Nope, Not a 1-Hit Wonder: Patty Smyth
Bang Bang. Patty Smyth was indeed the warrior for a fourteen year old Daffy Stardust. And when you’re fourteen, love really is a battlefield…wait…wrong 80s power songstress. Anyway, as the above shows, music videos were an art form in their infancy, and people were still trying to figure out exactly what they should be. One approach used by a few artists was the post-apocalyptic dance to the death. Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself” (directed by Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘s Tobe Hooper) comes to mind, as does New Order’s video for “True Faith.” Smyth was initially disappointed in the video for “The Warrior,” complaining that they made her look like Batgirl. And here I thought that was part of the appeal. That and her David Bowie Aladdin Sane-style makeup job. In the end, the video was very popular and was a part of what pushed the song up to #7 on the Billboard singles chart.
This series is all about dispelling the errant belief that a particular artist only had one hit single, right? So that should mean that Scandal featuring Patty Smyth is not a 1-hit wonder, right? Well, that’s not actually, technically, true. Confused yet?
The band Scandal was started by guitarists Zack Smith and Keith Mack, with Patty Smyth on lead vocals in 1981. Over the course of the band’s history only Smyth and Mack remained constants, with primary songwriter Smith leaving the group in 2006 and two other members passing away. Smyth had grown up with her mother working as a waitress in Greenwich Village hot spots and spent time around well-known musicians like Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, and Ritchie Havens
The band’s first single, “Goodbye to You” featured Late Night with David Letterman’s bandleader Paul Schaffer playing a keyboard solo and has remained a favorite amongst modern rock fans, but failed to reach into the top40, stalling at #65 on the Hot 100. Let’s take a look at the video anyway. It’s a fun song.
Also there’s that dress.
If the pop music charts were fair, “Goodbye to You” would have been a top40 hit. It’s catchy and you can dance to it, but it also features sturdy guitars and drums instrumentation. The singles charts, however, are not a fair place. Consider that neither “What I Like About You” by the Romantics or “Melt with You” by Modern English hit the top40.
Well, never mind, Scandal would have plenty of opportunities to grab multiple hits. After all, despite their continually revolving lineup (even Jon Bon Jovi recorded with the band briefly in 1983), the combined talents of songwriter Zack Smith and vocalist Smyth was a one-two punch that not many bands could boast. The group’s self-titled EP had garnered fans, and soon a full length album would be released.
That’s when “The Warrior” broke onto the charts, handing them a top10 smash. So now all they needed was one more hit, right? That’s not too big a task, is it? Surely, one of the other very good songs on the “Warrior” album would do the trick. If you haven’t heard the record yet and you’re a fan of solid tuneful pop rock, I’d give it a moderate recommendation. I had fully expected to hear “The Warrior” and a whole lot of filler, but that’s not what I got from the album. In addition to a number of very hooky pop rock originals sung in Smyth’s strong dramatic voice, a cover of Journey’s “Only the Young” was also welcome.
First up to win Scandal and Patty Smyth a second hit was a mid-tempo number that evokes mild bondage, “Hands Tied.” Let’s give it a listen and shake hands all around as it climbs the charts.
Well, that’s nothing brilliant, but plenty of patently awful songs have made the top40. “Hands Tied,” a pretty straight forward pop tune should have no trouble. Well, in fact, it came up just short, landing only as high as #41 on the singles chart. That’s a tough break, Scandal. Give it another try!
Next up is another solid offering, and this one has a couple of advantages over “Hands Tied,” sporting sharper guitar work, and a bigger budget for the video, breaking out of the single costume/single set constraints of its predecessor. Surely this will be the start to a long run of hits for Scandal and Patty Smyth.
Nope. Yet again they hit one spot shy of our minimum requirement of a top40 hit, grinding to a halt once more at #41. What a bummer! Would the band’s career have been significantly different if these two songs had climbed one spot higher? That seems like a tough sell, but keep in mind that many of us (and by “us” I mean “me”) were introduced to some songs on Sunday afternoons on Casey Kasem’s Weekly Top40 radio show as they first entered the charts. Kasem not only played the songs on the show, but sometimes discussed them too. Such exposure could only have been good for the group, and it’s hard to say where that might have taken them.
As it was, they had a top 10 hit single and an album that reached #17 on the U.S. charts. The group pushed forward with touring in support of the album, even as internal strife threatened to destabilize the band.
Not long after returning from touring, Smyth ran into punk pioneer Richard Hell, of “Blank Generation” fame, on the street and struck up a conversation based on some shared friends. The pair eventually married, and she told the New York Times that she was now “Patty Hell” in April of 1985. The Hells were apparently either very private or Smyth’s record label thought it would be better if most casual fans thought she was single, because I couldn’t find a single photo of the young couple together. There’s a Richard Hell album cover with a woman on it who is often misidentified as Smyth…but it’s not her. The two had not yet met when the picture was taken. Here it is. Seriously, that’s not her.
With the band hemorrhaging members, tensions were already high, but when they lost a second drummer, Thommy Price, Smyth had had enough. She walked away from Scandal, a band which was quickly just becoming her backing musicians anyway. That year, a potentially career-making opportunity appeared for Smyth when a much higher-profile band jettisoned its mercurial lead singer. Believe it or not, prior to settling on Sammy Haggar, Van Halen actually offered their vacant frontman post to a woman. Smyth had been friends with Eddie Van Halen and his wife of the time, Valerie Bertinelli.
