Not only is Pat Benatar widely acknowledged as one of the leading female vocalists in the history of rock’n’roll, but she’s also one of the industry’s most enduring stars. Her CV boasts of six platinum and four gold album certifications, while her hit singles from the 70s and 80s, such as ‘Treat Me Right’, ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot’ and the perennial ‘Love Is A Battlefield’, remain daytime radio staples all over the world.
Born Patricia Mae Andrzejewski, in January 1953, Pat took a keen interest in music as a child, though her initial passion was for classical music. In her teens she had ambitions to train as an opera singer and enrol at Juilliard, Manhattan’s prestigious performing-arts institute. She eventually rejected this idea, however, and decided to pursue a career in Health Education at the State University Of New York.
Pat never abandoned her dreams of performing, however, and though she had a brief first marriage and ended up working as a bank teller in Richmond, Virginia, in the early 70s, she was encouraged to break back into show business after attending a Liza Minelli concert, subsequently finding work first as a singing waitress, and then with local Richmond lounge act Coxon’s Army.
Her first big break, however, came when Pat (by now known as Pat Benatar) performed at an amateur night at New York’s comedy club, Catch A Rising Star. Club owner Rick Newman (who later became her manager) was impressed by her spellbinding performance of Judy Garland’s ‘Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody’ and Pat spent much of the next three years working at the club before she signed a record contract.
Benatar’s major breakthrough, however, came when she headlined New York’s Tramps nightclub for several shows over four nights in the spring of 1978. The previous five years’ worth honing her performance paid dividends when she impressed representatives from several record companies and signed with Chrysalis Records (now part of the Universal Music Group) within days of her Tramps dates.
Events moved swiftly from thereon in. Through Chrysalis, Benatar recruited ex-Derringer guitarist Neil Giraldo, who assembled the backing group to play on her August 1979 debut, In The Heat Of The Night. A classy, confident pop-rock affair, it steamed up America’s Billboard 200 and peaked at No.12 on the back of the record’s punchy first 45, ‘Heartbreaker’, which also reached No.23 on the US singles chart.
Co-produced by Mike Chapman (fresh from multi-platinum success with Blondie’s Parallel Lines), the LP featured a killer selection of songs, with smartly chosen covers of John Mellencamp’s ‘I Need A Lover’ and Smokie’s ‘If You Think You Know How To Love Me’ rubbing shoulders with well-executed originals such as the gritty, Blondie-esque ‘So Sincere’ and Neil Giraldo’s ‘We Live For Love’ – the latter also broaching the US Top 30 when released as a single in February 1980.
In The Heat Of The Night was a runaway success. Its most phenomenal performance was in Canada, where it racked up a staggering 4 million sales, though it also went platinum (for sales of over 1 million) in the US in December 1980, and also introduced Pat Benatar as a force to be reckoned with in mainland Europe, where the LP went gold in France.
Resting on her laurels was not an option for Benatar, however, and she was quickly back into the studio working on songs for a second album. Produced by Keith Olsen (Fleetwood Mac, The Grateful Dead), Benatar’s sophomore release, the multi-platinum Crimes Of Passion, was released in August 1980, debuting at No.23 on the Billboard 200, where it eventually peaked at No.2 in January 1981, behind John Lennon’s Double Fantasy. The album contained one of Benatar’s best-loved hits, the million-selling US Top 10 ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot’, as well as a second US Top 20, ‘Treat Me Right’, plus an ambitious cover of Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ and the brave, child-abuse-related ‘Hell Is For Children’.
Pat Benatar was riding high in the wake of Crimes Of Passion, yet it was her third album, Precious Time, that turned her into a bona fide rock’n’roll superstar. Released in August 1981 and stuffed with anthemic, radio-friendly fare and a couple of choice covers (not least an energetic version of The Beatles’ ‘Helter Skelter’), the LP yielded two US Top 40 hits in ‘Fire And Ice’ and ‘Promises In The Dark’, and topped the US Billboard 200, going double-platinum in both North America and Canada, and also taking Benatar into the British Top 30 album chart for the first time.
Crimes Of Passion and Precious Time catapulted Benatar into the big time. Both albums yielded Grammy Awards in the Best Female Vocal Performance category and Precious Time turned her into a global star, with the album crashing into Top 30 charts in countries as disparate as Australia, Sweden and France. November 1982’s Get Nervous again repeated the cycle of platinum sales when it soared to No.4 on America’s Billboard 200 and, for a third time, earned Benatar a Best Female Vocal Performance Grammy – this time for the song ‘Shadows Of The Night’, which climbed to No.13 on the US singles chart. Earning heavy rotation on the still relatively embryonic MTV channel, the World War Two-themed video for ‘Shadows Of The Night’ featured appearances from then little-known US actors Judge Reinhold and Bill Paxton as an American co-pilot and German radio operator respectively.
