If Looks Could Kill
What About Love
Nothin' at All
What He Don't Know
Although Heart’s second line-up had cut their teeth on 1983’s Passionworks, follow-up Heart feels like a debut. A new label, new producer and the decision to work with some of the finest hitmakers the West Coast could muster gave Heart a US No.1 album and five smash singles.
With this self-titled album came a bold makeover. Their music was retooled as super-slick AOR, outsider songwriters were brought in, the girls rocked Dynasty hairdos and frilly corsets – an easy sell for the fledgeling MTV network – and Heart began to pump out the hits. The album topped the US chart, as did These Dreams, an ethereal ballad sung by Nancy.
Other hits arrived with Never, Nothin’ At All and the monumental power ballad What About Love. Heart is one of the quintessential 80s AOR albums, and the best work of the band’s second imperial phase.
A number of rock bands that were big in the 70s benefitted from a second life in the 80s: ZZ Top. Yes. Queen. Genesis. Aerosmith. But Heart's transformation, which made them bigger than they’d ever been before, might just be the most remarkable. But it came at a cost.
“It was our most successful period,” says Ann. “But soulless, because of the cocaine phase everyone was in. It was a lot shallower and less rewarding, musically. The pressure was on to look and sound a certain way, and to not write your own songs. To take other songwriters’ songs and make hits out of them. If you objected, they wouldn’t help you – there was kind of a Mafioso vibe going on. It all got so bent out of shape.”
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.
Other albums released in June 1985
- Rites of Spring – Rites of Spring
- Boys and Girls – Bryan Ferry
- The Firstborn Is Dead – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
- The Beach Boys - The Beach Boys
- Empire Burlesque – Bob Dylan
- Fables of the Reconstruction – R.E.M.
- Little Creatures – Talking Heads
- Killing Is My Business... and Business Is Good! – Megadeth
- Invasion of Your Privacy – Ratt
- Misplaced Childhood – Marillion
- Theatre of Pain – Mötley Crüe
- Innocence Is No Excuse – Saxon
- Call of the Wild – Lee Aaron
- Fly on the Wall – AC/DC
- Love You to Pieces – Lizzy Borden
- World Wide Live - Scorpions
What they said...
"Its calculated mainstream bent may disarm some long-term fans, but it is true that they do this better than many of their peers, not just because they have good polished material from professional songwriters but because they can deliver this material professionally themselves. Yes, These Dreams, Never, and What About Love don't quite fit into the classic Heart mode, but they are good mid-'80s mainstream material, delivered as flawlessly as possible. There's still a lot of filler on this record, but the best moments are among the best mainstream AOR of its era. (AllMusic)
"Unfortunately, the album finishes with two of its weakest tunes. What He Don’t Know does offer some decent rock elements musically, with acoustic verses over a choppy rhythmic beat, but falters due to its totally trite lyrics. The closer, Shell Shock, seems to have even less substance as a formulaic rocker, which may strike a certain mood, but has little true musical substance." (Classic Rock Review)
"On Heart's latest comeback album, a desperate desire to make music that complies with current radio formats overwhelms what made the band interesting in the first place. Back in 1976, sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson had a bright, original idea, balancing a profound Led Zeppelin infatuation with some tight mainstream songwriting. Unfortunately that concept was the only one they ever fully developed. Nine albums on, Heart is running on fumes." (Rolling Stone)
What you said...
Oli Egan: I recently discovered this album and was pleasantly surprised. You reach a point where you have to forgive and look past the production and celebrate the fact that you're hearing real musicians who can actually play real tight in the studio. Those amazing singers. No autotune. See also Tango In The Night by Fleetwood Mac. If anything, for me the naff production is part of the charm.
The songs deserve the colourful production, even if it's slightly overdone at times. The main culprit is actually drum sounds, when it comes to a recording sounding dated. At this time, low, fat sounding snare drums drenched in reverb was the order of the day. Love this album, especially All Eyes which wouldn't sound out of place on Reckless by Bryan Adams.
