Eddie Schwartz (Hit Me With Your Best Shot)

by Carl Wiser

Looking back on how his dominoes fell, Eddie recounts how he became a successful songwriter and producer. It's good to know you can be in experimental therapy one day and turn that experience into a hit song.
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): Can you tell me how "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" came about?

Eddie Schwartz: Well, I was in a kind of weird therapy when I was in my mid-20s. It was called bioenergetics, I believe. And one of the things that we did was punch pillows - I guess it had something to do with getting out hostility. I went through a session where we punched pillows for a while, and it all seemed kind of strange, but I remember walking outside this therapy session, but standing on the doorstep of this building that I'd been in – this small house in Toronto, actually – and this title just came to me, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot." And it just kind of evolved from there.

I started coming up with ideas for it, little bits and pieces of the song were kind of circling around in my head for quite a few months. But I really didn't go any farther than that, I didn't really have any concrete ideas. And then I found out through an attorney that a publisher in Los Angeles was interested in signing me, and the name of the company was ATV. They were also involved with the Beatles catalogue, and I was very excited about their interest. They said they wanted to hear some more songs, though, before they went any further. So I was playing in a band, and I didn't really have any songs finished, but I booked a recording session for after one of our gigs one night. The session actually started at 3 a.m. and was scheduled to go to about 6 or 7 in the morning. And I had nothing written. So on the way to the gig that night – that would have been about 9 o'clock - driving along the highway in Toronto, it sort of seemed like the sky opened up and the entire song just came to me, musically and the chorus.

I didn't have the verse lyrics yet. And I madly drove to the gig we were playing at, and I picked up the guitar and I figured out what the chords I was hearing in my head were, and jotted it all down and sort of just made a mental note of everything. And then I played the gig. The band I was in was backing up another artist, but I just hired the same guys to come to this demo session. So we got there about 3 in the morning, and we recorded the tracks, and there was time to sing the vocals, and the engineer said, "Okay, well it's time to do it." And I stepped up to the microphone and I realized I had no verse lyrics. Now the sun was coming up and we were all totally exhausted. And I said, "Look, just run the tape three times. Whatever I sing the third time, those are the lyrics. And we'll just go with that." And I really just improvised the lyrics. Each of the first two times, as I sang, if anything came out of my mouth that I liked, I jotted it down. And lo and behold by the time he pressed record on the third pass, the song was written as we basically now know it, other than it was from a male standpoint. And it was "before you put another notch in your lipstick case," and that was the only line that ever changed when Pat Benatar sang it.

So that's how the song came to be. and I wrote a few other songs, sent them down to ATV and got the word from the lawyer a few weeks later that they had decided to sign me and were going to fly me down to Los Angeles to demo some of the songs that I had submitted, do proper sort of Los Angeles-style slicker demos of the songs so they could be pitched to various artists. And there was a possibility that they would also help me pursue a career as an artist myself. They flew me down there, and the song I was most excited about was "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" at the time. The last tape I sent them had four songs, and "Hit Me" was the last song of the four. And they said, "You know, we really love the first three songs, but we think that fourth song, that 'Best Shot' thing was so bad we don't even want to demo it. It's absolutely pathetic."

And that was my introduction to the music business. From that point forward, it took weeks and weeks to demo it, and once we did demo it they hated it so much they actually erased the master recordings of it. I was there for months. I was supposed to be there for weeks, and because of all this back and forth about "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" I ended up being there for months. And I was just about to get on a plane to go back to Toronto, and I was just so dejected that my favorite song had been recorded and erased, was just beyond the pale. And the engineer, a guy named John Rhys, wonderful guy, invited me to dinner the last night to cheer me up, and at dinner he passed me over a little cassette and he said, you know, "They told me to erase the song, and I had to, because they're one of my biggest clients. But I made one cassette copy of the song for you before I did that, because I knew how much you loved the song."

