve performed it a number of times myself. It’s such a whimsically cool love song, about when you just can’t get enough of someone else. 

Joni Mitchell isn’t exactly rock‘n’roll, I realise, but she certainly shaped a lot of rock‘n’roll, and a lot of my peers and friends too acknowledge her as a huge inspiration. There’s been so many times in my career where women have come up to me and Ann and said ‘Thank you for giving me the courage to play music’ and there’s no doubt that Joni Mitchell made a huge imprint on our culture in that same way.