Why Ann Wilson Had ‘Horrible Experience’ Making Heart’s ’80s Hits
Ann Wilson says she was miserable while recording Heart's massive mid-'80s albums.
The '70s hard rockers staged a monstrous comeback with their 1985 self-titled album, which shot to No. 1 on the Billboard 200, went quintuple platinum and spawned their first No. 1 hit on the Hot 100 with the mega-ballad "These Dreams." Two years later, they caught lightning in a bottle once again with the triple platinum Bad Animals and its chart-topping lead single, "Alone."
These albums and singles rejuvenated Heart's career, which by that point had been floundering for several years, and reinvented the band for the MTV era with a series of slick music videos. But in a new interview with Annie Zaleski of the Guardian, Wilson blamed producer Ron Nevison for ruining her experience of making Heart and Bad Animals.
He “felt that the only way to get a good performance out of me was to make me miserable, make me angry and to insult me,” Wilson said.
Many fans applaud Wilson's powerhouse vocals, particularly on "Alone," but she said the music Heart made at that time "succeeded in spite of me, because I don’t think I performed well. I sounded scared and blocked and tight. The producer has to know how to help you open up. I think it’s kind of like, when you’re with somebody, and maybe you’re making out and you want to make love. You don’t just hammer on them; you seduce them, right?”
Nevison seems to view those sessions differently. “Sometimes, in order to be a taskmaster, you have to put your foot down,” he said in the 2008 book Heart: In the Studio. “I never looked at myself as being difficult, but I’m demanding.”
In the end, Wilson described Heart's mid-'80s successes was a "Faustian bargain": "You go, ‘Yeah, we want to have a No. 1 record or two. And so we will do the dance.’ But my own ability to sustain that way of thinking is really short," she told the Guardian. "I just kind of wake up and go: ‘Well, you know, if having hit records means I have to be somebody else, then maybe I’ll just have records that aren’t huge hits. I’ll just do what really turns me on.’”
That's not to say Heart got off the rollercoaster of fame immediately. The band earned another multi-platinum album with 1990's Brigade, and reached No. 2 on the Hot 100 with the mega-ballad "All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You." They've released several more albums since then, the most recent being 2016's Beautiful Broken.
Wilson has kept busy as a solo artist as well, paying tribute to fallen rock legends including Tom Petty, David Bowie and Chris Cornell on her 2018 covers album Immortal and releasing a handful of singles over the past year. The most recent was a smoldering blues-rock number called "Black Wing." In July, Wilson will also reissue a four-song EP by her pre-Heart band, the Daybreaks.