When I got back to Toronto, somehow or another – I can't remember exactly how – I got one copy of it. ATV had just hired a new guy in New York by the name of Marv Goodman. He was working at Chrysalis, but he was going to leave Chrysalis and go to work for ATV. But while he was still at Chrysalis, for the last couple of weeks, he was listening to the material he'd be working with at ATV, and I said, okay, I'm going to send him "Hit Me." I mean, everybody hates it, maybe he'll like it. And sure enough, he liked it, and he kept playing it over and over again. And the story I heard – I wasn't there – was Pat Benatar took a meeting in the office next door and heard it through the wall, got excited about it, and that's how she heard it.

Songfacts: Is this all 1979?

Eddie: I guess, yeah, it would be '79, late '78 or '79. They signed me in September of '78, so I imagine it was... yeah, that winter, '78-'79.

Songfacts: So if John Rhys doesn't preserve that tape for you, this might not exist?

Eddie: Well, it's one of those things... that version wouldn't exist. There was that first demo, remember the one that I did in the middle of the night with my buddies in Canada, that was a much rawer demo. It's all speculation, but that is one of a million stories like that of people who went on to have some success in the music business and very often had to do it in spite of who they worked with as opposed to, you know, with them. I'm sure there are other stories, too, about people who were very much helped by their labels, or by their publishers. Once the machine got into gear, once she cut it and everybody was on board, it couldn't have happened without all the support of people in the industry from that point forward. But just getting it to that point was quite a struggle.

Songfacts: So you were a singer in this band, right?

Eddie: Well, this was really me, it was just Eddie Schwartz. It was actually a woman in Canada by the name of Charity Brown. Ancient people in the music business may remember, especially Canadian, she was actually a big star in Canada for a number of years. So she was a big star in Canada, and I was in her band. I was just a rhythm guitar player in her band.

Songfacts: I see. So at the time in your life when you're doing this, and you're going through the pillow-punching therapy and all that, you would describe yourself as a struggling musician?

Eddie: Yeah, I was a struggling musician. I didn't go to the therapy for very long. This was kind of an experimental... it was those kind of days. And then somebody says, "Hey, you should try this, bioenergetics, that's really great." And I tried that for a little while. I haven't gone to therapy before or since. Maybe I should go back and get a few more songs.

Songfacts: Now, would you say the song is about sex?

Eddie: I don't know that I would, Carl. I sort of think the song is laden with sexual innuendo, but I think at the core of the song, it's a song about self-confidence. It's a song saying, "no matter what you throw at me, I can handle it. I can play in your league." I think that's always been my feeling about it.

Songfacts: Do you think it had any trouble getting airplay because the lyrics did have that sexual innuendo in it?

Eddie: I remember it climbed up the charts slowly, but sort of steadily. Most of the feedback that I got – and I was very happy with it – I got a lot of sexist comments. There was some commentary in journals, in newspapers at the time, about it being sexist, about it being encouraging violence against women. Which shocked me. Because A: it was written from a man's standpoint originally, and B: it was always meant metaphorically. No punches are actually thrown in the song or stuff like that. So it really shocked me that there were accusations of it being sexist. But I got the feeling that most people got that sense of self-confidence, that they enjoyed the sexual innuendo, but they understood the underlying message was one of self-confidence.

Songfacts: Could you give me a little bit of a background on where you're from, and what you do now, how the song may have changed your life?

Eddie: Sure. Well, originally, I was born in Toronto. I'm a dual citizen, my mother was from New York City, so I became a dual citizen and have both US and Canadian citizenship. For most of my life I lived in Toronto, and I was blessed with a successful career as a songwriter and a producer out of Toronto. And worked with such acts, after "Hit Me," as Joe Cocker, Carly Simon, the Doobie Brothers, Jeffrey Osborne. Many, many people over the years. And in 1997 after finding that Toronto had become an increasingly smaller musical community, I decided to try coming to Nashville just because I'd heard such wonderful things about the musical community here, and came down, I guess, for the first time in '96 and fell in love with the community here, and moved my family down here in '97.

