The Wide Angle: Sometimes, we just need strong rock ‘n’ roll

Published 6:30 am Saturday, April 24, 2021

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I hate to pull the, “back in my day” argument for anything, but listening to a classic station the other day reminded me that perhaps it’s time for it. So, without further ado:

Back in my day, singers didn’t need gimmicks.

Well maybe a little before my day anyway.

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This thought came to me during a newsroom conversation that held off any legitimate work needing to be done, but was reinforced on a drive home when Heart came on the radio.

Long time readers, including the recently joined reader No. 49, may have noticed I’ve written about Heart before. I just love Ann Wilson’s voice. It’s so strong and clean and if you haven’t heard Heart’s rendition of Led Zepplin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” performed for the masters of rock themselves at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2012 then you are missing out on one of the finest musical performances ever.

I figure any time you move Robert Plant to tears then you’ve done something amazing.

Unfortunately, I came along a little too late to enjoy Led Zepplin in their heyday, but thanks to mom owning Heart’s 1988 album, “If Looks Could Kill,” I was able to dive headlong into their music, even though they had a string of albums dating back to the 70s.

I adored that album and couldn’t get enough of Ann’s voice. The title track itself has carried with me to this day as one of my all-time favorite songs.

Granted, the song I heard the other day was “Barracuda,” which shines as a classic hit all by itself.

Groups like Heart, Led Zepplin, Queen, Boston and Prince never really required gimmicks, even though it can be argued that to be a rock ‘n’ roll star is itself seen as a gimmick of sorts.

And KISS doesn’t help matters as their act doesn’t age especially well as the rockers themselves continue to age, but that’s neither here nor there.

If you look back to the 80s, however, into the 90s and today, gimmicks seem to be the only thing we see.

Early glam-metal bands like Poison, Twisted Sister and Cinderella relied on early gender-bending appearances as part of their rock schtick, and while I thoroughly enjoyed their music, it was often overshadowed by the look.

While things toned down a bit heading into the 90s, things have once again started to become a stage show, which in some instances can work if the band thoroughly embraces the music and the look as a single entity.

Though there are differences in music, Slipknot has more in common with Poison and Cinderella than it might think (my apologies if you don’t know who Slipknot is). Their stage show involves masks, flashing lights, fire and who knows what else. It’s a heavy metal Broadway show and while I can appreciate their music for what it is, there’s a voice that’s missing.

The same can be said for Lady Gaga, who I can readily admit has just an amazing voice, but if you look at her shows, that voice almost always is overshadowed by everything else that comes with it.

I certainly can appreciate a good stage show, but sometimes an act just doesn’t need it.

Acts of the 70s — for the most part — relied on musicianship and the voice alone. Yes, it can be argued that rock ‘n’ roll is a stage act and a lot of the time I can embrace that. Many of the acts I listen to are theatrical, and more than anything I’ve come to appreciate the strength of Ann Wilson, Freddie Mercury and Prince for the power of their voices and how they carried through in a show.

In my earlier days I’m not sure I even could appreciate these talents, but now I certainly can and do.

That being said, I think it’s time for some Heart.