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AUGUST 9, 2020

ROCKWiRED REWiND: PAT BENATAR'S 1980 ALBUM CRiMES OF PASSiON

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https://www.rockwired.com/CapitalITimes.jpgn a time when pop stardom is doled out on this or that televised singing contest, it may be hard to remember that there was a time when getting your name out there was a dues paying process. Such was the case for a young woman out of Long Island with a four and a half octave range and a dream. In the seven years before the release of her platinum selling debut album, PAT BENATAR, nee ANDRZEJEWSKI, got the ball rolling on her singing career as a singer in a Richmond, Virginia - based lounge quartet called COXON's ARMY. As local recognition of the young singer grew, so did BENATAR's ambitions and she set course for New York City, where the action was. Strangely, her start in New York didn't happen at TRAMPS or in the grit and grime of CBGBs, but at CATCH A RISING STAR, a comedy club famous for launching the careers of ROBIN WILLIAMS, EDDIE MURPHY and RICHARD BELZER. It was here that BENATAR began honing her sound as a pop siren with a decided rock n roll edge, even if the house band at the time didn't even have a guitarist. One Halloween night in 1977, BENATAR sported a black leotard, heavy eye make up and a toy laser gun as tribute to the 50's b-grade science fiction film CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON. Reactions to her live act in those days were strong, but with a new look, the crowd went wild and BENATAR incorporated the look thereafter. Little did she know how impactful the look would be in the years to come. Soon she was signed to CHRYSALIS RECORDS and her MIKE CHAPMAN (BLONDIE, THE KNACK) produced debut album IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT busted out of the gate with platinum sales with a little help from that joyful raucous of a first single HEARTBREAKER and nothing like THE VOICE or ADAM LEVINE hitting a buzzer and turning around in his chair was needed. Not bad for a 26 year old divorcee.

Not only could the success of IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT in 1979 be measured on the BILLBOARD 200 album charts, it could also be seen and a felt in the reaction to BENATAR's fiercely energetic live shows. Disco may have been on the way out but it was still pervasive and to see a live show such as BENATAR's marked by MYRON GROMBACHER's thunderous drumming, the dueling guitars of NEIL GIRALDO and SCOTT ST. CLAIR SHEETS and bassist ROGER CAPPS laying down the foundation with BENATAR's pristine soprano floating over the proceedings clearly went against the grain. In the times before MTV and YOUTUBE, this gritty live act was indeed a spectacle to behold. The public appetite for the lady and her band led to countless sold out shows and even a bomb threat due to show being oversold in Virginia Beach.

What exactly was powering this zeitgeist? It wasn't like women doing rock n roll was a new thing. You had ANN and NANCY WILSON from HEART who knew how to crank up the volume but it was often tempered by that acoustic renaissance fair-styled balladry of theirs. You know - hippie music. STEVIE NICKS was a star thanks to FLEETWOOD MAC or should FLEETWOOD MAC thank her for making the band a big deal? Either way, she typified that laid back southern California sound that was just as pervasive as disco was. As matter of fact, it was that same laid back California vibe that typified LINDA RONSTADT's musical output. DEBORAH HARRY of BLONDIE was something new. Her band's plucky new wave sound was transforming the rock landscape and was marked by droll observations of love and life. They may have been the last of the CBGB bands to get signed but they were the first to break through with a number one single HEART OF GLASS - a disco song of all things.

Like BLONDIE, BENATAR and her band on IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT boasted a similar urgency and perhaps producer MIKE CHAPMAN should be credited for that, but BLONDIE's approach was tongue in cheek. BENATAR's drive was rooted more in sexual politics and striking back at a man who is either giving her the runaround, showing indifference or giving her the brush off. This rock siren was not going to make quaint observations about how vain her rich, horse betting, jet-setting beau was. If you betrayed this woman, you were going to pay and at a time of "touch my body" disco and the fluttering heartbreak that RONSTADT made pretty, the music of BENATAR was making a real statement four years before MADONNA would come on to the scene and take up that very same stance, albeit with a dance groove.

