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Heart Attack

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Heart (lead vocalist Ann Wilson, singer-guitarist Nancy Wilson, drummer Michael Derosier, bassist Steve Fossen and keyboardist Howard Leese) is a curious marriage of musical opposites. The most commercially successful Heart songs – "Magic Man," "Barracuda" and "Crazy on You" – graft heavy-metal musicianship to emotional, image-laden lyrics. This unlikely combination is held together by Ann's powerful, three-octave soprano. She can belt and screech the hardest rock tune, then slide through every delicate nuance of a tender folk ballad.

Ann and Nancy did not live together during most of the five years that Heart has been in the public eye. Nancy was romantically involved with Roger Fisher, Heart's original guitarist, and Ann was living with Roger's brother, Mike, the group's soundman and first manager. There have been some changes. A year and a half ago, Nancy broke up with Roger; he remained in the band, however, until October, just as Heart was about to record Bebe le Strange. Ann and Mike Fisher had been together for nine years. Then, one morning last October, Ann woke up and telephoned her mother, her sister and her childhood friend, Sue Ennis. They came over to the house she shared with Mike and loaded all her belongings into her Land-Rover.

"Wham! It hit me just like that," Ann remembers. "In the car, driving back to Nancy's house, it occurred to me – this is really over. The whole business was finished in six hours." The tears, she says, lasted considerably longer.

Ann, Nancy and Sue Ennis have shared the house in the woods ever since. "This place is like a girls' dorm right now," Sue giggles. A doctoral candidate in Germanic literature at Berkeley, Ennis has been writing songs with the Wilson sisters since high school. She collaborated on most of the material on Dog & Butterfly and Bebe le Strange. Disillusioned with academic life, she took up Ann's longstanding invitation to move back to Washington and work on songwriting full time.

They make an interesting trio: the wisecracking older sister, the delicate younger one and the tall, serious, angular best friend. A day at the house with the women is alternately sober and giddy. They will sit in the living room, doodle with the piano, hash out new song ideas in hour-long sessions (this is how much of Bebe le Strange was written). They will run over to Nancy's jukebox, press a few buttons and dance vintage 1965 steps to "Poison Ivy" and "Wooly Bully." They have a volume of inside jokes, and tend to finish each other's sentences:

"Do you remember the strange night . . . ?" Ann begins.

"The night we went to Shakey's?" says Sue.

"Oh, God, the faces on those people!" Nancy adds.

Then they will convulse in chuckles and translate for strangers.

"You see," Ann explains, "this is about . . . well, the song 'Strange Night' on the new album is about one night when the three of us dressed up really weird and went over to Shakey's Pizza Parlor. It was a real family place, and Wednesday was singalong night, and there'd be all these parents and grandparents and kids and stuff there, singing 'Old MacDonald.' We drove up, walked in and just stood there for a while, just to freak everybody out."

"The song lyrics of 'Strange Night' are about that," Nancy adds. " 'Get out that wig . . . put on those shiny pointed shoes . . . we'll have a strange night.' "

"The funny thing is that people have come up to us and asked if the song is about a drag queen," Ann snorts, "Can you beat that? I think they are disappointed when we tell them the real story. People want you to be decadent, and racy. Then they find out you're just writing about some girls!

"But," she asks, "don't you think it's more fun our way?"

Ann laughs and walks into her bedroom for a minute. She swings the door shut; there's a photograph tacked to it: Paul McCartney.

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Song Stories

“Nightshift”

The Commodores | 1984

The year after soul legends Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson died, songwriter Dennis Lambert asked members of the Commodores to give him a tape of ideas. "And the one from Walter Orange has this wonderful bass line," said co-writer Franne Golde. "Plus the lyric, 'Marvin, he was a friend of mine' ... Within 10 minutes, we had decided it should be something like a modern R&B version of 'Rock 'n' Roll Heaven,' and I just said, 'Nightshift.'" This tribute to the recently deceased musicians was the band's only hit without Lionel Richie, who had left for a solo career.

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