Album Of The Week Club Review: Heart - Little Queen

"We were unusual among friends at school in that we wanted to wanted to be The Beatles rather than marry them” - Ann Wilson

TODO alt text

When Heart's Little Queen was released, it was initially feared that the album’s sales would be diffused by Magazine, a half-finished compilation released by the band's former label. Mushroom. However, Little Queen immediately smashed into the Top 10 of the Billboard album chart, going on to sell triple platinum. Little Queen was not just a commercial success, it was also a record of significant artistic accomplishment; many Heart fans consider it their best work. Lead track and first single, Barracuda, set the scene, with its galloping pace, supercharged guitar riff and Ann’s vocals reaching for the stars (and beyond).

The production, by Mike Flicker (with Howard Leese as additional guitarist/keyboard player), showcased the band in magnificent style, mashing exquisite folk elements with searing hard rock riffs. Tracks like Love Alive, Kick It Out and the caustic title cut positioned the band as major contenders, Ann and Nancy taking centre stage both musically and visually. Indeed, the allure of the two Wilson sisters became something of a hot potato with the rest of the band, as it was becoming increasingly clear that the world was viewing Heart as more of a duo, with a backing band.

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. Join the group now.

Here’s what we learned about Little Queen!

Background

The sleeve of Heart's debut album, Dreamboat Annie, drew plenty of unwanted attention by certain sleazy factions of the notoriously sexist music industry – the artwork showed Ann and Nancy bare-shouldered and back to back – and before they knew it it, was being suggested in the press that they were lesbian sisters. 

“There was a print ad, ‘it was only our first time’, that intimated that there was something more between us than just being sisters,” Nancy recalls. Nearly 20 years later, ‘it was only their first time’ has developed into something the Wilsons joke about, but at the time they were furious. 

The cloud did have a silver lining, though, as it was their fury than spurred the writing of one of Heart’s early signature songs, Barracuda, the track that led off Little Queen, the follow-up album. At a party after a show, Ann was approached by a record executive who intimated that the lesbian rumours were true. She responded by leaving the party and writing the lyrics for that song. And the rest is history. 

Other albums released in May 1977

Denny Laine - Holly Day
Roger Daltrey - One of the Boys
The Jam - In the City
Genesis - Spot the Pigeon
Dixie Dregs - Free Fall
Peter Frampton - I'm in You
38 Special - 38 Special
Steve Miller Band - Book of Dreams
Ted Nugent - Cat Scratch Fever
10cc - Deceptive Bends
Poco - Indian Summer
UFO - Lights Out
The Tubes - Now
The Gregg Allman Band - Playin' Up a Storm
Prism - Prism
Sandy Denny - Rendezvous
Dr. Feelgood - Sneakin' Suspicion
Little Feat - Time Loves a Hero

They said...

"After acquiring a substantial following with Dreamboat Annie, Heart solidified its niche in the hard rock and arena rock worlds with the equally impressive Little Queen. Once again, loud-and-proud, Led Zeppelin-influenced hard rock was the thing that brought Heart the most attention. But while Barracuda and Kick It Out are the type of sweaty rockers one thought of first when Heart's name was mentioned, hard rock by no means dominates this album. In fact, much of Little Queen consists of such folk-influenced, acoustic-oriented fare as Treat Me Well and Cry to Me." (AllMusic)

"The album loses a bit of steam through its closing mini-suite, the acoustic ballad Cry to Me and the long, repetitive sequences of Go On Cry, which feels mainly like filler to end this otherwise fine album." (Classic Rock Review)

"Dreamboat Annie proved that, in lean times, a few good songs can go a long way commercially, but three songs still don't qualify an LP as a good one. While there's little doubt that Little Queen will do well financially, Heart needs to realize the potential of its obvious talents if it seeks to gain a lasting audience." (Rolling Stone)

"Heart's switch to the small-roster CBS Portrait label finds the Northwestern sextet proving irrefutably that sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson can sing, write and play rock with all the hard drive and mystically lush overtones Fleetwood Mac is renowned for. The Wilson ladies are complete rockers without putting on any fake pseudo-macho butchiness. The Mike Flicker production brings lavish colors to the string-picking and synthesizer virtuosity of this brilliant group." (Billboard

What you said...

