by ELIZABETH STRAUCH & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & rremember sitting at the breakfast table as a child, eating my cereal while listening to the gentle vocals of Billy Ocean. Meanwhile, my sister was in her bathroom, with a ghetto blaster sitting atop the back of the toilet and the speakers blaring Heart -- the melodramatic soundtrack of her teenage world -- at nearly full volume while she Aquanetted her bangs. The door was always closed, but I would imagine her lip-synching along with Ann Wilson, "What about love? Don't you want someone to care about you?" It drove our parents nuts.

That was more than 20 years ago, right around the time Heart was experiencing a comeback. The sisters scored their first No. 1 album a full decade after the glory of their debut album, Dreamboat Annie, and follow-up Little Queen -- the high points of which would glide across time, landing in karaoke bars and on Guitar Hero, earning new generations of fans with each mimicked duhn, duhn-duhn-duhn, duhn-duhn-duhn of "Barracuda" and lip-synched "Craaaay-aaaazy on you."

The talent of the Wilson sisters stretches, however, beyond the touchstones they've created for pop culture. In the late '70s, while Barry Manilow was crooning, ABBA was singing about Swedish fantasies, and disco was still staking its claim on the dance floor, the Wilson sisters were making music that had its foot in the door of '70s rock. Ann had a voice that rivaled Robert Plant's, and Nancy's bluesy guitar riffs could draw comparisons to Eric Clapton.

But while the sun set on those touchstones in the following decade, the Wilson sisters were able to come back around. They got even bigger. Granted, they altered their sound a bit to respond to the changing interests of listeners, but even during their '80s power-ballad phase, in tunes like "These Dreams" and "Alone," Nancy and Ann hit the high notes with a raspiness that spoke to the hard edge that had paved the way for other female rockers of the '80s, like Joan Jett and Roxette. Other female vocalists (e.g., Belinda Carlisle, Debbie Gibson, Tiffany) sound flimsy and trite next to the powerhouse sound of Heart. Ultimately, those of us who remember hearing the Heart ballads on the radio would eventually come back around ourselves, to "Magic Man" and "Crazy on You," and even the folkier offerings of Little Queen -- all that represented what made the Wilson sisters unique when they first came on the scene.

What continues to set Heart apart is that their music expresses real feeling. It doesn't necessarily have to do with the lyrics or with any sort of "I am woman, hear me roar" sentiment. It's pure rock 'n' roll. When you hear their pulsating guitars or the spot-on vocals, high enough to pierce the troposphere, you want it to be loud. It seems wrong to have it any other way.

Billy Ocean may sound fine cooing under the snap-crackle-pop of my Rice Krispies, but the only crackle I'd ever want to hear while listening to Heart is the crackle of a needle on vinyl playing Dreamboat Annie at full volume.

Heart with Journey and Cheap Trick at the Arena on Monday, Sept. 22, at 7 pm. $35-$75. Visit or call 325-SEAT.

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