Uli Hassinger: A deep dive into the 80s. I still have my original CD from 1985. Unfortunately three songs have mayor defects. Guess I have to replace it.
Back in the days this record was probably the closest I reached towards popular chart music. I usually listened to harder or older stuff, but this one was my go-to music when girls came by.
The songs are good throughout, but the production ruins the enjoyment to a great extent. Way too much treble and not enough bass. The best songs are the starters If Looks Could Kill and What About Love followed by What He Don't Know. What still gives you shivers is the superb singing of Ann Wilson.
The group's outfits are a great example of how weird it went in the 80s. Denny the drummer is my favourite freak. The hair, makeup and dresses turned the beautiful Ann and Nancy into punk-pirate-hookers. Ridiculous.
It's a good testament to its time, but I prefer their 70s output. 7/10.
Alex Hayes: It was only a few weeks ago that the Club covered Europe's Walk The Earth, prompting the admission from me that The Final Countdown was the first rock album that I ever owned. Now, here we are, throwing the second one under the microscope. Yep, Heart's self-titled 1985 set was only the second rock album that these, then callow, ears ever heard. From such inauspicious beginnings...
It will have been one of the album's hit singles that drew me towards it. I can't remember which one, but, take your pick, this album is loaded with them (If Looks Could Kill, Nothin' At All, These Dreams, Never, What About Love). I didn't know it at the time, but Heart (1985) was somewhat of a reimagining for the band. Comparatively down on their luck at the time, Heart allowed their new record label, Capitol, to take the reins of their career, and were thus given a makeover for the 80s, and then some. I mean, all you need to do is look at that cover. It's vivid colours and shoulder pads serve as a perfect visual primer for the music on offer here.
Do I still like it? Yeah, just about. However, it's very much a guilty pleasure, as the album is incredibly corny in places. Those guitar simulated wolf howls during the song of the same name are just cringe inducing. Both All Eyes and Nobody Home are as cheesy as all hell. In the former, as catchy a song as it is, those eyes are simultaneously 'touching me in the night' and 'tearing me up inside' apparently. Great lyrics them. Ahem. The latter track is a cloying ballad drowned in layers of sickly synths.
Ah, yes, those intrusive synths. Very much a sign of the times, and given equal prominence here, alongside the guitars and Ann Wilson's still-astounding lead vocals. If anything, Heart went even more overboard with the keyboards on the follow up, 1987's Bad Animals. Several songs on that album almost forego the guitars entirely, in favour of those lush synths, helping to push Heart's music even further into pop-rock territory. Hey, you know what though? It only went and worked. Both albums sold millions.
For me personally, Heart's 1985 album also managed to do something much more profound. It made this inquisitive young rock fan aware of the group's existence. Within a few years, I was listening to Dreamboat Annie, Little Queen and Dog And Butterfly, and thanking my lucky stars for the gateway drug that is Heart. It opened my eyes to a much larger world, and hopefully did the same for many other young rockers around the world. The albums detractors would do well to remember that.
Nostalgia is fuelling some of my appreciation of this album. Not entirely though, as I can openly acknowledge how dated and cliched it is in places. Not sure of a score yet, but it loses a mark for those aforementioned 'wolf howls'. Yuk.
Lee Dunton: This album rules! It's a great hard rock/pop LP by uber-talented professionals. Sounds great when cranked. Great songs, some of the best vocal work bar none, massive hooks... what's not to like?
I love all of Heart's oeuvre - up till Brigade. About the production, it's great.
Mini-rant: I'm so sick of 80s records - and basically only 80s records - being dismissed as "dated" or "tied to its era". Sgt. Peppers is very much tied to a specific time period. As is Nevermind. As is, say, London Calling or Never Mind the Bollocks. I'm not comparing Heart to those records quality-wise. But those records aren't dismissed as "dated" even though you can peg them to a certain time just as easily as any 80s record. Just being honest, that kind of talk about 80s records I like is probably my biggest pet peeve when discussing music with folks. Anyway, rock on y'all. I'm off to listen to ZZ Top - their totally "dated" but undeniably awesome 1985 LP Afterburner, obviously.
