31 Years Ago: Scandal and Patty Smyth Shoot at the Walls of Heartache on ‘Warrior’
There weren’t many female voices on rock radio in the early ’80s — the short list of mainstream rock stars who happened to be women was pretty much limited to Joan Jett, Heart, Pat Benatar, the Pretenders and Deborah Harry of Blondie. But for a few months in 1984, it seemed like Scandal, an East Coast band fronted by a leather-lunged singer named Patty Smyth, might be ready to join their ranks.
The band had gotten its start in New York City just a few years before, coming together behind Smyth, guitarists Zack Smith and Keith Mack, bassist Ivan Elias and multi-instrumentalist Benjy King in 1981. With a growing stack of strong original numbers and big vocals from the photogenic Smyth, Scandal attracted label interest quickly, securing a deal with Columbia in time to put out a self-titled EP (featuring the minor hit “Goodbye to You“) in 1982. With production from future Grammy nominee Rick Chertoff and Ringo Starr associate Vini Poncia, and studio assistance from Paul Shaffer, the band seemed to be on its way up.
Managing to hang onto band members was always a problem, however. And while some talented players passed through Scandal’s ranks — including Jon Bon Jovi and ace session drummer-turned-successful A&R man Frankie LaRocka — the turbulence took a toll, and during the sessions for their full-length debut, 1984′s Warrior, it became all but impossible to keep the group together.
“Zack and I were really Scandal, we owned the band — it was us who were signed,” Smyth recalled in a 2008 interview. “It wasn’t messy, it was just like I was finished. Done. The drummer [Thommy Price] went to Billy Idol. Billy Idol made him an offer, and then I couldn’t get Zack and my manager to counter it because I didn’t want Thommy to leave. I knew that would be the end, and once he left, there was nothing for me to stay in the band for.”
By the time Scandal started their tour to promote Warrior after its Aug. 21, 1984, release, Smyth and Mack were the last members left. But if the bonds between the musicians who made the album had already dissolved, the songs themselves proved far longer-lasting: The album took off on the strength of the record’s title track and leadoff single, a song brought in by producer Mike Chapman (Blondie, the Knack) through his association with writer Holly Knight, who’d co-written the track with ‘Hot Child in the City‘ singer Nick Gilder.
“The Warrior” entered heavy rotation around the world, peaking at No. 7 in the U.S. (and topping the Mainstream Rock chart) while making the Top 20 in New Zealand, the Top 10 in Australia, and No. 1 in Canada. Knight, who’d also written Benatar’s “Love Is a Battlefield“ with Chapman, later reflected on the success of “The Warrior” in an interview with Songfacts, marveling, “I’ve had people come up to me over the years time and time again, the deepest darkest bands with every piercing and possible tattoo on them, and they’re like, ‘Dude, that song was so good, I want to re-cut that song.’”
In spite of how eagerly Warrior catered to the dominant trends of mid-’80s radio — Creem‘s Mitchell Cohen snarked that the album “should come in a plain white package, like generic elbow macaroni” — Smyth insisted that her artistic perspective, and Scandal’s, was about more than MOR rock hits. “I listen to country music, I listen to jazz, I listen to R&B, I listen to Jimi Hendrix a lot,” she explained in a 1984 interview. “That’s the tape we listen to before we go on — we listen to ‘Stone Free’ every night.”
Of course, like most hits of the era, the single came with a video — and as with a lot of early MTV favorites, the promotional clip for “The Warrior” favored eye-catching visuals over a sensible narrative. Joking that “it was about a director who fell in love with a guy in a gym and cast him in the lead,” Smyth later lamented, “I just wanted to do a straight onstage rock video to that, and they just shot me down. … They made me look like Batgirl. I thought when we were shooting it at least it would was going to be funny. I just thought it would be cut more tongue and cheek, and when I saw the final version and it was serious, I called and was like, ‘Please don’t release this video.’”
Ultimately, Smyth was at least semi-grateful that she was overruled on the video — as she admitted, “The truth is it became the Top 20 video of that year and people really dug it, because there were some beautiful parts to it, but it was freaky and weird” — but while the success of “The Warrior” translated into platinum sales for the Warrior album, they couldn’t save Scandal from completely imploding at the end of the tour.
Smyth’s free-agent status after the breakup (as well as her friendship with Eddie Van Halen and his then-wife Valerie Bertinelli) led to an offer to join Van Halen, but she declined (“I had just gotten pregnant with my daughter; I didn’t want to move to California; plus, those guys were partying very hard at that time”). By the late ’80s, she’d embarked on a solo career that, while it stalled after a pair of albums, produced a No. 2 hit with 1992′s ‘Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough,’ a duet with Don Henley.
The ’90s found Smyth focusing more on soundtrack work (where her contributions included songs for Junior and Armageddon) and raising her blended family with tennis pro John McEnroe, but even as Scandal’s brief time in the spotlight retreated into the rear-view mirror, the group wasn’t entirely forgotten: In 2004, the VH1 series Bands Reunited brought together the surviving members (minus Elias, who succumbed to cancer in 1995) for a one-off gig that led to a full-fledged reunion.
The Scandal that tours and records today is different from the lineup viewers saw on Bands Reunited — Smith left again after 2006, and King died suddenly after an accident in 2012 — but Smyth and Mack still lead the band, and while it might be tempting to wonder what would have happened if they hadn’t taken all that time off after falling apart in 1985, Smyth said that the time off ultimately worked in her favor. “I haven’t been doing it for the last 20 years,” she argued. “I see these other bands like they’re sleepwalking. I can feel their pain. I’m not there yet — it’s just fun. The more rocking, the better.”
See the Top 100 Albums of the ’80s
Criminally Underrated Rock Albums