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Album: Little Queen
Writers: Ann Wilson, Micheal Derosier, Nancy Wilson, Roger Fisher
Barracuda is perhaps the song most identified with Heart. It is one of those songs that makes people think of Heart as a Led Zeppelin-influenced hard rock band with legendary female vocals. Their angriest and edgiest song, it was released off the 1977 Little Queen album, reaching no. 11 on the charts.
The album, ironically, besides “Kick it Out” is chock full of acoustic ballads, some with a folk influence. To put a song like Barracuda in such an album, they were obviously angry about something:
You lying so low in the weeds
Bet you gonna ambush me
You’d have me down, down, down to my knees
Wouldn’t you, Barracuda?
Barracuda is not about a woman defying a duplicitous lover. While Heart had been recording an album that was to be called Magazine, they were in the midst of a lawsuit with their then-label, Mushroom. The lawsuit was brought over disagreements about the way the label was marketing the band. Ann and Nancy wanted their music to do the talking. They did not want to be marketed like “a piece of meat.” An example of this kind of marketing that set off the lawsuit is a full-page ad taken out in Rolling Stone, an outtake from the cover of the Dreamboat Annie album.
In the picture, Ann and Nancy seemed to be looking at each other “longingly.” The ad copy read “It was only our first time.”
This was supposed to mean “it was only our first album” but the sexual reference, painting Ann and Wilson as some kind of sister lesbians, was clear to the women. They wouldn’t have it. They soon resolved to leave Mushroom. Due to the lawsuit, only four or five cuts of Magazine were recorded but when they changed labels to CBS, those songs became legally unavailable to the band. Barracuda would have been on of those songs, but luckily, they hadn’t recorded it yet.
You can read more about these stories in the book Heart: In the Studio, by Jake Brown.
Meaning of Barracuda
Barracuda, then, instead of being about an ex-lover, was about the industry sleazeballs who Ann and Nancy had had to deal with on their way to success. Ann Wilson explained: “‘Barracuda’ was just a real angry song about Nancy and I realizing firsthand how sleazy the record business was when we first got into ti. We weren’t treated with any credibility at all. We were out there working really hard and being treated like cheesecake items and they made us all really angry.”
Barracuda, perhaps inevitably, became a sort of anti-sexism anthem, but keep in mind that the sisters never had any ambition to become feminist leaders or be political at all. In fact, their friend Sue Ennis reveals that the ‘barracuda’ came from a specific record executive who said something lecherous to Ann one night after a show. Aftward, she said, “That guy was such a barracuda!” (Source)
John McCain, Sarah Palin, and Barracuda
Speaking of angry, the sisters weren’t too happy about Sarah Palin’s use of the song during the 2008 presidential campaign. While John McCain had “Johnny B. Good” as his theme song, his running mate Palin had Barracuda, which was played at campaign events. Apparently, she had been nicknamed Sarah Barracuda during her high school basketball days. Too bad the song was not meant to portray the ‘barracuda’ in a positive light. Palin never was much on common sense, though.
Ann and Nancy objected strenuously to the use of the song, saying “Sarah Palin’s views and values in NO WAY represent us as American women.” Unfortunately, while the Wilson’s would not have authorized the song’s use, they had little choice in the matter as the campaign had obtained proper rights through ASCAP, including payment of fees. (Source)
Given what the song was about, there is some irony in the campaign’s use of it, I suppose.