Evan Sanders: If I look at Heart's self-titled album just by itself, it is an entertaining and rocking 80's album, with songs that made the playlist of every classic rock station from the time. Songs like What About Love, Never, and These Dreams still sound good today. The problem with the album is for any of us who compare the band to their 70s version, wanting more folky songs like Magic Man and Dreamboat Annie. I'll give it a 7/10 and ignite a BIC lighter to the stadium rock pleasers.
Iain Macaulay: Jonathan king has a lot to answer for (on many levels, but let’s avoid the obvious elephant in the room). If it wasn’t for his 1985 BBC2 show No Limits this album wouldn’t have got a look in on my musical experience. That show introduced me to a lot of music that was simply treacle AOR and it did not fit my musical tastes. But it was a youth music programme, and there wasn’t many about to watch. The late great The Tube being the notable exception.
However, this album was played to death on that show and between listening to Metallica and The Cult and Marillion, etc it was not my taste. Yet, for some reason it stuck and I went out and bought it. Call it a guilty secret if you will. But then I investigated their back catalogue and was pleasantly surprised. Listening to this album now, there are a few good songs on it but they are buried so deep in a production that makes it very much of its time. To say that I realised this week I haven’t listened to this album since the 80’s probably says a lot. A classic band, yes, but a classic album, unfortunately no.
Brian Carr: Heart was a band that for some reason or another, I never really explored their full albums (and yes, I posted a similar comment four plus years ago when we gave Dreamboat Annie a listen).
The eighties was the decade where my music love greatly expanded, so I don’t mind the whole eighties vibe. I remember the hits from Heart’s self-titled smash, but never bought it. To my ears, the hits are hits for a reason - they are absolute ear candy for those that love mainstream rock. My favourite tracks are usually the lesser known gems - If Looks Could Kill, The Wolf and Shell Shock fit the bill fairly well here. There are two or three filler tracks on side two (All Eyes, What He Don’t Know), but the solid tunes outnumber those.
I can definitely see why Heart would fall flat to many rock fans. However, I like the album quite a bit, and am glad it gained the band some success, though it’s a bummer it was so record label dictated.
Mike Canoe: I already know half of this album by... um... heart, from countless radio plays and “Best of the ‘80s” and compilations. If I'm in the car and If Looks Could Kill comes on the radio, I might not change the station. Nothin' at All or Never are 50/50 depending on my mood, but heaven help me if my wife recognises the opening notes to What About Love? or These Dreams before I can find another song because I'll be stuck in lukewarm musical treacle for the next four minutes.
While I certainly felt no need to buy their 1985 self-titled album, I was sympathetic towards why Heart (or their record label) felt they needed to shift their sound. I'm reasonably sure I only heard (and saw) great rockers like How Do I Refuse and City's Burning on baby MTV and that either got little to no radio play in my area. Unfortunately, both those songs and the albums they came from pretty much flopped.
Fast forward a few years and MTV has gone from feisty upstart to tastemakers supremo. In Heart's case, the visual change was as shocking as the change in music. Instead of cool rocker chicks and dudes, all five Heart members were now a nightmare of teased 80s hair and wearing faux Renaissance outfits that we teased Adam Ant about a few years earlier.
And what's the sonic equivalent of '80's hair other than flabby 80s keyboards? Sometimes, like on opener, If Looks Could Kill, they augment the song while on What About Love? or These Dreams they threaten to overwhelm even Ann Wilson's mighty voice. The keyboards also diminish the six-string input of underrated longtime guitarist Howard Leese, who, according to Wikipedia, played the keyboards along with Nancy Wilson. I guess that at least gave them something to do besides moodily staring at the cameras in the music videos.
Of the "new to me" songs, The Wolf and Shell Shock are easy sells but All Eyes is a surprising little charmer, all flirtatious looks and shy smiles. Nobody Home is more coma-inducing keyboard mawkishness and What He Don't Know might as well be.