Robert Dunn: Confession - I had never listened to this album before it was suggested here. To be honest, if I had I would probably have written it off as yet another fairly soft rock album compared to my usual fare, which would have been very unfair. Listening to it now with a less biased ear, it is a very good album full of very good songs, and in Heart they have the second best female rock vocalist ever in Ann Wilson. 

In my opinion the best is Elkie Brooks, although Maggie Bell could also be a contender. But back to Heart. For me this album is now on my playlist, filed in the same section as Pat Travers, and I will definitely be listening to more of their albums after this one. And if anyone is not convinced about Heart, look for the footage of them doing Stairway to Heaven for Robert Plant and Jimmy Page.

Jim Linning: I obviously never got on with mid-late 70s American rock. Last week Alice Cooper and now this! For me, this sort of album is one of the reasons I (as a 17 year old) got into punk and new wave. Turgid and formulaic music for the FM masses. Blimey, when I first heard Barracuda I thought it was a new one from Budgie. 

Tom Dee: Liked Dreamboat Annie but lost interest after that. I did buy this album but only played it a couple of times. Barracuda is a good rock song but rest is just ordinary. Not one of the better Album of the Week choices, similar to last week's Alice offering. Both not for me in my opinion. But that is what this forum is about.

Steve Ballinger: I came to this album only in recent years. Their 80’s output didn’t do it for me too much, but this album is an absolute gem. It gets regular spins and is one of my faves.

Gary Torborg: One of the several reasons why 1977 was the best year for rock music, ever. Both this album and Magazine kick serious butt. But yeah, this is really the most solid set of songs by the Wilson sisters.

Emiel Lange: Although I do like most of the stuff they did in the eighties, I have to say that their earlier songs feel more real to me. Can't help but wonder what their eighties songs would have sounded like had they not been produced the 80's way. A band like Whitesnake is another good example of before and after.

John Edgar: I've always enjoyed the first phase of Heart, and this album is my overall favorite from that period. I saw the tour for this album, I believe on New Year's Night. It was a great show.

Joe Cogan: This is the greatest Led Zeppelin album that Led Zeppelin didn't record. Absolutely brilliant. But Dreamboat Annie is even better, especially for Crazy on You.

John Naples: Great album! Their first 4 or 5 albums were great. Plus, I had a huge crush on Ann in the mid 70's. Had this on 8 Track and would listen to it over and over. Her voice was and still is just awesome! 

Graham Judd Got into Heart after seeing them on the Old Grey Whistle Test. Remember buying Little Queen. Loved tracks Love Alive and Dream Of The Archer.

Ian SD: Amazingly, Dreamboat Annie is actually a better album. I loved these two musicians in equal aplomb. But, Anne's vocals at times! As good as Rock gets. As for Girl Power? These two competed head-on with this generally male-orientated genre... and won.

Steve Pilkerton: Not sure about this. It is better than the stuff they did in the 80s though. Might have to give it a few more listens.

Nick Potter: From a classic era, a classic band. They epitomised american rock. Obviously Barracuda standout track, but the whole album is excellent.

John Davidson: Some classic tracks on Side 1, especially opener Barracuda, but the musicianship and composition of Love Alive and Dream of the Archer were also top notch. The Led Zep influences are there plain as day, but none the worse for that. Side 2 is ok, but doesn't have any of the killer tracks. Overall I'd give it a 4/5

Jim Husk: They were hanging out in Vancouver in the 70’s playing clubs and bars and they rocked starting out with Dreamboat Annie and the carried it through into Little Queen, two straight up fun rock albums. I wish they would have stayed on the edgy side as opposed to the radio friendly ballads of the 80’s... regardless, good time rock'n'roll on Little Queen.

William Ray Bailey: Barracuda is Barracuda... but when you listen to the whole album...I hear such a variety of vibes...Led Zeppelin to Linda Ronstadt to 38 Special to Sheryl Crow to Joni Mitchell to Steely Dan...

