A towering, 12-tier wedding cake of a song accompanied by a leather- ’n’-lace-heavy video that looked like it had been wrenched from the dreams of gothic novelist Anne Rice, this slab of baroque drama gave the Seattle band their biggest ever US hit, and sealed their resurgence following a career-threatening slump in the first half of the decade.
But what most of the record buyers who helped propel the song to No.1 in the US didn’t realise was that Ann and Nancy Wilson didn’t write it. Alone was written by Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg, a pair of jobbing songwriters who had each been kicking around the fringes of the music industry for a decade before joining forces in 1981.
Two years later, they released their debut album, Taking A Cold Look, under the name i-Ten. Despite being co-produced by Toto’s Steve Lukather, the album sank without trace. Yet the few people who did buy it heard the original version of Alone.
i-Ten’s version didn’t sound a million miles away from Heart’s later take on it, with stark verses interrupted by crashing piano chords and big, bombastic drums. But when Taking A Cold Look flopped, Steinberg and Kelly swiftly ditched their dream of becoming rock’n’roll stars to focus on writing for other people.
“Tom and I sort of set it aside when that record didn’t succeed,” Steinberg later said of Alone. “I just put those songs in a drawer and forgot about them.”
By 1987, Kelly and Steinberg were two of the most in-demand songwriters around, thanks to a hot streak that included Madonna’s Like A Virgin and Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors. When they heard Heart were after a power ballad for their next album, Kelly suggested sending them Alone. His partner was unconvinced.
“I winced and said: “Oh, I don’t really want to look at that song,’” Steinberg recalled.
Heart themselves had their own reservations. They’d enlisted outside writers for 1985’s career-reviving Heart album, but, as singer Ann Wilson told Rolling Stone in 2016: “We were over the whole [outside writer] thing.”
But after some gentle persuasion on both sides, Kelly and Steinberg sent in a re-recorded and slightly tweaked version of the song, subtly altering some of the lyrics and turbo-charging the melody. Kelly even chipped in with backing vocals on the new version.
The result, given a none-more-1987 wallop by producer Ron Nevison, was an instant hit, spending three weeks at No.1 in the US and establishing i-Ten’s lost orphan of a song as one of the defining anthems of the period.
“There are still songs we love to perform from that era, like Alone,” Heart guitarist Nancy Wilson said in 2017. “Although when we do it now, we take the wedding-cake production out of it.”