The key to a band or artist having long term success comes down to one word: “change.”
Imagine, you’re an artist, and you finally achieved your dream. You’re selling out arenas, your album went platinum, and you got a few top 10 hits under your belt. Maybe you release another album or two while you’re firmly in the public eye, and maybe those do well too. You’re at the top of your game for a good half decade or so, but then suddenly, the hits dry up. You continue to tour and have a faithful audience, but the crowds have gotten noticeably smaller. New bands are taking your place at the top, and with them, they’re bringing a new sound, all the while, you’re sitting on the sidelines as a has been. You’re now that band who everyone used to be into, seen as a member of the old guard. You want the fame back, so what do you do? You change it up.
That’s exactly what the band Heart did in the mid eighties. Fronted by the Wilson sisters Ann (lead vocals) and Nancy (guitar), Heart was a breath of fresh air in the middle of the 70s with Zeppelin-esque, folky guitar rock hits like “Crazy On You,” “Barracuda” and “Magic Man.” However, like many other bands, Heart encountered a rough patch during the early 80’s where they struggled to maintain their popularity. More extreme and rowdy guitar acts in the vein of Van Halen and Def Leppard were riding the first wave of glam metal to its peak, poaching Heart’s fans away. After switching their label to Capital Records, Heart released their self-titled album, Heart in 1985.
In more recent interviews with Nancy Wilson, she confessed that she didn’t want to change Heart’s look or sound, feeling that it was sacrificing the band’s artistic integrity to be more commercial. Ultimately though, after being convinced to do so by their new label, Heart were now donning glammed up outfits and permed hair and were solidly an AOR/hard rock/glam metal act, ready to compete with the most popular bands in the world for the ears of a new generation of rock fans.
Heart shot up the charts to #1, and was a consistent seller too, spending almost two years on the Billboard 200 album charts. It successfully reversed the band’s once dire outlook – not only was it their first (and only) chart topping album, it also spawned three top 10 hits, including their first number one, “These Dreams,” which claimed the top spot for one week on March 22nd, 1986. “These Dreams” is a typical mid tempo 80s power ballad, with its ethereal lyrics about escaping your troubles, and its bubbling synthesizers and marimba-xylophone sounds over thin, tight drums. Unlike other power ballads from this era, “These Dreams” doesn’t heavily feature electric guitar, which gives it a unique quality as a good, understated, swaying ballad that relies more on mood than on dramatic guitar lines.
The middle of the 1980s were prime for a hit song having a wonderfully cheesy video made for MTV, and “These Dreams” is no different. The video features Nancy Wilson (who takes lead vocals on this track) front and center, pretending to play guitar in the fog while standing over a sea of grasping hands, all while throwing in some fist pumps and kicks for good measure. There’s also some Greek temple, desert, and weird water based imagery, including two of the band members falling backwards into a pool of water. Everyone in the band is pretending to more than they’re actually doing in the song, which makes it an over the top, yet completely addicting video. I’m not surprised it got a ton of rotation.
The hits wouldn’t stop for Heart for another few years – “Alone” would also hit #1 later in the decade, but like many other glam metal bands, their luck in the mainstream pretty much ran out at the turn nineties. By that point though, Heart had nearly a decade and a half worth of success in part due to their drastic change.