The success and notoriety of BENATAR and company ensured another album with CHRYSALIS RECORDS, but how was a sophomore album going to be received?

The summer of 1980 had BLONDIE's CALL ME and OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN's MAGIC playing over the airwaves and EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was on its way to being the top grossing film of the year at the box office. On TV you had repeats of DALLAS and the country was in the midst of a Presidential Election that would eventually lead to RONALD REAGAN's landslide victory. In that final summer of the CARTER Administration, BENATAR's second album, CRIMES OF PASSION was released but was preceded by the album's stomping first single YOU BETTER RUN.

All is not fair in love and war and on the first single from CRIMES OF PASSION, BENATAR doesn't simply emanicipate herself from a gaslighting asshole boyfriend who is messing with her heart, soul and head, she sends him packing. Anyone fearing that BENATAR's sass and "my way or the highway" stance was going to be softened had no need to worry. Bassist ROGER CAPPS and drummer MYRON GROMBACHER lay down one fierce, thunderous march that gets punctuated the riffage of guitarists NEIL GIRALDO and SCOTT ST. CLAIR SHEETS. BENATAR, the rock siren, issues the kind of venom that such betrayed anger deserves. Noticeably absent is the new wave varnish that found its way onto the sessions for the previous album. Rather than being mere studio music, the players and BENATAR emerge as a full fledged hard rock band. As a first single, YOU BETTER RUN makes all of the sense in the world and sets listeners up for the album to come.


It would've been all to easy to dial up MIKE CHAPMAN again and repeat the formula on IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT but CRIMES OF PASSION ditches the cabaret feel of the first and goes for full on hard rock. On this album, BENATAR comes into her own, not only as a singer but also a songwriter ( she co-wrote six of the albums ten tracks) and the romantic relationship between her and guitarist NEIL GIRALDO  yielded some creative benefits. Even her band mates emerge as stars on this album and not mere session men. CRIMES OF PASSION is a grittier album than its predecessor and that is due in large part to lady and the band working out of SOUND CITY STUDIOS in LA with producer KEITH OLSEN (FLEETWOOD MAC, FOREIGNER) behind the recording console. The songs TREAT ME RIGHT, YOU BETTER RUN, HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT and HELL IS FOR CHILDREN from the album remain radio mainstays today, but songs such as the glorious KATE BUSH cover WUTHERING HEIGHTS, the seductive strut of I'M GONNA FOLLOW YOU and rock n roll revelry of LITTLE PARADISE would've been equally as comfortable on rock radio. Despite the albums classic status, there are some clunkers such as the perfunctory NEVER WANNA LEAVE YOU (BENATAR and GIRALDO's first songwriting credit together), the static PRISONER OF LOVE and the meandering OUT-A-TOUCH which brings the album to an unsatisfactory conclusion.

Then there is that little matter of the album's sleeve art which has BENATAR posing seductively in a black leotard on a dance bar in soft focus. From a consumer's point of view, the ballet motif is questionable and looks like it belongs on a CAROLE BAYER SAGER album and not a hard rock album. Even the band on the back cover look awkward and bored silly with drummer GROMBACHER looking especially ill at ease. Perhaps a stark black and white JAILHOUSE ROCK theme would've suited the album better. With every album that followed, BENATAR would go onto have better sleeves for her albums. Sure, it's a petty matter but the album was BENATAR's true medium. How do you think the woman went on to have 6 platinum albums?

***

HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT
"Lacking subtlety and playfulness" was a charge levied against BENATAR by ROLLING STONE with regard to her album CRIMES OF PASSION. The fact that the woman is full of the sort of bravado that made men in rock the men that they are is not something we're going to argue with. But lacking playfulness? The proof that the rock siren was capable of putting her tongue in her chipmunk cheek was the song that had her putting another notch in her lipstick case. Who sings that with a straight face? BRENDA STAR? In any event, the song became a massive hit - her first top ten hit and boasted the larger than life chorus and the playful NEIL GIRALDO guitar solo that has become her trademark. Years after the fact, the song has proven to be perfect for any karaoke or impromptu sing-a-long.


