The first song on Heart’s debut 1975 LP, Dreamboat Annie, is the epic, “Crazy On You.” The song, which begins with an acoustic riff that sounds like it’s being plucked by five or six hands (not just by one of guitarist, Nancy Wilson’s) leads into one of the most stalwart guitar licks of all time. Borne out of fits of passion amidst troubled political times (see: War, Vietnam), the track describes the desire to forget everything happening outside one’s windows and succumb to passion. With this song as the band’s introduction to new fans, it’s no wonder that Heart would later make the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame. We caught up with Nancy to ask her about the song’s origins, the time Eminem sampled it and much more.
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How did you come up with the opening section for “Crazy On You”?
The acoustic intro was called “Silver Wheels” and once we had “Crazy On You” going in the studio, I thought, “This is such a cool song!” The signature riff was one that Roger, our then-guitar player, came up with. There was a Moody Blues song [“Question”] that went, “Why do we never get an answer.” It had that part – ch, ch, ch, ch. That acoustic rhythm. We were kind of trying to write our own version of “Question.” Ann wrote those lyrics one day when I had a bad fever and I was sick. She came into show me the words and I’m like, “Oh my god, those are great!”
So, the song kind of happened pretty organic and quickly. But then when we had the song, we knew how much power it was wielding. I said, “This would be a great first song on the album!” I thought it should have fanfare, sort of like an introduction, almost like a thematic introduction. Dreamboat Annie had a couple of recurring motifs and themes throughout. We weren’t afraid to do conceptual stuff like that.
So, I sat down for a couple of days and I wanted to access – there was that song called “Angie” on one of the Paul Simon albums. An instrumental acoustic. And I knew I wanted something like that. A lot of times when you write songs, you’re sort of imitating something that you already really love. But you make it your own by the end of the day. So, yeah, it came together in every which way. But it worked out pretty well!
I remember seeing a live video of you playing “Crazy On You” and you hit all those harmonics and you were playing so fast.
I used to try to show off. I’d go to, you know – because I was pretty good at a young age. Because it consumed me. I just had to know how to play, you know? Like, Ann had that gift of singing. My gift and my contribution, I think, was the proficiency that I learned just the hard way. I’d go to a music store and pick out a guitar and sit there and play “Angie,” you know, or something complicated. And guys would go like, “Wow! Whoa! Look at that little girl go! That’s pretty good for a little girl like her.”
How did hearing stuff like that affect you?
I thought it was – I liked it. I wanted the compliment. You know, the “you’re pretty good for a girl” was always a little tougher to take. But still, I always wanted to just – I think I was proving it pretty hard there. Just at the start.
When you hear “Crazy On You” now, what does it summon up in your mind?
Oh, it’s a really fun song to do live. I mean, you know, it’s a difficult song to do live. But it’s really, it’s a choice on. It requires some rock-ercise, let’s just put it that way.
Rock-ercise? Is that exercise with rock?
Yes. You can’t just stand still. It’s got that energy, that infectious energy that, I think, really kind of soars every time.
There’s a salacious Vietnam-related backstory to the song’s origin. Can you talk about that a little bit?
When Ann was writing the lyrics, I know that she was – the times were very troubled, kind of like today. Very much like today. And, you know, it was kind of a call to your partner to be like, “I know the world is just insanely crazy here right now. But I just want us to go crazy together. To let it all just fall away so it’s only just you and me here!” So, I think that’s a really cool thing that she did in those words for sure.
Yes and bold and courageous. For you to call attention to your sexuality then wasn’t always the safest move at the time, right?
Yeah, it is provocative. It takes ownership of sexuality in a way that a guy would do it, you know?
Do you remember when the rapper Eminem sampled that song – were you part of those discussions?
Yeah. We heard from the powers that he wanted to try and sample that and we said, “Yes, absolutely!” Then, when he had the track, he showed up at one of our shows and played the track for us because it was so top-secret that he couldn’t send it around to anyone. So, he sat in the room and we listened to it with him and he liked it a lot and we liked him. He was a very cool, very sensitive dude. Really cool, really good guy. He was pretty complicated but super nice.
Do you remember why you two were enthusiastic to say yes to him sampling the song?
I thought it was cool to, like, blend up the genres. You can show up over here in somebody else’s world. It can double as making you not so stuck in your own genre, necessarily. You can be free to float through genres now and then.