Thursday, December 13, 2007

Heart - "Barracuda" (1977)

The most successful rock and roll sister act of all time. To guys living in college dorms, the Wilson sisters were a dream come true, and you could have your choice -- you want the raven-haired babe with the powerhouse vocal cords or the the cute blonde who jumped all around with her acoustic guitar? To quote Animal House, "Thank you God."

We had a taste of the Wilson sisters when they put out this one album Dreamboat Annie on the independent Mushroom label that featured two highly-charged rock hits with erotic undercurrents, "Magic Man" and the even better "Crazy On You." Seeing the group's potential, CBS stole them from Mushroom and put them on their Portrait label, and soon there was the album Little Queen.

"Barracuda," the album's first single, went through the roof but was remarkably influential to guitarists everywhere. At that time, you were considered "cool" on the guitar if you could play the acoustic introduction to Yes' "Roundabout," ditto Emerson, Lake & Palmer's "From The Beginning" and the opening distorted chord riffs and harmonics from "Barracuda" -- electric guitar definitely needed for this last one. Galloping lower E note up to the G, followed by the chord harmonics on G chord with the third inversion and then G sixth with the prominent E note (whammy bar for effect, of course).

But enough technicalities. This was all about these Seattle-based goddesses turning the tables on a sleazeball guy, the "barracuda" of the title, with typical Heart obscuro/symbolic lyrics which seem to refer to both sisters being burned by this same tosser:

Back over Time when we were all trying for free
Met up with porpoise and me
No right no wrong you're selling a Song - a name
whisper game

If the real thing don't do the trick
You better make up something quick
You gonna burn it out to the wick
aren't you, Barracuda?

"Sell me sell you" the porpoise said

Dive down deep to save my head
You... I think you got the blues too.

All that night and all the next
Swam without looking back
Made for the western pools - silly fools!

The porpoise? Is this supposed to be their twist on "I Am The Walrus?" Huh? Whatever. If the porpoise looked like Nancy Wilson, my best friend was Flipper. (Nancy went on to marry journalist/director/screenwriter Cameron Crowe.)

Heart was an amazingly crack rock band, with the guitarists employing all kinds of impressive trills, double solos, and distorted harmonics. And they were heavy, which was something you didn't associate with rare women-led rock bands. Remember, as per my previous post about Ian Dury, the radio was full of very frivolous pop/disco music, and Heart's thunder was like the anvil falling down at the opening of every Monty Python show.

Wading through many online clips of Heart doing "Barracuda" right up through a few years ago, I found this perfect one from the March 1978 California Jam 2 concert held at Ontario Motor Raceway.

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