And since then, I've written songs for people like Rascal Flatts. So I'm just doing what I've always done: write and help work with artists and develop them. Also, of course, people I forgot were Paul Carrack, I wrote a song called "Don't Shed A Tear," and another song called "I Live By The Groove" that both did very well for him.

Songfacts: What do you find you're most known for? I find that songwriters a lot of times are kind of in the background.

Eddie: Yeah, it depends on the community. And believe it or not, "Don't Shed A Tear" seems to be a song that a lot of musicians and people in the industry became very enamored of. So a lot of people know me more for "Don't Shed A Tear" than for "Hit Me With Your Best Shot." But obviously "Hit Me" was such a huge global hit that that's certainly the one people would know me – if they know me at all, as you pointed out. You know, most people think that Pat Benatar wrote the song.

Songfacts: Yeah. Was it able to make you financially stable in order to help your career?

Eddie: Well, it certainly went a long way. I mean, before that, I was a struggling, hand-to-mouth kind of musician. That certainly changed. I had credibility and people came to me. Before that, you can't get people to return your phone calls or open the doors. So once you have a song like that, a lot of the people whose name I mentioned, I got phone calls from them. So that was certainly a nice turn of events.

Songfacts: Yeah, that's fantastic. Would you be able to take me through a little bit of "Don't Shed a Tear"?

Eddie: Yeah, that's also kind of a funny story. Not quite the marathon in some ways that "Hit Me" was, or not as tortured in some ways, maybe a little tortured in others. I had a small apartment in New York on the Lower West Side, basically, West Village. And there was a guy who was living in New York. We had mutual friends, and I was introduced to him, and we started writing this song together. He just had a musical idea which was the changes in the verse. Minor to major changes. And we got together for an afternoon, went for a motorcycle ride, fell off the motorcycle, I'll never forget that – on the West Side Highway - came back, worked on the song a little bit. Pretty shaken up, and didn't really get very far with it, but got some of the verse mapped out and maybe a little bit of the chorus, kind of just musically roughed it out. And then just shortly thereafter – kind of forgot about it. Didn't work on it anyway, just had these kind of vague ideas of where the song might go. No lyrics, just some musical ideas.

And I got a phone call not too long after that from a manager of a guy named Lenny Zakatek, who was at that time the lead singer in the Alan Parsons Project. This guy, he wanted to break away from Alan Parsons and do his own thing. He was a fantastic singer. And he'd invited myself and a guy named Dave Tyson, who was a very good friend of mine, and many of the songs that got cut by various people over the years I co-wrote with Dave. And he went on to co-write a song called "Black Velvet" with Chris Ward. I was invited to join this band, and they were rehearsing in Toronto. So I went up to Toronto, and started working with Dave. I'd worked with him many times before, but not necessarily in a trio band situation. And we became a band called LED - Lenny, Eddie, and Dave - and we were looking for material. We wrote some, and we played around with some. But the manager booked a session, there was some interest from a number of labels. And we went into the studio and they said, "You know, we need one more song, we need something that's really got a great groove." And I said, "I've got this thing I started with this guy Rob Friedman in New York, but it's really not very far along." And I played it for them, we just started jamming it, and I started playing – just came up with that guitar lick that starts it off. And we just cut it. We jammed it, we worked on it, and it sort of developed musically.

All the changes were there, so we didn't really write it, but we kind of developed a groove for it. And then Lenny said, "Okay, well I guess I should put the vocals on." I said, "Oh, jeez, I don't have any lyrics." And it was a little like "Hit Me." I said, "Look, give me 15 minutes and I'll sit down and write some lyrics." And I did have the title idea. I had jotted down, some point along the way I'd come up with the title for "Don't Shed A Tear." And I literally just went off into a corner in the studio and sat down, and 15 minutes later I wrote the lyrics. Lenny went out and sang them, and we did it, and we were very, very excited about it.