HELL IS FOR CHILDREN
This was BENATAR's first foray into making music with a message and this stinging indictment on child abuse still manages to disturb and electrify 37 years after it's release. HELL IS FOR CHILDREN gave CRIMES OF PASSION the emotional heft that the album needed. Too much romantic discontent would be too much right? The subject of child abuse is often considered taboo but back in 1980, nobody was talking about it. BENATAR's examination of sexual politics had an allure back in the early eighties, but with HELL... she managed to engage in a different way. Hindsight being 20/20, there was no doubt that this rocker was gonna be a fantastic mom.


LITTLE PARADISE
HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT has gone on to be one of BENATAR's more celebrated anthems. Hell, I think it's probably everybody's favorite anthem but I always thought  the kitschiness of the track seemed out of place on an album that spent much of it's running time pointing out all that could go wrong in a relationship. LITTLE PARADISE isn't a relationship song but it showcases the shallowness of Hollywood life with the most propelling Tex-Mex guitar riffage this side of ZZ TOP. BENATAR is in fine voice but here is where her band steals the show. I would've traded BEST SHOT for this one, but no one asked me. 


I'M GONNA FOLLOW YOU
BILLY STEINBERG of the STEINBERG/KELLY songwriting team has gone down in pop history  for having penned classic pop tunes for the likes of CYNDI LAUPER, THE BANGLES, THE PRETENDERS, MADONNA and WHITNEY HOUSTON, but it was BENATAR who gave STEINBERG his first taste of recognition with I'M GONNA FOLLOW YOU, a moody, strutting rocker punctuated by a frantic bridge - the kind that only a vocalist like BENATAR could take to dizzying dramatic heights. I'M GONNA FOLLOW you is about as new wave as things get on CRIMES OF PASSION. We're used to hearing BENATAR as the wronged party or the betrayed heroine. Here she is a stalker, a malevolent figure who will stop at nothing to corner the object of her affection. To what end? We have no idea. The album should've gone for more moments like this.



WUTHERING HEIGHTS
PAT BENATAR was my first introduction to the awe and splendor of KATE BUSH with her take on KATE's loopy, ethereal, musical retelling of EMILY BRONTE's tragic literary classic of the same name. BENATAR's take is decidedly more power ballad-y and certainly not as adventurous, but the damn thing is mighty epic. Even ROLLING STONE magazine had to melt the ice a little bit when citing WUTHERING HEIGHTS as a standout track from CRIMES OF PASSION. 1980 was the year of the power ballad thanks to REO SPEEDWAGON's KEEP ON LOVING YOU. Would a tale of love, loss and death have been a radio win for BENATAR with WUTHERING HEIGHTS. Probably not in an age where it was best to keep it simple. We were coming up on the REAGAN era after all.



***

CRIMES OF PASSION ended up surpassing its predecessor by going 5x platinum. However, the album never charted higher than number 2. Following the assassination of of JOHN LENNON, his final album DOUBLE FANTASY with YOKO ONO remained at the top of the album charts for eight weeks. BENATAR and her band continued to be a success on the road and playing much larger venues than before. Despite hitting the mark in sales, touring and airplay, critics still weren't on board.

DEBRA RAE COHEN of ROLLING STONE had this to offer in her assessment of CRIMES OF PASSION:

"Lacking both subtlety and playfulness, BENATAR delivers the brunt of CRIMES OF PASSION's material–most of it leaden reworkings of hard-rock clichés (TREAT ME RIGHT, PRISONER OF LOVE) – with a shrill seriousness that rarely varies. She's at her most carnest in HELL IS FOR CHILDREN, an indictment of child abuse that's as grotesque as it is well meaning. Musically and lyrically ("It's all so confusing/This brutal abusing/They blacken your eyes/And then pologize"), HELL IS FOR CHILDREN immediately follows a puff-and-panter called HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT. If PAT BENATAR misses the irony there, she ought to think twice about rock & roll."