The success was the proverbial two-edged sword: Massive commercial success for a few more years but the same trouble all bands like them had for most of the nineties - with the added sting that they were from Seattle long before Seattle was a thing!
Fortunately, like most bands of a certain vintage, popular opinion came back around and, whether you came in at Dreamboat Annie or this album or their brief late 90s stint as the Lovemongers or through one of many greatest hits compilations, they leave an enjoyable and enduring musical legacy behind.
Gary Phelps: Those were good songs, even though they were a tad overproduced.
Richard Cardenas: Not a fan. I’ve tried and have never had the desire to continue listening to their music. I do, however, appreciate what great musicians are on these records.
Peter Barron: I enjoyed it a bit in the 80s but pretty unlistenable now due to the production. Ann Wilson is still on great form, and good to see 70s sidemen heroes Mark Andes of Spirit and Denny Carmassi of Montrose get a decent paying gig, but not only is it not up to the standard of, say, Dog And Butterfly, it isn't even a patch on Private Audition.
Gary Claydon: Right, what have we got here then? Big hair. A load of ballads. Overblown production. Cheese. More cheese. Yep, it's the mid-80s and we've landed smack-bang in the middle of MTV driven, style-over-substance-land.
I have absolutely no problem with bands sailing into more commercial waters. They gotta make a living, after all. Doesn't mean I have to like the end product, though, and this sort of lightweight pop-rock is distinctly not to my taste. The emphasis is very heavily on the 'pop' with precious little rock in evidence. This wasn't a 'natural' progression, either. It was more an overt, label-dictated bid for mainstream success. Which worked. In spades. As they've admitted a number of times since, though, even Ann and Nancy weren't entirely happy with the whole process.
All of which is a bit of a shame. I like Heart but with no room for either of the Wilson sisters to stretch out the whole thing feels soulless and contrived. That particularly applies to Ann's wonderful vocals, which seem almost strangled here. The use of outside writers might have brought the hits but also resulted in a loss of identity.
Ron Nevison has some fine work to his credit (including the greatest live album of all time) and, in fairness, he doesn't completely swamp Heart in technology, which was the fate of numerous albums of this era. Nonetheless, the production is still so slick that the LP is likely to slide right off your turntable. Which is where it's gonna stay, in this instance. Right off my turntable. 3/10.
Bill Griffin: Competent enough pop for what it is but a major disappointment for the band's legacy. One of my favorite bands previously but I stopped listening at this point. It became all too contrived and they ended up on independent labels anyway. They would have been better served (musically, if not financially) by going the independent route at this point.
Philip Qvist: I am going to be open minded for this review - and will probably go against conventional wisdom when I say that I actually like this album, and follow up Bad Animals. Even Passionworks had some good tracks on it.
I know that this period of Heart (the 80s) has been disowned by many people, not least of all the Wilson sisters themselves, but the best way to approach the album Heart is to ignore their 70s output - and see this as a new, and different, phase of Ann, Nancy and co.
The songs are all solid, Ann's voice is magnificent as always, Nancy gives a great performance herself on These Dreams while Howard Leese is also on top form. The fact that they used outside songwriters is a sore point, and both sisters have been vocal about it - but in this case it might not be a bad thing; These Dreams, What About Love, If Looks Could Kill and Never are all great tunes. Combined with tracks like The Wolf and Shell Shock, and you have an album that shouldn't be so easily dismissed.
Yes, I admit it - Dreamboat Annie, Little Queen and Dog And Butterfly will remain my to go to Heart albums, but I still have to give this one an 8/10.
Chris Longshaw: As a teenager this album and Bad Animals were my ‘gateway drugs’ into Heart as my Dad regularly played the tapes in the car. I became a huge fan, scouring record shops for their back catalogue, singles, 12” and imports. So for me this album will always be a favourite. It also secured the band global awareness, without which they would have remained little known outside of US/Canada. Best to think of this stage of Heart's career like the two phases of Fleetwood Mac. Different bands with the same name. 9/10 for me.
John Davidson: I bought this when it came out and, in the context of the times, it really hit the spot. Glossy, sing-a-long rock that even your non rock loving girlfriend would dance along to in the living room.
