Tuesday, June 27, 2017

An Appreciation: Patty Smyth and Scandal

History is littered with great bands and musicians that are left behind in the always charging stampede to move on to the next red-hot thing. Because of my age and musical proclivities, I'm thinking especially of acts from my youth like the Cars the Go-Gos, Boston, or the Bangles. Sure, their hits are still played religiously on classic rock radio, but it's doubtful any of them will be receiving serious critical reappraisals any time soon. It's almost as if they've been relegated to the dust bin of history now (which is what rock radio has become), dismissed as nothing more than catchy corporate rock from the era that defined catchy corporate rock. Maybe they'll never be hip, but bands like that left behind some great music.

Scandal—and especially their spark-plug firecracker of a lead singer, Patty Smyth—are one of those bands that I'd love to see receive a little more love. They had some hits, but two in particular that positively rocked my young life, "The Warrior" and "Goodbye To You." I hadn't listened to them in ages, but when the recent Netflix series GLOW scored the opening of its pilot episode with "The Warrior" I had one of those "Holy fuck, this song!!" moments. If you don't want to dance around the room and sing along at full volume to Patty Smyth and Scandal, then I'm not sure we can be friends.

Patty Smyth is one hell of a rock vocalist and deserves to be remembered as such. The '80s had some killer rock front-women, each oozing wit, charm, and intelligence, including Blondie's Debbie Harry, Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde, Divinyls' Chrissy Amphlett, and the B-52s' Kate Pierson, to name just a few. Even though her output with Scandal was limited by comparison, Smyth should still be included when any list of great '80s rock singers is being compiled. In her prime, she was an explosive talent with a powerful voice and undeniable charisma. Just watch "Goodbye To You," where she's like a new wave Linda Ronstadt, energetically bouncing and dancing around the room, playing with the audience and her male bandmates like a cat with its prey. She's in total command; the boys are just there to lay down the groove and the occasional blistering keyboard solo—it was the '80s, after all.

"The Warrior" is ludicrous and thrilling and romantic and funny, all of it delivered by Smyth with absolute gusto. She belts it out with ferocious conviction. The video is pure '80s cheese; it's as if the crew were allowed to borrow the sets and costumes from Cats for the weekend if they promised to be quick about it. Smyth revels in the silliness, but also manages to rise above it. She looks fabulously badass in her fringed post-apocalyptic costume while singing the hell out of the song.

Smyth didn't write either of these hits but it didn't matter then and doesn't matter now—she sang them as if she'd lived them. The farther afield we get from the wars over authenticity vs. corporate rock in music, a conflict that was waged relentlessly by rockists through from the '70s through the '90s, the less any of it seems to matter anymore. "Goodbye To You" is a rollicking blast of new wave, pop goodness, while "The Warrior" is a bombastic '80s romp through the battlefields of love. Both are insanely catchy and still pack a wallop today, thanks mainly to Smyth's crackling star power: she could be full of slyly insouciant charm one minute and erupting like a volcano the next. She had the looks and the lungs to be a star, and she was, at least briefly.

Some people will only admit to loving "Goodbye To You" or "The Warrior" if they couch their affection under the guise of a "guilty pleasure." I don't believe in guilty pleasures. Instead, I prefer to unabashedly love music that strikes the right chord with me, like the kind Smyth and Scandal made in the '80s. Back then, when I was just a young kid who wasn't yet hardened by age or irony, music like this made me want to move, smile, and sing along at the top of my lungs. Today, it manages to pierce straight through my cynical exterior and hit me right in the heart.

Shooting at the walls of heart ache. Bang bang.

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