Music Blog

{June 1, 2007}   Pat Benatar

Pat Benatar was born in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York to a Polish/Irish family. She initially studied voice and opera, following in the footsteps of her mother while growing up in Lindenhurst, New York, on Long Island.

A 1971 graduate of Lindenhurst High School, in 1971 she married her high school sweetheart, Dennis T. Benatar, acquiring the surname with which she became famous.Dennis also has a sister named Pat Benatar.

She immediately moved to Richmond, Virginia with her husband, where she worked as a bank clerk and sang gigs at night. She would later remark that her time at the bank was unpleasant, partly because of her obsession with keeping all the bills face up and turned in the same direction, causing her to be one of the slowest tellers. She and her husband moved to New York in 1975, and the two divorced in 1979.

Once in New York, Pat then began to pursue her singing career in earnest. She was discovered at an amateur-night contest in the New York City comedy club Catch a Rising Star in 1977. After performing successfully several times at the club, Benatar finally found her onstage persona in the form of a wild Halloween costume (catwoman) which she had worn as a joke. In several interviews, Benatar recounted her realization for the new audience reaction: “The crowd was always polite, but this time they went out of their minds,” Benatar would later report. “It was the same songs, sung the same way, and I thought, ‘Oh my god…it’s these clothes and this makeup!'” Because of that performance, she was signed to Chrysalis Records by its founder Terry Ellis.

Her single, “Heartbreaker”, was released in late 1979 and was an immediate hit, climbing to #23 in the US. Her debut LP, In the Heat of the Night, was even more successful, reaching #12 and establishing Benatar as a new force in rock. The LP featured a cover of John Cougar Mellencamp’s “I Need a Lover” as well as the single “We Live for Love”, an effective fusion of rock and new wave that saw it reach the US Top 30 and become a hit as far away as Australia.

In August 1980, Benatar released her second LP, Crimes of Passion, featuring her signature song “Hit Me with Your Best Shot”. The single was her first to break the US Top 10 and sold over a million copies, going gold. The album reached US #2 in January 1981 (behind John Lennon’s Double Fantasy) and a month later, Benatar won her first Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance of 1980. Other singles released from Crimes of Passion were “Treat Me Right” (US #18) and a cover of the Young Rascals’ “You Better Run” (US #42, AUS #31), which gained some later notoriety when it was the second music video played on MTV, after the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”. The album remained on the US album charts for 93 weeks.

Benatar’s first (and only) US chart-topper was the LP Precious Time, released in August 1981. It was also her first to chart in the UK, reaching #30. The album’s lead single, “Fire and Ice”, was another big hit (US #17, AUS #30) and would win Benatar her second Grammy Award, this time for Best Female Rock Performance of 1981.

In February 1982, Benatar married her lead guitarist Neil Giraldo, with whom she would have two daughters, Haley and Hana.

A hit single, “Shadows Of The Night” (US #13, AUS #19), heralded a new LP, Get Nervous, released in late 1982. The album was another smash, reaching US #4, and the single would garner Benatar yet another Grammy, for Best Female Rock Performance of 1982. The follow-up single, “Little Too Late” was also successful, hitting US #20. The WWII-themed music vido for “Shadows Of The Night” featured then-unknown actors Judge Reinhold and Bill Paxton as an American fighter copilot and a German radio operator, respectively.

By 1983, Benatar had established a reputation for writing about ‘tough’ subject matter, with a significant amount of songs featuring a “battle” metaphor. This was best exemplified by one of the biggest hits of her career, “Love Is a Battlefield”, released in December 1983. By now her sound had mellowed from hard rock to more atmospheric pop and the story-based video clip for “Love Is a Battlefield” was aimed squarely at MTV, even featuring Benatar in a Michael Jackson inspired group dance number. This new pop direction was a huge commercial success, with the single peaking at #5 in the US, her first hit single in the UK at #49, and #1 in Australia for five weeks. The song would also net Benatar her fourth consecutive Grammy Award, for Best Female Rock Performance of 1983. A live album, Live from Earth, from which “Love Is a Battlefield” was one of two studio recorded tracks, hit US #13.

In late 1984, the single “We Belong” became another Top 5 smash in the US (also hitting UK #22 and AUS #7) but the LP Tropico became her first studio album since the 1979 debut to fail to crack the US Top 10, reaching only #14 (AUS #9). A second single release, “Ooh Ooh Song”, continued this trend by struggling to US #36.

Benatar would hit the US Top 10 once more, with the single “Invincible” in 1985, but her days of assured commercial success in the US were over. “Sex As A Weapon” would only climb as high as #28 in January 1986 and LP Seven The Hard Way barely dented the US Top 30, peaking at #26.

At the same time, her appeal in the UK began to grow, with a 1987 greatest hits LP, Best Shots, reaching #6 and re-released singles “Love Is A Battlefield” and “Shadows Of The Night” charting at #17 and #50, respectively. Her standing in Australia (always Benatar’s most successful territory outside of the US), also remained undiminished, with Seven The Hard Way hitting the Top 10, and Best Shots and 1988’s Wide Awake In Dreamland the Top 20. A single lifted from the latter, “All Fired Up” (written by Kerryn Tolhurst, ex-The Dingoes) went Top 20 in the USA and UK and was a #2 smash in Australia, becoming one of the biggest hits of 1988 in that country.

Benatar won four consecutive Grammy Awards for “Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female” from 1980 to 1983, and was nominated four additional times in 1985, 1986, 1988, and 1989. She is also the winner of three American Music Awards (Favorite Female Pop/Rock Vocalist of 1981 and 1983, and Favorite Female Pop/Rock Video Artist of 1985) and was Rolling Stone magazine’s Favorite Female Vocalist twice. Benatar will be inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2007. Based on number of songs and their charted positions, Billboard magazine ranks her as the most successful female rock vocalist of all time.


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