Does it sound dated today? Sadly yes. It's mostly the keyboards that are to blame, but the arrangements and production are as mid 80s as an episode of Dynasty or a John Hughes brat-pack teenage comedy-drama.
There are glimpses of the Heart that produced Barracuda and Crazy On You lurking behind the lip gloss, perms and shoulder-pads, particularly when they let rip a little bit on The Wolf, but if you had only ever seen them on MTV you probably wouldn't notice.
Side 1 has all the obvious hits, plus The Wolf and on that basis its definitely the stronger of the two despite the heavy reliance on outside writers. When the Wilson sisters try to recreate the glam pop rock formula on the likes of Nobody Home and What He Doesn't Know they don't quite believe in the formula enough to pull it off.
Shell Shocked is better and lifted by a decent guitar solo at the end but still nowhere near their best work. The semi-acoustic rendition of These Dreams on the live album The Road Home may lack the bombast of the original but it shows there is a decent song structure underneath the artifice.
An interesting curiosity and revisit of a period that musical taste forgot, but best left there I think.
Banjo Le Blade: This album was a gateway for a young boy into Ratt and Dokken etc. Loved it, then moved on.
Chris Elliott: It's very much of it's time. Nice enough radio rock although it does sound dated. They were always much more popular in the US than the UK and very much that US rock sound - their "classic" albums just leave me cold - this is pleasant if forgettable. Theres so many better records that capture that period - and have either aged better - or are more familiar thus nostalgic.
Ralf Weßbecher: Big Hair, big shoulders, big sound. And not to forget big money. I'm a child of the eighties, and this album and the two follow-ups where milestones. I like the old stuff and also the new records. But this was the eighties stuff. A lot of bands changed their style in the eighties – look at Whitesnake – they become hair monsters at this time.
Greg Schwepe: Easy review as this one was on auto repeat on every cassette player I owned back when it came out. When you want to make an 80s Rock Record, this is how you do it. I mentioned in another review that I also like “slick and polished” albums… and this fits the bill, but in a good way.
I’ve been a fan of Heart since Magazine and I was on a “buy it or borrow and record it” rotation on most of their catalogue. And maybe a lot of us lost interest a little after Bebe Le Strange. OK, who’s in that category? Let’s see your hands. Mine is raised.
So, to make a record with a bigger impact, what do you do? You follow the successful 80s formula; turn up the guitars and make it loud. Add a ballad (or two) for balance, and make a lot of videos that fit the times. Oh, and make the album title nice and simple; Heart. And I’m not trying to sound negative about this “80s formula” as a lot of bands veered a little from their original style to great effect. Think 80s-era Yes and ZZ Top, to name a few.
And I hesitate to say that making this totally rocking album made the Wilson sisters relevant again, because it’s not like they fell down the ladder to where nobody knew who they were. This album was a big old “Yep, we’re still here!” message to a lot of the public.
The common denominator here are Ann Wilson’s vocals, some of the best in the business; "powerhouse." And on the guitar end you have Howard Leese and Nancy Wilson giving the power chords and whammy bars a workout. What you won’t find on this album are any flute passages or acoustic guitar sections. Those took a back seat this time out. If Looks Could Kill opens up the album and quickly tells you that Heart is kind of going for the jugular this time around. The Wolf and the closing Shell Shock are in a similar vein.
Now while the flute and acoustic guitar may be gone this time, you have some incredible sing alongs; What About Love?, Never, and the #1 hit These Dreams. Ironically, Heart’s only #1 song and this one is sung by Nancy, not Ann. Wouldn’t have mattered who sang it.
If you’re willing to go along for the ride as Heart tries out a slightly different formula for success, this is an album worth checking out. The two albums after this get a little formulaic (but I still liked them!) and leave you yearning for something back to their Dog And Butterfly days. But back in the 80s where things were loud, extreme, and you also had to compete in the MTV world, this was a sign of the times.
Final score: 7.06 (81 votes cast, total score 572)
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