The Pat Benatar band was, by this stage, a highly drilled outfit featuring guitarist (and, from 1982, Pat’s husband) Neil Giraldo, drummer Myron Grombacher, bassist Roger Capps and keyboard player Charlie Giordano, and highlights from their extensive Get Nervous world tour appeared on the self-explanatory 1983 set Live From Earth. Peaking at No.13 on the US Billboard 200, the 10-track set featured recordings from shows in California and France, as well as two new studio tracks, ‘Lipstick Lies’ and ‘Love Is A Battlefield’.
Co-written by Holly Knight and her former producer Mike Chapman, ‘Love Is A Battlefield’ was a significant stylistic departure for Benatar. Though it featured one of her most impassioned vocals to date, the track itself favoured atmospheric new wave-esque synths over guitars and power chords. With the video pounced upon by MTV, Benatar’s new direction proved a huge success, with ‘Love Is A Battlefield’ racing up to No.5 on the US singles chart, nudging into the UK Top 50 and earning Benatar her fourth Grammy Award.
Released in 1985, Benatar’s fifth studio LP, Tropico, again largely favoured keyboards and a move towards a more middle-of-the-road sound, though it was again savoured by her faithful fanbase, who ensured it achieved platinum status and a Grammy-nominated US Top 5 hit, ‘We Belong’. This track also proved to be Benatar’s breakthrough hit in the UK, where it climbed No.22 and remains her second most successful British hit single, behind the 1985 re-release of ‘Love Is A Battlefield’, which rose to No.17.
Though Benatar’s career had arguably peaked commercially at this point, she chalked up further notable successes during the latter half of the 80s. A return to her patented hard rock sound, 1986’s Seven The Hard Way was certified gold in the US and included the US Top 10 hit ‘Invincible’, culled from Matthew Robbins’ movie The Legend Of Billie Jean, which starred Helen Slater. Featuring most of her reputation-establishing songs such as ‘Love Is A Battlefield’, ‘Heartbreaker’ and ‘Fire And Ice’, 1987’s adroitly compiled greatest-hits collection, Best Shots, again reacquainted Benatar with platinum sales and became her best-selling record in the UK, where it peaked at No.6 in the Top 40.
1988’s Wide Awake In Dreamland was Benatar’s last hard rock-inclined LP of 80s: another gold-selling album featuring a US Top 20 hit, ‘All Fired Up’. Three years later, 1991’s True Love found her recording an accomplished jump blues LP backed by Giraldo, drummer Myron Grombacher and the horn section from the blues band Roomfull Of Blues. Mixing up self-penned material with blues standards such as B.B. King’s ‘Payin’ The Cost To Be The Boss’ and Tampa Red’s ‘I Get Evil’, the album cracked both the US Billboard Top 40 and the UK Top 40 album chart.
Overseen by Neil Giraldo and ex-R.E.M producer Don Gehman, 1993’s eclectic Gravity’s Rainbow found Benatar refining her sound for the 90s, experimenting with dub textures on ‘Everybody Lay Down’ and returning to the blues on ‘Crazy’, which featured a funky, Jimi Hendrix-esque wah-wah guitar part courtesy of Giraldo. Though it was another departure from the norm, the LP nonetheless performed respectably, again earning a gold certification and climbing to No.85 on the Billboard Top 200.
Gravity’s Rainbow proved to be Benatar’s last studio LP for Chrysalis, though her label released a classy, career-spanning collection, The Very Best Of Pat Benatar, in 1994, which featured tracks such as ‘All Fired Up’ and ‘Everybody Lay Down’, as well as her tried and tested hits from the late 70s and early 80s. It’s still one of the best pocket-sized Benatar career compendiums, though 2001’s The Collection (which reprises her cover of ‘Wuthering Heights’) and 1999’s 3-CD set, Synchronistic Wanderings, featuring B-sides and rarities, are also essential purchases for devotees.
Post-Chrysalis, Benatar has recorded two further well-received studio sets. Released on CMC International, 1997’s Innamorata was in keeping with the MTV Unplugged-style albums popular at the time, featuring a stripped-down sound, often based upon strings and acoustic guitars. Though often overlooked, it’s a fine record, featuring some of Benatar’s most gutsy vocal performances and a number of surprisingly strident rockers such as ‘River Of Love’ and ‘At This Time’. At present, her most recent LP, 2003’s Go, meanwhile, was broadly a return to Benatar and Giraldo’s harder, arena-rock roots, though it also included a couple of finely wrought ballads in ‘Brave’ and ‘Please Don’t Leave Me’.
In the live arena, Pat Benatar has remained at the peak of her powers. She’s toured extensively since the turn of the millennium, always with her guitarist husband Neil Giraldo at her side, and, over the past five years, she’s completed a series of highly successful North American excursions. These blockbuster tours have included the Call Me Invincible tour, with former Chrysalis Records labelmates Blondie, and Benatar’s appearance as the special guest on Cher’s lengthy Dressed To Kill sojourn. Co-headlined with Rick Springfield, Cheap Trick and John Waite, 2014’s 35th Anniversary Tour, meanwhile, saw Pat Benatar celebrating the release of her In The Heat Of The Night debut in style: her hit-stuffed, age-defying sets demonstrating that, despite all the adulation, she remains hungry and as committed as ever to her art.