In this song, Heart lead singer Ann Wilson is boiling over with feelings for a guy, and she's finally ready to tell him the news. But sitting alone in her dark room, the thought of it gives her chills. She has to find a way to tell him her secret. "How do I get you alone," she wonders.
The lyrics to Heart's early songs were often driven by the real-life romances of Ann and Nancy Wilson - "Crazy On You" for instance, is a lusty song about Ann's boyfriend at the time, Mike Fisher, who was once a member of the band. "Alone," though, came from outside writers who were very good at supplying hit songs for female vocalists. It was written by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, a very successful songwriting team who have written several other #1 hits, including "So Emotional," "Like A Virgin" and "Eternal Flame." Most of their songs start with a lyric Steinberg comes up with. Kelly writes most of the music and sings on the demos.
Heart wasn't the first to record this song. "Alone" first appeared on the 1983 album Taking a Cold Look by i-Ten, a group comprised of the song's writers, Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly. In a Songfacts interview with Billy Steinberg, he told the story: "The song 'Alone,' even though it was released after 'True Colors' and 'Like a Virgin,' it was written well before those songs. Tom Kelly and I were signed to Epic Records and we made one album under the name i-Ten. It was sort of made out to look like a group, but it was really just the two of us.
We made this album and it was co-produced by Keith Olsen and Steve Lukather. I wasn't really happy with the way it turned out, but it did have some good songs on it. One of the songs on it was 'Alone.' The album was titled Taking A Cold Look. It didn't do much although it has sort of a cult following in Europe.
The most prominent song on it was 'Alone.' Tom and I recorded it for that record and just sort of set it aside when that record didn't succeed. In fact, all the songs on that i-Ten record had a slightly unpleasant association to me because the whole recording process of making that record was very unpleasant to me.
I just put those songs in a drawer and forgot about them, but then Tom and I were having a good deal of success with 'Like a Virgin' and 'True Colors' and then we heard that Heart was looking for a power ballad and Tom said, 'What about 'Alone'?' I winced and said, 'Oh, I don't really want to look at that song.' He said, 'What do you mean? That's perfect.'
We took the song out and sure enough it was relatively easy to do because we liked everything about the song except the first line of the chorus. The version on i-Ten, the lyric said, 'I always fared well on my own.' Both lyrically and melodically it felt very stiff and unappealing. So I did a minor change on the lyric and it said, 'Til now, I always got by on my own,' and Tom changed the melody and gave it much more movement and almost a slightly R&B feel on the first line of the chorus. That really lifted the chorus, and then all of the sudden I liked the song again.
We made a new demo of the song very quickly and presented it to Ron Nevison, who was producing Heart at that time. He loved it and they cut it."
Steinberg and Kelly met the Wilson sisters for the first time when they were invited to the studio where this was being recorded. Kelly, who was an experienced session singer, ended up singing high harmony parts on the record.
After their 1983 album Passionworks, Heart left Epic Records and signed with Capitol, where they had enormous success with soaring ballads like "What About Love" and "These Dreams." The band wrote most of their early hits, which were rockers like "Barracuda" and "Magic Man," but starting with their 1985 album Heart, they got a lot of help from some top songwriters. In addition to Steinberg and Kelly, Heart recorded songs by Diane Warren, Bernie Taupin and Martin Page.
Heart also had a different lineup at this time. By 1985, they had parted ways with three of the band members who played on their '70s albums: guitarist Roger Fisher, bass player Steve Fossen, and drummer Michael DeRosier, leaving just the Wilson sisters and multi-instrumentalist Howard Leese. The '80s version of Heart had Mark Andes on bass and Denny Carmassi on drums.
The music video was directed by Marty Callner, whose work includes "Dude (Looks Like A Lady)" for Aerosmith and "Always" for Bon Jovi. The video is mostly performance footage, but with a vague subplot where Ann Wilson is on a balcony, wearing a black veil. Videos were a big part of Heart's resurgence; they got airplay on both MTV and VH1, which launched in 1985.
In 1991, the Wilson sisters became co-owners of a recording studio in Seattle that was named Bad Animals after this album. Soundgarden, REM, Nirvana, Neil Young, Johnny Cash and Pearl Jam all recorded there.
In 2004, when Carrie Underwood performed this on American Idol, judge Simon Cowell said, "Not only will you win this show, you will sell more records than any other previous Idol winner." Underwood did win the competition.