Yikes — was it really 40 years ago? I was a wide-eyed, 17-year-old, drooling disciple of all things rock and roll. But I couldn’t get my parents on board with me attending the full onslaught of concerts that were coming through central Florida at the time. And even if they had given me the green light, my part-time gig at the local record store hardly generated the revenue necessary to cover the cost of tickets, which in those days was approaching a whopping $9 a pop. As a result, in the spring of 1980, I faced a dilemma. I had to choose only one of three concerts that week — Journey, Angel and Heart. Given my insatiable appetite for their music and their undeniably frustrating chick factor, I chose Heart. To this day, I don’t regret the decision. In fact, the Lakeland, Florida date on Heart’s Bébé le Strange tour remains one of my all-time favorite, most memorable concert experiences.
Bébé le Strange was Heart’s fifth consecutive chart-buster. Produced by Mike Flicker (Poco, Al Stewart, Randy Meisner), the record owned a decidedly distinctive sound. In contrast to Dog and Butterfly, its platinum-selling, Ovation-glossed predecessor, Bébé boasted a bold Telecaster-driven brashness — fueled further by the recent romantic and professional breakups between the band’s lead vocalist Ann Wilson and longtime manager Michael Fisher, as well as between guitarists Nancy Wilson and Roger Fisher. The Wilson sisters clearly now were calling the shots. As a result, the album reflected fiery passion. Hell hath no fury, indeed.
Crackling with classic surf rock conviction, the title track made for a strong opener, while the gutsy, bluesy “Down on Me” points to a relationship on the skids — one of the record’s many noteworthy moments. A delicate acoustic guitar instrumental, Nancy Wilson’s “Silver Wheels” was a magical yin to the rib-cracking “Break” yang. Despite frequently wearing their Zeppelin influences on their sleeves, “Rockin’ Heaven Down” proves that Heart was, and is, at their absolute apex when satisfied with being — Heart.
It’s been often said (by me) that heartbreak is the best inspiration for great art. And in that regard, Heart crushed it with “Even it Up.” Despite achieving only moderate chart single success, it remains a band staple — accented famously by the legendary Tower of Power horn section. An urgent rocker, “Strange Night” was another hard-hitting highlight.
A crisp, infectious, piano-driven number, Nancy Wilson’s “Raised on You” dances across the grooves. Pinned to the honest purity of “Pilot,” the combination made for a fabulous “7th inning stretch.” Wrapping up the melodic trifecta, the record-closing “Sweet Darlin’” reveals a fleeting relationship that perhaps wasn’t all bad — a heartfelt sentiment bathed in a melody that could rip your guts out. Arguably one of Ann Wilson’s most riveting performances.
Ann and Nancy Wilson continue to keep Heart pumping — packing amphitheaters annually, while still releasing new music. 40 years on, Bébé le Strange stands tall as one of their strongest, most magnificent sets.
A publicity photo of Angel around 1980.
Bébé le Strange Track Listing:
01. Bébé le Strange (3:40)
02. Down on Me (4:45)
03. Silver Wheels (1:24)
04. Break (2:32)
05. Rockin’ Heaven Down (5:54)
06. Even It Up (5:10)
07. Strange Night (4:18)
08. Raised on You (3:21)
09. Pilot (3:18)
10. Sweet Darlin’ (3:17)
Run Time: 37:28
Record Label: Epic
Release Date: February 14, 1980