It went on a compilation of three or four songs that went to a number of labels. I still had a house in Toronto at the time, a small house. I went home, and in a few days I pick up the phone and hear, "Eddie, it's Tommy Mottola. I love this stuff, it's fantastic. I'm gonna sign you, you guys are great. You know, it's fantastic, I love that 'Don't Shed A Tear' thing." So it was very exciting, and the manager that was in Toronto went down to New York to talk to Tommy Mottola about it, and at the same time I got a phone call from Rob Friedman, because my publisher at the time had sent him down a copy of "Don't Shed A Tear." Obviously he'd been a co-writer to start with. And he just sort of got a little forgotten in the process. Not on purpose, but just events moved forward, and the band loved the song, and we just cut it, and we forgot to touch base with Rob Friedman and say, "What do you think of this? Is this okay with you?" Which is the right thing to do. But it was all inadvertent, but Rob was very upset about the whole thing. And on top of that he hated the lyric. So we got into a very strange situation where we had Tommy Mottola calling us telling us it was a smash and it was the hit single and wanted to sign the band, and we had the co-writer of the song calling us and saying he hated it and he wanted it totally re-written.

So things got resolved in a number of ways, and it was one of those things where everybody calmed down, and things worked themselves out. For reasons that were totally unmusical but had to do with the negotiations between the manager and Tommy Mottola, we never end up signing the deal. And the band didn't stay together. And then somehow Paul Carrack heard it, I think he heard it through his producer. They just loved it, and they ended up cutting it. And, you know, Rob calmed down when he saw the kind of response the song was getting. There never seems to be a straight line between to points in the music business.

Songfacts: The other thing I think is funny is that you were in a band called LED, and you end up working with Jeffrey Osborne who was in LTD.

Eddie: That's right. That was "Room With A View," which was one of his singles. I co-produced that with Richard Perry. I think I got associate producer credit, which is the way Richard did it. We basically did the tracks.

Songfacts: I'm just trying to get the timeline here. So when you're writing "Don't Shed A Tear" what year was that, about?

Eddie: I'm guessing '87, '88. I went off and did Cycles with the Doobie Brothers not long after that. In fact, "Don't Shed A Tear" got me the gig with the Doobie Brothers, because their reunion record - the single was "The Doctor," which I co-wrote with Tom Johnson.

So that sort of goes to your question about where do these things lead, and does it set me up. It's a bit like dominoes. One thing definitely does lead to the next.

Songfacts: Yeah, one after another. Do you have just one bit of songwriting advice that you can give us?

Eddie: I think that my feeling these days, in the troubled time of the music industry, is just try to write something that you would sing, that you would get up in front of all the people you care about or wanted to impress in the world and that you would be proud to sing in front of them. I think a lot of writers try to calculate what they write in terms of Oh, this is a Faith Hill song, or this is a Norah Jones song, or this is such and such a song. And they try to write those kind of things. I think it's much more.

I mean, everything I've ever written that's done well has been written from the heart. And basically I wrote for myself, I mean, that I'd get up and sing it in front of anybody and hopefully be proud of it. And I'm not saying that every song I've ever written that way has been great, because I'm sure a lot of them haven't been. But I just think that's the path that leads to the songs that other people are going to share some enthusiasm for.

November 8, 2003
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Comments: 3

  • Dave Empey from Port Moody, B.c.Can anyone tell me who the engineer was when Paul Carrack recorded "Don't Shed a Tear" in 1987? I think Christopher Neill was the producer. Great sound.
  • Craig Baxter from Torontoi've written a few songs for kim mitchell here in canada, and i'm always fascinated by how songs got written and qpicked up by someone ... years ago i loved the paul carrack albums "one good reason" and "groove approved" and it turns out eddie schwartz wrote great songs on both ... the fantastic story about"don't shed a tear" tells you to believe in yourself when you think something is good ... you have to believe ... to come to life, art needs someone to believe in it ...
  • Rachael Connelly from Kentucky & Oxford, UkI was really pleased to find this and learn more about some of my favourite songs. I first pantomimed Hit Me back in 5th grade, and now I'm finally doing it with my own band here in the UK. Coincidentally Don't Shed a Tear is my birthday choice, a tradition we have in the band. Thanks, Eddie!
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