How Pat Benatar Triumphed Over Turmoil With ‘Crimes of Passion’
Pat Benatar scored a pretty big hit in 1979 with her debut album, In the Heat of the Night. But as she proved the following year, she was only getting warmed up.
Benatar's second album, Crimes of Passion, arrived on Aug. 5, 1980, and quickly set about vaulting over the high bar set by In the Heat of the Night. A No. 2 hit, the album spun off what ended up becoming one of the defining singles of her career with "Hit Me with Your Best Shot" and sold more than five million copies while netting Benatar her first Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance — not bad for an artist who was just establishing her identity after a covers-heavy debut.
This is not to say that Crimes of Passion lacks outside material. Not only did the record work in covers of the Young Rascals' "You Better Run" and Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights," it also made room for cuts from future '80s hitmakers Billy Steinberg ("I'm Gonna Follow You") and Eddie Schwartz ("Hit Me With Your Best Shot"). But Benatar and guitarist Neil Giraldo wrote or co-wrote fully half the album, which boasted an overall tougher, more organic sound than its predecessor.
"We’d just gotten off the road after five months or so and we were really solid as a band. I thought we should go in and record this record as a band with not as much finesse as the first record," Giraldo told UCR's Matt Wardlaw in an exclusive interview. "The first record, I kind of wanted to make it more intricate with little parts and cinematic things. It still rocked, but [there were] more little parts. Crimes of Passion was more like, 'Okay, let’s plug in and let’s play like we do live on stage and let’s make a record like that.' So in a way, it was kind of easier, but it had a certain simpleness to it that I think worked well."
Recording Passion, however, was far from simple. Although they'd enjoyed recording In the Heat of the Night with producer Peter Coleman, Benatar and Giraldo found themselves directed by their label, Chrysalis, into partnering up with former Fleetwood Mac producer Keith Olsen for the follow-up. As Benatar told UCR, she and Giraldo had to fight twice as hard for their vision.
"[Olsen] was a fine guy, whatever, but I mean, he was just the wrong dude," Benatar asserted. "It was great, because [Giraldo] basically had to step in, because I was in hell and I couldn’t work with [Olsen]. I was so used to Peter and I wanted to be with him and I wanted to be with [Giraldo]. He'd learned so much from Peter Coleman while we were working with him, so it was a great thing, even though it was hellish, it really opened the door for [Giraldo] to start producing on his own. He went in there and saved the record."
"It was really pivotal, because we had made one record and this was about to be the sophomore jinx," added Giraldo. "None of us felt like that, but it was really difficult."
Watch Pat Benatar Perform 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot'
As Giraldo remembers it, those tensions came to a head early on — in fact, he related a story from the sessions for "Hell Is for Children," which he thinks was the first song they tracked for the LP.
"[Olsen] gave me the keys to his car. He said, 'Here, I’m going to work on the vocal a little bit, you can take the keys and the car and go have a good time,'" recalled Giraldo. "So I took his Porsche and Patricia’s sitting on the floor crying, going, 'I can’t deal with this guy, listen to what I just did' and I listened and I went, 'Uh-oh.' That was the end of that," he laughed. "I never got the keys again."
Benatar's struggle for control spilled over into the real world after the Crimes of Passion sessions wrapped, too. As she recalled in her memoir Between a Heart and a Rock Place, the label tried to sex up her image by running an ad with her face superimposed on what appeared to be a naked body — and one that didn't even look like her own.
"Aside from being embarrassing, the photo was stupid. Didn’t they understand that people already knew how I was built? All people had to do was take one look at me," Benatar fumed. "Were Billboard readers suddenly going to flock to my album because I’d miraculously grown new breasts? ... I was aware that the sexy image was something I’d created. I’d never meant for it to be the focal point. My problem wasn’t that people thought I was sexy, it was that [they] only wanted the sexy part. It was offensive, but also boring."
Those sorts of snafus have always been common for young artists, particularly women, but neither Olsen's imprint nor cheesecake press photos had a negative impact on Crimes of Passion's sales performance — by early 1981, John Lennon's Double Fantasy was the only thing keeping it out of the top spot, and in the summer of '81, she was back with her third album, Precious Time, which did go to No. 1. She'd stay at or near the top of the charts for the remainder of the decade.
Still, looking back years later, Benatar couldn't help but admit to a lingering sense of dissatisfaction with Crimes of Passion. "People loved [it], but I just want to scream when people say that, because it was just a bunch of material that didn't work for me, and I wasn't happy with it," she told Music Connection in 1991. "People always say it's my best album, and I'm thinking to myself, 'S---, you don't know how good I could have sung on that record.'"
Whether or not Crimes of Passion matched up with Benatar's goals for the album, it served as an important step in her creative evolution with Giraldo — and brought them a bit closer to their trip down the aisle in 1982, where they traded vows that are still going strong several decades later. "When I got my record deal, I told Chrysalis that I wanted a musical partner, not just a guitar player, and they went out and found Neil," she laughed during her Music Connection interview. "Obviously, I did get much more than a guitar player."