Heart - Magazine
AUDIO FIDELITY: Hybrid SACD - AFZ 171
Released February 2014
This is a very interesting choice of album for Audio Fidelity to tackle.
“MAGAZINE” was certainly commercially successful on its first release in Canada and the U.S., albeit in an unauthorised version that the record company released rather spitefully following fractious attempts by the group to renegotiate their contract.
But it is rarely the go-to HEART album that fans cherish. In fact, it is the third album, that should have been second.
Winding back the clock a little throws some light on the situation. Perhaps also, it becomes a cautionary tale for bands trying to forge a career from their music, without due regard to 'devil in the detail' contracts, and the loss of artistic control.
Sisters Nancy (the blonde guitarist) and Ann Wilson (the brunette singer) had paid their dues in small-time local bands around the Seattle area. To assist original member Mike Fisher in avoiding the draft, the group relocated to Canada, settling in Vancouver. Their different lineup, two women up-front, and interesting mix of rock and folk influences, marked them out as something special.
Local label, MUSHROOM RECORDS, picked them up for a two album deal. First release was the single “CRAZY ON YOU” b/w “DREAMBOAT ANNIE”, which garnered radio play around Canada, and, later, in April 1976, being picked up successfully in the U.S.
Debut album, “DREAMBOAT ANNIE” followed in October 1976, going top ten in the U.S., and gaining a strong following in markets around the world. This album set the blueprint for much of HEARTS' music for the next four years. Nancy's talent on acoustic guitar and Roger Fisher's excellent hard rock licks, together produced an incredibly dynamic sound. Add the powerful vocals of Ann, and this material rocked hard enough to avoid the somewhat perjorative label of A.O.R. But that is what it was, Album-oriented Rock.
Driving LED ZEP influenced tracks such as “CRAZY ON YOU” sat side by side with quieter tracks, combining to give us a very satisfying album that still sounds relevant today. “MAGIC MAN” continues to get radio play, and is often used as a test track by audio lovers. (How low does the moog line in the breakdown go, and can you hear it from start to finish?)
With this success behind them, the band began demoing new songs for the second contractually obligated album. In the band's estimation, their success put them into a good position from which to renegotiate their contract. The label thought otherwise, and the two parties slid into a long and nasty legal battle. Not helping matters was a full page ad the company placed in ROLLING STONE magazine, showing a bare shoulders photo of the sisters, with the caption, “IT WAS ONLY OUR FIRST TIME”. The implied incestousness of the ad was the last straw for the band. Nothing good was going to come of any further dealings.
Work on the sessions ground to a halt. HEART left behind the unfinished tracks, and somehow managed to score a deal with PORTRAIT RECORDS. Starting from scratch, they completed what would become “LITTLE QUEEN”. Kicking off with the timeless hard rock of “BARRACUDA”, (dedicated incidentally to the sleaze who thought the degrading ad was a good idea) the album presented a great mix of pastoral interludes, soul influenced belters and the obligatory power ballad.
On the side, however, MUSHROOM had decided they had the right to cobble together the working demos, and a few live tracks, and release it as “MAGAZINE”.
Remarkably, and provocatively, it came with a printed disclaimer pointing out that the album had been compiled without the group's assent, but that the company wanted to make sure the public got to hear the songs! It had sold quite well before HEART got wind of it, and the unauthorised edition was withdrawn. But in yet another legal move, MUSHROOM were then successful in getting the agreement of a judge in Seattle to verify that they had ownership of the tapes.
Somewhere along the line a compromise was reached, whereby HEART could go back into the studio, and do whatever they felt musically valid, to rescue the demoes. This may have meant new takes, dubs, remixing, deleting or adding tracks. The resulting album would retain the title “MAGAZINE”, and would be owned by MUSHROOM.
So, the mooted second album, became the third album. This 'authorised' edition was released in April 1978. Surprisingly, it did quite well, reaching top twenty. Perhaps no one was more surprised than the band themselves.
With a mind to those trying circumstances, it could only ever be regarded as a patched together set, with none of the flow of “DREAMBOAT ANNIE”, “LITTLE QUEEN” or the following album, “DOG AND BUTTERFLY”. None-the-less, it certainly holds a lot of affection from the loyal fans.
Later albums moved closer to the mainstream, with 1980 album, “BEBE LE STRANGE” being what I regard as the transitional album and the last that could sit comfortably beside that earlier trio of fully realised albums. Which brings us to this new mastering from Steve Hoffman, via AUDIO FIDELITY.
The album kicks off with “HEARTLESS” which is really the very template of HEART in rocking out mode. It's also the only song the average Aussie listener may know. “DEVIL DELIGHT” follows. A very tasty delight indeed, with slabs of dueling guitars, and Ann wailing away in Force 10 mode. “JUST THE WINE” is a gentle, lilting tune, with touches of MELLOTRON and washes of real strings. Nancy's gorgeous acoustic guitar holds it all together. It stills sounds great.
“WITHOUT YOU” is an interesting rendition of the classic BADFINGER track from their “NO DICE” album (1970). Yup, the one Harry Nilsson turned into a classic. Good, not essential. For some odd reason, I kept thinking of John Farnham.
“MAGAZINE” is a relatively laid back piece of A.O.R. - inoffensive, but lifted by some nice synth flourishes and some twisted guitar over a straight 2:4 beat. A grower, in my estimation.
“HERE SONG” is the sort of quiet and pensive track that HEART laced through their best albums. Nancy is one of the great acoustic players and when Ann has the chance to rein it in, she really shows her chops. Some portions of this have a hint of studio microphone or perhaps mix related overdrive, not distracting, but on a budget system, may be a problem. But, it's on the tape, 'what are you gonna do?”
“MOTHER EARTH BLUES” is HEART airing their blues roots in a live recording. For the time and place, it's o.k. But, a twelve bar is a twelve bar, no more, no less. The LED ZEP nods are fun, but it was not till the “DOG & BUTTERFLY” album, and the magnificent “MISTRAL WIND” that HEART let rip with something that was the equal to the ZEP in their pompous and splendid prime.
Album closer is a rather incongruous, but none-the-less sincere take on the old chestnut, “I'VE GOT THE MUSIC IN ME”. I can say only that it is the one version of this that I can stomach.
This is a great mastering of some very vintage tapes. Steve Hoffman has done a remarkable job revisiting this album, and saving all that is good about it for the old die-hards and perhaps some new listeners. The sonics are excellent, and really, the only downside is the troubled history that resulted in the stitched together nature of the album as it is. If the last two tracks were deleted, and two other studio tracks added, this would have garnered much more respect and regard.
So, the first six tracks are excellent.
The closing two, well, they are of their time.
I hope this is the start of an Audio Fidelity cycle that goes as far as “BEBE LE STRANGE”. Now, that would really be something to look forward to.
COLLECTIBILITY (Heart Fan)
A walking encyclopedia of music, David’s broad music knowledge is a valued member to the team. Without music, there would be no HiFi. Look out for his words on current, past and future music, as well as album reviews.