Unfortunately, Smyth had to refuse the offer because she had just discovered that she was pregnant with her first child, and Van Halen was well-known at the time for heavy partying. You can only guess that her husband’s history with heavy drugs added to her instinct to veer away from that scene. Smyth has also shared that she suffered from postpartum depression. Within two years she and Hell were divorced, but her daughter Ruby remained as a benefit of the relationship. Her first solo album, “Never Enough,” had been delayed by life and didn’t appear until three years after Scandal’s last offering. The new album’s tracks sported a wide array of songwriters, including the Hooters’ Eric Bazillian, and Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly (who wrote #1 hits for artists like Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and Heart).
Her first solo single from the album, the title track, and its simple stage performance video stalled at #61 on the Hot 100. I have to say that it looks a lot like the sort of video her old friend Jon Bon Jovi was shooting at the time.
A more cinematic film was released for a cover of the Tom Waits classic “Downtown Train.”
No matter who sings that song, it always grabs me. “Downtown Train” would go to #3 on the singles chart…two years later…for Rod Stewart. Smyth’s version stopped dead at #95. A third single, named “Isn’t it Enough,” didn’t even chart. Maybe DJs looked at the title and thought it was a re-release.
The album itself never rose above #66. The failure of “Never Enough” had to be stunning to everyone involved. Smyth had been counted on to become the new Pat Benatar or Joan Jett, but had instead come up pretty much empty. She promptly disappeared. As far as we knew, Smyth was done with recording pop music.
Five years later, she suddenly appeared with her second full solo album, named simply “Patty Smyth.” With five years to work on this next record and her name on more than half of its tracks’ songwriting credits, it would be tempting to believe that the new album with her name as the title would be a labour of love, and exactly the sort of music she herself wished to put her name on. Well, if so, you have to come to the conclusion that Smyth’s taste was lousy all along. The general critical consensus was that it wasn’t even as good as the bland failure that had been “Never Enough.”
Let’s take a look at some of the other important things which happened between 1987 and the end of 1992-
- The United States began and ended its involvement in the first Gulf War in Iraq.
- The Berlin Wall fell.
- Nirvana’s “Nevermind” kicked Michael Jackson off the top of the Billboard album charts and quickly destroyed the credibility of traditional pop metal groups
- Public Enemy released 5 albums, helping to redefine the boundaries of popular music in the process.
- Disney opened two different theme parks.
- Daffy Stardust graduated from both high school and college.
Okay, I’m going to have to stop being rude about Smyth’s second album because she actually had an ace up her sleeve this time around in the form of an easy-to-digest lost love ballad duet with the very popular Don Henley. He had been on a big winning streak with three different pop ballad top40 hits, and audiences proved to not be tired of that particular formula.
“Sometimes Love Just ain’t Enough” became the biggest hit of Smyth’s career, sitting at #2 on the Billboard singles chart for six consecutive weeks (it just couldn’t get past Boyz II Men).
So that’s it, right? With “The Warrior” and now “Sometimes Love Just ain’t Enough,” Smyth was now officially not a 1-hit wonder, right? Well, not according to Lebeau. I quote:
in my book, a solo artist having a hit with another group does not disqualify them from being a 1-hit wonder. In fact, I would argue that you can be a 1-hit wonder multiple times recording with different groups.
According to Lebeau’s rules, Smyth can’t have one hit as a member of a band and then another as a solo artist and avoid the 1-hit wonder label.
Well, that’s what her next single release was for! Cue “No Mistakes!”
It certainly was no mistake having Henley along for the ride again with uncredited backing vocals, because this middling mid-tempo number scored Smyth another top40 hit, peaking at #33 in February of 1993. The familiar sound of Smyth and Henley harmonizing should probably be credited with the modest success of “No Mistakes.” I actually remembered this song pretty well when I gave it a listen. This was because it was on heavy rotation in the in-store music at the drug store I killed time in between graduating from college and moving to Chicago. Since that was the only place I’d heard it, I guess I had assumed that it wasn’t really a hit, just a song the label was pushing in retail outlets. Apparently it was both.
So there you have it! By Lebeau’s own rules, Scandal featuring Patty Smyth is a 1-hit wonder, but Patty Smyth as a solo artist is not. That’s why I named the article the way I did.
Then Patty Smyth disappeared again. To this day, she has not released another pop album, focusing instead on producing music for films and getting married again. In 1994 Smyth was nominated for a Grammy for the song “Look What Love has Done” from the Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy Junior, another duet, this time with James Ingram. Three years later she married former tennis champion John McEnroe.
Scandal was brought back together in part by the VH-1 television show Bands Reunited and have been touring with rejuvenated vigor ever since. Recordings of new songs have been rumored since 2009, but have yet to emerge. Hopes are high for the sort of catchy rock tunes they are capable of.
Posted on March 18, 2015, in Music, Nope, Not a 1-Hit Wonder and tagged Don Henley, Goodbye to You, Patty Smyth, scandal, Sometimes Love Just ain't Enough, The Warrior. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.