Despite the less than friendly review from ROLLING STONE, it didn't stop BENATAR and her beau/guitarist NEIL GIRALDO from gracing the coveted cover in a playful, seductive shoot by none other than ANNIE LEIBOVITZ. Ms. COHEN's review also didn't prevent the album from being the trendsetter that it was. With a new decade on the horizon, many established female artists took a tip from BENATAR and issued rock recording with a new wave slant to them. One was DONNA SUMMER's  THE WANDERER which featured the BENATAR-esque single COLD LOVE featuring a guitar intro that pre-dates MICHAEL JACKSON's BLACK OR WHITE. The other was LINDA RONSTADT's desperate sounding MAD LOVE featuring an overabundance of ELVIS COSTELLO covers and a contribution from the STEINBERG/KELLY songwriting team that BENATAR was making famous.

THE MUSiC ViDEO FOR YOU BETTER RUN!!!

Oh, and there was that GRAMMY she won for BEST FEMALE ROCK VOCAL PERFORMANCE, an award should win for the next three years.

Even a year following the album's release, the impact of CRIMES OF PASSION was not complete. MTV launched in August of 1981  but BENATAR had no less allure.  It was a good idea to capitalize on it and let people know that STEVIE NICKS and DEBORAH HARRY weren't the only babes in town. Before MTV, music was something you listened to on the radio. It only became visual when you saw a band in concert or stayed up late enough for either DON KIRSHNER'S IN CONCERT or BURT SUGARMAN'S MIDNIGHT SPECIAL. A channel playing non-stop promotional videos sounded like a risky venture. Rock n roll belonged on the radio. Right?  In the weeks before BENATAR was to release her third album PRECIOUS TIME, YOU BETTER RUN was selected as the second music video to be played by the fledgling network following VIDEO KILLED THE RADIO STAR by THE BUGGLES. Sure, coming in second doesn't sound like that big of a deal but when you keep in mind that BENATAR was the first female artist on MTV and guitarist NEIL GIRALDO was the first ever guitarist on the network,  it's a pretty huge deal. And what a way to make an entrance! Sporting black vinyl pants, matching black stilleto boots, a candy cane striped top and that sultry pout verging on a snarl, the woman's iconic status was complete.


FOR MORE iNFORMATiON GO TO:
https://www.benatargiraldo.com


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http://www.rockwired.com/CapitalB.jpgrian Lush is a music industry professional and entrepreneur. In 2005 he launched the online music site Rockwired.com to help promote new music artists in conjunction with the weekly radio show Rockwired Live which aired on KTSTFM.COM from 2005 - 2009. In 2010 He launched the daily podcast series Rockwired Radio Profiles which features exclusive interviews and music. He has also developed and produced the online radio shows Jazzed and Blue - Profiles in Blues and Jazz, Aboriginal Sounds - A Celebration of American Indian and First Nations Music, The Rockwired Rock N Roll Mixtape Show and The Rockwired Artist of the Month Showcase. In 2012, Brian Lush and his company Rockwired Media LLC launched the monthly digital online publication Rockwired Magazine. The magazine attracts over 75,000 readers a month and shows no signs of stopping. Rockwired Magazine also bares the distinction of being the first American Indian-owned rock magazine. Brian Lush is an enrolled member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe. Brian Lush's background in music journalism, radio and podcast hosting, podcast production, web design, publicity, advertising sales, social media and online marketing, strategic editorial planning and branding have all made Rockwired a name that is trusted and respected throughout the independent music industry.

CONTACT BRiAN LUSH AT: djlush@rockwired.com

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