Paul Nadin-Salter: When I first heard Crazy on You, I was sold on this band. They have the same feel as Led Zep for dynamics in their songs, and great melodies. I didn't have this so went out and bought it this week, thanks for the great recommendation, love this discussion group, long may it continue.

Mike Knoop: Heart is another band I always liked at the greatest hits level but not much more. As a teen, I bought Dreamboat Annie for Magic Man and Crazy On You and was horrified by all the soft folky songs that sounded like background music for a 70's "coming of age" flick. After that, I was always wary of getting in too deep.

So, Little Queen was a splendid surprise. Sure, there is still plenty of acoustic stuff, but it's more Led Zeppelin III acoustic than Judy Collins acoustic, especially Sylvan Song and Dream of the Archer. The harmonizing vocals on Say Hello. Cry to Me, and Go On Cry are spellbinding. I didn't hear Love Alive until the 90's and assumed that they were covering Mother Love Bone or something. And, of course, Barracuda and Kick It Out are still great rockers.

So, hooray for the ladies. Only the club's second lead female pick, if I remember right. Pretenders, Suzi Quatro, Runaways anybody? 

Also would be cool to pick more bands not from the UK or USA. I think Thin Lizzy is the only one that fits the bill so far and that was recorded (or not recorded) in the US and UK. How about some international love for Scorpions, Rush, AC/DC, Triumph, Accept, Hanoi Rocks, Neil Young, Golden Earring, Santana, April Wine, BTO, the Church, Mercyful Fate,...?

OK, stepping off soapbox and going to crank up some Powerage.

Carl Black: Confused by this album. A very rocky first track, then a few songs that would not sound out of place at Woodstock. We are a long way from Bad Animals which is what I know them for. In fact it's only the vocals that I can pick out as the same. The tracks seemed to tail off at the end. Not my thing.

Keith Armstrong: Fantastic classic record. I was 11 at the time. One Saturday morning I accompanied my mother to Krogers (grocery store). Right next door was Super X Drugs. They had a display rack containing the weekly top 10 '45's. I bought Barracuda for 99 cents. That was the first piece of vinyl i bought with my own money.

Lynott Sykes: Good call ! Made me realize that this nice vinyl still sounded pretty good after 40 years! Barracuda is the riff-driven rock anthem that everyone knows, but don't forget the underrated Love Alive, with its beautiful acoustic intro building into a classic rock song. And also the energetic rocker Kick it Out

The rest is mainly Zeppelin-influenced folk rock, Dream Of The Archer and Say Hello displaying Ann's singing skills. Such a heavenly voice.

I've always been a bit disappointed with the end of the album. Side 2 delivers less than Side 1 and goes softer, Cry To Me is a nice emotive ballad followed by Go On Cry which sounds weird, almost like a jam song, and I never really got into those two...

Maybe not my favorite Heart album, but still a pleasure to listen to.

Brian Carr: Traditionally I am much more into original albums than greatest hits, but for some reason I had never dug into Heart’s catalog. Little Queen has some strong elements, but ultimately left me relatively lukewarm.

I really liked the album from a sonic standpoint. Strong guitar playing throughout and Ann’s voice is strong and beautiful. The layered acoustic instruments on Love Alive, Sylvan Song/Dream of the Archer and others are nice. And you can call them out for Zep-like qualities, but to my memory Robert Plant never had vocal harmonies like the Wilson sisters.

I think the songs overall are hit and miss. Barracuda rocks, Love Alive and Kick It Out are decent songs, I suppose. The title track really moved the meter for me - I’d heard it before, but never really ‘listened’. What a great groove and excellent breakdown in the middle! 

But the rest? Sylvan/Archer sounds great, but I’m still not sure if it’s a good song. The last four tracks did little for me, though I could see Cry To Me growing on me with a few more listens. Go On Cry sounds nice, but also feels like padding. I’d rate Little Queen 6.5 out of 10.

Final Score: 6.98 ⁄10 (172 votes cast, with a total score of 1201)