What Do the Lyrics to the Vengeful Heart Song “Barracuda” Mean?

In the 1970s, a sister-led band from the Pacific Northwest made big waves. It was a unique time in rock music in that one of the genre’s biggest acts was not male-dominated. No, the female-fronted band led by sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson was one of a kind.

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With that, though, came its own sets of problems. Namely, sexism and sexualization that other male-fronted bands of its time maybe didn’t experience. Or didn’t experience in the same way. This is the fabric from which Heart’s hit song, “Barracuda,” was written.

Bad Press

Speaking to American Songwriter, Heart’s six-string player Nancy Wilson told a story about a man who made some very inaccurate insinuations.

“There was this one sleazy guy at a record company or promoter — I can’t even remember where from, exactly,” Nancy said. “You know that type; there’s a lot of those kinds of guys in this business. And he was like,  because of our album cover where we had bare shoulders touching … ‘So, Ann, how’s your lover?’ And she goes, ‘Oh, yeah, Mike’s [Fisher] great!’ And he goes, ‘No, no, I mean your sister, haha!’

“So, the insinuation that we were lovers was, of course, not anywhere near true and really sleazy and inappropriate. We were just young enough, just idealistic enough to take it pretty badly and have a lot of anger around it, insult around it.”

The promoter was from Mushroom Records, who, as a publicity stunt, made up the incestuous story about the sisters.

The Song is Written

With that rage burning inside, the band’s big-voiced singer Ann Wilson got to writing.

“So Ann went and fired off those words and we finished it maybe that night or the next day,” Nancy recalled. “[Guitarist] Roger [Fisher] had a riff that was a bit of a rip of a Nazareth song. They had covered a Joni Mitchell song called ‘This Flight Tonight.’ And it was the same dug-ug-a-dug sound. So, they [Nazareth] were a little PO’d with us. We kind of took that vibe and ran with it with our ‘Barracuda’ song. I mean, you know, that’s before you could sue anybody for anything like that. (Laughs.) And it wasn’t the same, anyway.”

Revenge: The Lyrics

The imagery in the song has a lot to do with fish lurking in the weeds, dolphins going deep under water. But the key phrase in the song comes in the fourth and then the very last stanza, when Ann sings her lyrics,

And if the real thing don’t do the trick
You better make up something quick
You gonna burn, burn, burn, burn, burn to the wick
Ooh, barracuda, oh, yeah

Indeed, the man is turned into a big, devilish fish. The barracuda. And he is lurking to get—to kill—his prey. In the song’s second stanza, Ann sings,

You lyin’ so low in the weeds
I bet you gonna ambush me
You’d have me down, down, down, down on my knees
Now wouldn’t you?
Barracuda, oh

“‘Barracuda’ was created conceptually out of a lot of this record business bullshit,” Ann about the writing to MixOnline. “Barracuda could be anyone from the local promotion man to the president of a record company. That is the barracuda. It was born out of that whole experience.”

Photo by Epic/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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