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Top 6 Heart Songs of the '80s

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For Heart's '80s song output, Ann and Nancy Wilson endured a reduction in their creative output with class and grace, taking solid compositions from professional writers and turning them into some of the finest hits of the '80s. This newfound pop sound may have been a departure from Heart's hard rock '70s niche, but the group skillfully integrated an undeniable guitar rock punch into the keyboard-heavy arena rock it had embraced.

1. "If Looks Could Kill"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Capitol

Though firmly established by 1985 as a genuine '80s pop/rock band with maximum pop appeal, Heart effectively kept one foot in hard rock territory with this scorcher from the band's self-titled comeback album. This is a glossier sound, for sure, than the one that fueled "Barracuda" or "Straight On" during the '70s, but Ann Wilson's dynamic, one-of-a-kind vocals combine well with the group's trademark driving guitar to forge a solid '80s rock song. Heavy dose of keyboards notwithstanding, this track proves that even in an altered version, the Wilson sisters maintained a firm grasp on how to rock convincingly in a male-dominated rock and roll world. As '80s power rock goes, this is about as good as it gets.

2. "What About Love?"

Heart slows down the tempo considerably for this elegant power ballad, one that was most definitely omnipresent during the summer of 1985. I still bristle at the fact that none of the band's big hits from the '80s were written or even co-written by the Wilsons, but I must admit that the bevy of professional songwriters hired to provide tunes at this stage of the group's career all knew their way around a mainstream rock song. Of course, it also helps that the band's performances of these songs, particularly this one, never suggest the lethargy or apathy one might expect from independent artists no longer penning their own material. Ann Wilson's vocals shout nothing if not conviction, and her passion serves this Top 10 hit well.

3. "Never"

Few songs define the '80s to quite the pleasant degree that Heart's mid-'80s hits do, and this song deserved its place in the Top 5 because it confidently affirmed the band's new pop direction. Nobody did power ballads as earnestly as the Wilson sisters could, and they certainly deserve credit for making the most out of outside material that could have come out stale if interpreted by other artists. The production on Heart had certainly lost much of the bite vital to the group's '70s albums, but the Wilsons embrace the '80s arena rock sound so completely and authentically that the glossy veneer is excusable if not somehow advantageous to Heart's newest batch of songs.

4. "Nothin' At All"

Even if they had surrendered most of the songwriting duties for their band's '80s comeback, the Wilson sisters did an impeccable job of maintaining the group's status as a guitar rock act above all. This mid-tempo track rides in on some shimmering hooks and gentle harmonies, but the layers of guitar help keep the proceedings squarely in the rock category instead of mere pop. I don't know how much say the Wilsons had in which songs they recorded for their mid-'80s return, but if I had to guess, I'd say that their veteran savvy and uncanny sense of performance had as much to do with making these tunes hits as the inherent quality of the songwriting itself.

5. "Who Will You Run To"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Capitol
1987's Bad Animals certainly would have had an excuse for being even poppier than the preceding album, given the immense success of Heart's newfound hooks and mainstream appeal. So once again, ample credit must go to the band for releasing another guitar rocker like this one instead of turning ever further toward sappy, toothless love ballads. The keyboards certainly make their presence felt here but never at the expense of a core electric guitar sound long ago established as vintage Heart. People may express frequent disdain for this kind of calculated, highly marketable rock, but damned if anyone but a select few arena rock geniuses could match this stuff for sheer listenability.

6. "Alone"

Heart's singular marriage of pop and rock is carried off so seamlessly here that I'd have to include this one on a short list of the finest singles of the decade. Its breadth of appeal is immense, pulling in soft rock listeners with an elegant piano opening and lovely, quiet verses but then fully satisfying the rock contingency with the thumping, catchy chorus. Ann Wilson's voice has lost none of its effortless passion over the years, and the finished products of songs like this certainly deserved the attention they got. Some might accuse certain '80s artists of selling out to the decade's edgeless accessibility, but I just don't think such a charge sticks in the special case of the Wilsons.

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