Sometimes listening to an album is like visiting an old friend; you reminisce about good times, bask in the familiar, yet still learn something new. That experience best describes hearing Heart: Greatest Hits, an overview of their career from 1976-1983. Audio Fidelity has issued this limited edition version, which features a 24 KT gold CD. This process, Audio Fidelity states, “reproduce[s] the ultimate sound of a classic recorded performance without the irregular plated surfaces of standard aluminum discs.” While the album sounds crisp and clear, as if the band had recorded the material in 2011, it’s the sheer power of Heart’s music that endures.
In the mid-to-late 1970s, sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson paved the way for female rockers in a then male-dominated genre. Ann’s soaring vocals, tailor-made for their harder-edged songs, and Nancy’s deft guitar playing, along with their ability to write memorable hooks, made for a winning combination. The over five-minute epic “Magic Man” still enchants with its crunching guitars, mysterious lyrics, and odd synthesizer solo; and what more is there to say about “Crazy on You,” a true classic? In this remastered version, the drums and rhythm guitar particularly shine through, along with Ann’s magnificent vocals. Ann’s wailing over that slightly menacing guitar riff adds a hint of danger to the track. Strange lyrics aside (barracudas? Porpoises?), the galloping “Barracuda” invites comparisons to Led Zeppelin with Nancy’s searing guitar and Ann’s ability to modulate her voice from almost screaming to soothing, displaying similar emotional range to Robert Plant.
Not limiting themselves to Led Zeppelin-esque material, Heart experimented with the blues (“Little Queen”) and folk (“Dreamboat Annie”). “Love Alive” represents a minor departure for the Wilson sisters, in that half of the track consists of just Ann singing over Nancy’s acoustic guitar. When the tempo speeds up and the drums kick in, even adding a bit of flute, the song still does not stray far from folk territory. Heart also apparently admired the Rolling Stones, as “Straight On” at times resembles the gritty-yet-polished “Miss You.” The remaster allows listeners to fully hear Ann and Nancy’s harmonies, an underrated aspect of the group.
Heart also displayed aggression not seen at the time in female singers. “Even It Up” features sharp, biting guitars accompanying Ann’s strident singing: “A good man pays his debt/ But you ain’t paid yours yet,” Ann snarls, adding that “I took you down over the tracks when you wanted some sin.” This attitude certainly differed from the more stereotypically sensitive female singer/songwriters of the ’70s.
Casual fans may find their cover of Aaron Neville’s “Tell It Like It Is” surprising, but the sisters’ close harmonies and Ann’s passionate vocal evoke the seductive nature of the lyrics. “This Man Is Mine” (from their commercially disappointing 1982 album Private Audition) also demonstrates their interest in soul, as the upbeat tempo and lyrics suggest 1960s girl-group era Motown. But “How Can I Refuse” more closely approaches arena rock, with its bombastic drums, Ann’s powerful voice, and Nancy’s pulsing guitar playing to the upper rafters of a stadium. Greatest Hits’ final track, a pounding live cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll,” stands as definitive proof that women can rock just as hard as men. Plant would approve of Ann’s spirited vocals, and Nancy’s guitar would impress Jimmy Page. To paraphrase This Is Spinal Tap, crank this up to eleven.
Overall, Heart fans looking to replace worn-out copies of the band’s Greatest Hits album, or those who want a fuller, warmer sound quality than what digital downloads produce, should add the Audio Fidelity 24K gold edition to their collections. Casual listeners who may have forgotten—or take for granted—Heart’s rocking singles of the seventies will find much to like on this compilation. Its crystal-clear quality reintroduces the band, similar to becoming reacquainted with an old friend. Just like a longtime friendship, Heart: Greatest Hits inspires frequent visits, nostalgia, and pure enjoyment.