|The Rage Behind "Barracuda"
Outraged by record-industry sexism in 1976, Ann Wilson of Heart wrote a poem expressing the
pain and humiliation of workplace harassment.
When Heart released "Barracuda" on its second album, "Little Queen," in May 1977, the single,
co-written by four band members, reached No. 11 on Billboard's pop chart.
Recently, Heart co-founder Michael Fisher, lead vocalist Ann Wilson, guitarists Roger Fisher and
Nancy Wilson, and drummer Michael Derosier looked back at the song's evolution.
In 1976, Heart was touring in support of its first studio album,"Dreamboat Annie." On Oct. 15, we were
in East Lansing, Mich., to open for Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band. Several hours before the
concert, Heart was on stage rehearsing as we checked sound levels and lighting cues.
At the sound check, Mike Derosier and I began jamming. We were just horsing around playing a
galloping riff. I wasn't thinking of any outside influence. Eventually, I added chords.
Roger and I had a great beat and riff going. An inspiration for me was the feel that Nazareth had on
their cover of Joni Mitchell's "This Flight Tonight."
As Mike Derosier and I developed the riff and beat, my brother, Mike loved what we were doing and recorded it on a cassette tape.
To promote Heart's first hit song "Magic Man," the band's label, Mushroom Records, designed a trade ad to look like the cover of a supermarket tabloid. The ad
had a photo from our "Dreamboat Annie" cover shoot. Ann and I were cropped at our bare shoulders so it looked like we weren't wearing any tops. The ad's
headline read: "Exclusive, the Heartbreaking Story! Regional Hit Mushrooms Into Million Seller." Then under the photo of Ann and me standing back to back, the
headline read, "Heart's Wilson Sisters Confess: Is Was Only Our First Time!" I freaked. Mushroom made it seem that my sister and I were incestuous lovers. I was
After our set in East Lansing and before Bob Seger went on, both bands were backstage milling around with record industry execs and hangers-on. Everyone was
drinking and schmoozing. Suddenly, this guy who supplied local stores with records came up to me. He said, "Hey Ann, how's your lover?" I said, "Mike Fisher is
great. He's right over here. Go say hi." He said, "No, no, your sister. You know." He was referring to the trade ad.
I saw red. I just shut down. I went to find Nancy. I felt humiliated. I told her what happened. I've never
been homophobic. I've always felt people can love whoever they want. But this was about being sleazy
and insulting my family. It was maddening.
The band was staying at the Hotel Pontchartrain in Detroit. After we drove back, I went up to my room and
sat on the bed and began writing a poem about how I felt. The poem took about an hour and would become
the lyrics to the music that Roger and Mike had come up with at the sound-check.
The porpoise in the poem was Nancy: "Back over time, we were all trying for free/You met the porpoise and
me. "Sell me, sell you, the porpoise said/Dive down deep now save my head." Nancy and I were huge
Beatles fans. When "I Am the Walrus" came out in 1967 on "Magical Mystery Tour," Nancy and I called each
other porpoise. Then we shortened it to "porp." We liked that porpoises were considered smarter than most
The "western pools" were our houses on the west coast of Oregon, where we could relax: "All that night
and all the next/Swam without looking back/Made for the western pools, silly, silly fools!" The word
"barracuda" came last. I first tried tiger and snake, but they didn't have the same evil creepiness of a
barracuda - a slimy fish with no morals lurking in the water waiting for its prey.
When the poem was done and were back home in Seattle in early December, Nancy and Roger came over
to the house that Mike Fisher and I shared. Roger played the riff. I sang the and fit my poem's words into
what Roger played. As a lyricist, i was influenced by Bernie Taupin at the time.
To gracefully merge Ann's words with the music, the second measure of each verse was changed to a bar of five beats instead of four. It was the keyboardist and
guitarist Howard Leese's idea.
"Barracuda" was recorded at Seattle's Kaye Smith Studios. We recorded the song's basic rhythm track in one take with Roger, Nancy, Steve, Howard and Mike
Derosier in Studio A. Then as Ann recorded her lead vocal in Studio A along with Nancy and Howard over dubbing background vocals, I worked with Roger on over
dubbing his solos and effects in Studio B.
I came up with these tremolo harmonics on my guitar - the ringing sound you hear each time my chugging riff stops. I also had a flanger that gave my Stratocaster a
sweeping sound. At some point, I reached for something behind my amp. The close proximity of the guitar to the amp's tubes created a cool sweeping oscillation,
like an alien attack. I used the sound toward the end of "Barracuda" where Howard and I answer each other's guitar chords.
Song endings can be tough. Once you're on a galloping horse, it's hard to slow down. We tried a bunch of different things, but most felt corny or stupid. So we
decided to snap it off abruptly. During the mix, each of us sat a the console and had our own fader. We slid them all up slowly as the end neared so the volume
built. Then we just cut them off. It was like slamming of a door. To this day, Roger's guitar on the recording is one of rock's most iconic sounds.
No matter where Heart toured in the 70's, we came across our share of sleazeballs. "Barracuda" is me coming unglued. I never cried over stuff like that. I just got
deeply disturbed and angry, and channeled it into my song-writing and vocals. When I recorded my lead vocal, I felt rage. You can hear it in my voice. In that photo
of Nancy and me bare-shouldered, we were just showing that sisters could be friends. Instead, we became the objects of cheapness. We were made to feel
Listen to the rage of Ann Wilson in Heart's iconic hit song "Barracuda": "Barracuda"