4 Classic Heart Songs You Didn’t Know Guitarist Nancy Wilson Wrote

When Heart first arrived on the rock scene in the mid-‘70s, the future Rock & Roll Hall of Fame band built their success largely on the original songs of sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson. Ann was the powerhouse lead singer, but Nancy was the chief architect of the band’s sound as its primary guitarist. The pair’s songcraft also played a huge part in what made the band special. Outside writers penned many of Heart’s resurgent ‘80s hits, but the early classics were all the Wilson sisters.

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The relationship between the Wilsons experienced some rough patches over the years, but in the 2020s some inferences that new Heart music with the feel of their earliest stuff might be on the horizon. Since many naturally assume the singer of the song is the writer of the song, you wouldn’t be alone in thinking Ann Wilson wrote those early classics without any help. But Nancy Wilson was on board as co-writer for the following four gems that are now part of the unofficial Great American Classic Rock Songbook.

1. “Crazy on You” (from the album Dreamboat Annie, 1975)

Heart came busting out of the gate with the Top 10 single “Magic Man” off their debut album, Dreamboat Annie. But there are a lot of bands who have failed after a hot start, which is why “Crazy on You” was such a crucial song for the band in that it solidified their status.

You could argue that it might be an even more dynamic track than “Magic Man,” which gets bogged down in some of its proggier elements. “Crazy on You” just always seems to be on the rise, and that’s in large part to its musical components, which was Nancy’s area of expertise. Her furiously-strummed acoustic guitar gives the song the rhythmic thrust that plays off the big electric riff. There’s also a thrilling modulation, featuring Ann and Nancy’s ethereal backing vocals, that goes back into the final refrain. The music is the perfect accompaniment to the lyrical focus on passion as the perfect antidote to frightening current events.

[RELATED: Behind the Lyrics of Heart’s “Crazy On You”]

2. “Barracuda” (from the album Little Queen, 1977)

Here’s another case where Nancy’s musical ideas proved to be the ideal compliment to Ann’s lyrics. (Guitarist Roger Fisher and drummer Michael Derosier also received songwriting credits on “Barracuda.”) Ann was inspired by the bizarre promotional efforts of their first record label to write the searing words. Nancy then helped out with the melody, while also helping to formulate the thunderous guitar riff that opens the song. The end result is a furious depiction of a narrator fighting back against a would-be predator by exposing their misdeeds for all the world to see.

3. “Straight On” (from the album Dog & Butterfly, 1978)

One of the ways that a band can sustain longevity in a field as competitive as rock music is to show the versatility that will help to withstand trends without losing their identity in the process. Heart started to do that in the late ‘70s, when they showed they had more sides to their approach than just pounding hard rock.

The album Dog & Butterfly was particularly sharp in that respect. There was the fetching, folk-inspired title track. And then there’s “Straight On,” which blasted its way into the Top 20 upon its release in 1978. As disco began to flex its muscle on the charts, the Wilson sisters, in conjunction with co-writer Sue Ennis, concocted this sleek number, which has more than a little hip-swivel to it, while still staying true to Heart’s hard-rocking roots.

4. “Even It Up” (from the album Bebe Le Strange, 1980)

Nancy Wilson co-wrote this song, the first single of the ‘80s for Heart, again with Ann Wilson and Sue Ennis. “Even It Up” finds the band continuing to spread their wings with a new sound, in this case provided largely by their usage of the Tower of Power horn section that popped up on many hit singles around that time.

The lyrics ostensibly talk about the balance of power in a relationship. But Ann Wilson later explained that the way the sisters were often treated by others as they tried to make their way as women in a male-dominated rock music scene played a role in its creation as well.

Photo by Richard Creamer/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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