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The Real Backstory of Heart’s Hit Song ‘Barracuda’

Samantha Franco
Photo Credit: Mark Sullivan / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Mark Sullivan / Getty Images

Fame and fortune don’t come without their consequences, and the ladies of Heart, Ann and Nancy Wilson, learned this early on in their careers. After a made-up story that had the potential to ruin their reputations was spread in the 1970s, Ann channeled her anger into songwriting. As much as we wish they hadn’t had to go through this nonsense, we’re thankful that it produced the hit smash, “Barracuda.”

Heart was formed with a young Ann and Nancy Wilson

A group pic of the core members of Heart
American rock group Heart in New York, circa February 1978. (L-R): Howard Leese, Roger Fisher, Michael DeRosier, Ann Wilson, Nancy Wilson, Steve Fossen. (Photo Credit: Michael Putland / Getty Images)

Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson were born in 1950 and 1954, respectively, in California. The daughters of a US Marine, they lived all over the world until they finally settled in Washington in the early ’60s. Growing up, both girls were constantly surrounded by music as a way to preserve a feeling of belonging no matter where they were.

During the early 1970s, Ann Wilson joined a band that over time was called White Heart, Hocus Pocus, and eventually just Heart. “They put an ad in the paper and this guy I was in a band with who played drums, the two of us answered the ad and we were hired,” Ann said. “We renamed ourselves Hocus Pocus and we played for three years under that name around Washington State, Montana, Oregon and up into Vancouver until I met Michael Fisher, who I fell in love with [and] went up to Vancouver to be with him.” Nancy joined the band in 1974.

By 1975, the core members that made up the band were Ann and Nancy Wilson, Roger Fisher, Steve Fossen, Michael Derosier, and Howard Leese. Although the members would change over time, this was the group that was officially inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.

A publicity stunt sent Ann reeling

Ann and Nancy Wilson sitting beside one another
Rock and roll siblings Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson, both of the group Heart, during an interview on MTV at Teletronic Studios, New York, New York, April 22, 1982. (Photo Credit: Gary Gershoff / Getty Images)

The band was gaining fame, but in an attempt to increase publicity even more, their record company pulled an indecent stunt that greatly upset the Wilson sisters. In 1976, Mushroom Records released a fictitious story that Ann and her sister Nancy were in a romantic relationship.

As much as this upset them, it was what occurred after the release of this false rumor that really sent Ann into a tizzy. After a show, a male record promoter burst into her dressing room to ask her how her “lover” was. At first, she thought he was asking about Michael Fisher, whom she was dating at the time. Later, she learned that he was actually asking about her sister.

‘Barracuda’ came from sheer anger

Ann Wilson singing hard into a microphone.
Ann Wilson of Heart performs at The Omni Coliseum in Atlanta Georgia September 28, 1978. (Photo Credit: Rick Diamond / Getty Images)

Following that exchange, Ann went back to her hotel room in a fit of rage and began writing the lyrics to “Barracuda.” As Wilson explained, “[It’s about] the extreme level of unchecked sexism that was going on in the ’70s. Back then it was just unbelievable, so it was a screed against that.”

The band’s producer, Mick Flicker, said, “‘Barracuda’ was created conceptually out of a lot of this record business [garbage]. Barracuda could be anyone from the local promotion man to the president of a record company. That is the barracuda. It was born out of that whole experience.”

More from us: Stevie Nicks Explains the Meaning Behind Her Greatest Song, ‘Landslide’

Flicker said that the record company’s contract negotiations were so ridiculous that Heart decided to ditch them entirely, abandoning the album Magazine which they were in the middle of recording and moving on to a different company. They signed on with Portrait Records, releasing Little Queen in 1977. It featured the iconic “Barracuda,” which made it to number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!