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With a voice that moved fluidly from a Blues growl to an operatic coloratura, and a catalogue of material built on dramatic power ballads, Pat Benatar was the quintessential female rock vocalist in the late 1970s and early 1980s, earning numerous Grammy awards and six platinum albums. In many respects, Benatar was simultaneously one of the most iconic yet reluctant rock stars of her time. Her powerhouse vocals would take her from thankless club gigs to the highest possible rotation on the fledgling MTV network, but her drama-free, shockingly normal lifestyle would keep her grounded. Though her emphatic delivery of such hits as "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," "Heartbreaker," Love is a Battlefield," and the controversial "Hell is for Children" presented an image of Benatar as an icon of self-possession and even sexual aggression, the course of her more than 30-year career was charted by hard work and devotion to her children and her long-time collaborator and husband, Neil Giraldo, moving firmly outside of the spotlight in her later years. Regardless of how normal a life she had led, at her peak, Benatar was the biggest female rocker on the planet who empowered many a young girl to dream of and achieve...
With a voice that moved fluidly from a Blues growl to an operatic coloratura, and a catalogue of material built on dramatic power ballads, Pat Benatar was the quintessential female rock vocalist in the late 1970s and early 1980s, earning numerous Grammy awards and six platinum albums. In many respects, Benatar was simultaneously one of the most iconic yet reluctant rock stars of her time. Her powerhouse vocals would take her from thankless club gigs to the highest possible rotation on the fledgling MTV network, but her drama-free, shockingly normal lifestyle would keep her grounded. Though her emphatic delivery of such hits as "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," "Heartbreaker," Love is a Battlefield," and the controversial "Hell is for Children" presented an image of Benatar as an icon of self-possession and even sexual aggression, the course of her more than 30-year career was charted by hard work and devotion to her children and her long-time collaborator and husband, Neil Giraldo, moving firmly outside of the spotlight in her later years. Regardless of how normal a life she had led, at her peak, Benatar was the biggest female rocker on the planet who empowered many a young girl to dream of and achieve greater things.
Pat Benatar was born Patricia Mae Andrzejewski on Jan. 10, 1953 in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY. Her father, a sheet-metal worker, and mother, a beautician who had once aspired to a career in opera, would move the family to Lindenhurst, NY when "Patti" was still young, and she quickly made herself known in her new hometown. At age eight, she sang her first solo in a school program, and would later perform in musical theater at her high school, and at local annual Christmas tree lightings. By the time she graduated high school in 1970, nearby New York City was a hotbed of emerging musical styles. Benatar, however, had been protected from the dangers of that emerging scene by her parents, who strictly forbade rock-n-roll in favor of her training in classical and theatrical singing. To everyone's surprise - perhaps as a rebellion against her parents' expectations - Benatar turned down her acceptance to the famed Julliard School, opting instead to pursue a degree in health education at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. After just one year of school, she dropped out and married her high school sweetheart, Dennis Benatar, an Army draftee. She would move with Benatar to For Lee, VA, where her husband was stationed, and work for several years as a bank teller, with no apparent ambition to pursue music of any kind.
Any pretense of Pat Benatar living a life without music was eliminated in 1973 when her attendance at a Liza Minnelli concert awoke her desire to perform once again. She immediately quit her bank teller job and started doing double-duty as a singing waitress at a Richmond nightclub and fronting a popular local band, Coxon's Army, with whom she would record one single, the aptly named "Day Gig" in 1974. Following Dennis' discharge from the Army in 1975, the couple moved to New York and she again searched for an outlet for her talent. She found it at an amateur night at the comedy club Catch a Rising Star, where her performance of "Rockabye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody" earned her the attention of club owner Rick Newman. He became Benatar's manager, and over the next four years, she paid her dues as a professional singer, performing regularly at his club, recording jingles for radio commercials, and landing a role in the original production of "The Zinger," a musical by Harry Chapin that also starred Christine Lahti, Beverly D'Angelo and Ben Vereen.
Over time, Benatar would step away from her technical singing style and embrace a more intuitive style that would better serve the rock music she was beginning to perform. It would also see the development of another element of Benatar's style when she took the stage following a Halloween party still dressed in a spandex costume. Though she performed her usual set, it was greeted with a standing ovation. Her stage presence - and her liberal use of the spandex, headbands, and shoulder-padded jackets that would typify 1980's fashion - was now fully formed. A gig headlining at New York City's Tramps nightclub garnered attention from Chrysalis Records, and by April of 1978, Benatar had her first recording contract. Chrysalis released her debut album, In the Heat of the Night, in 1979, at a time when female rock singers were a rare commodity. Key to the album's success was the pairing of Benatar with a new guitarist and arranger, Neil Giraldo, whose aggressive playing style would help define Benatar's sound. In the Heat of the Night would go on to sell a million copies, and two of its singles, "Heartbreaker" and "We Live for Love" would reach No. 23 and No. 27, respectively, on Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart. The hard work writing and recording the album and, no doubt, the years of struggle leading up to it, took its toll, however. She and her husband divorced in 1979, though she would keep his last name for the rest of her career.
Benatar's second album, Crimes of Passion, launched her career into orbit, achieving multi-platinum level sales and holding the second position on Billboard's Top 200 album charts for five weeks, and in the Top Ten for six months. The album boasted several songs that would make the Billboard singles charts and become popular staples of Benatar's live shows, including "You Better Run," which reached No. 42 in the U.S.; "Treat Me Right," which reached No. 18; and "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," a defiant and empowering taunt of a song, which reached No. 9 and would become the song with which Benatar was most closely associated. Another track from the album, "Hell is for Children," a song about child abuse that was not released as a single, would stir controversy over its provocative lyrics, but would ultimately become a popular staple on album-oriented radio stations. Crimes of Passion would also earn Benatar a Grammy award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. Benatar and Neil Giraldo, who was by then serving as Benatar's producer as well as arranger and guitarist, would also become involved romantically during the recording of Crimes of Passion, a factor which may have contributed to the album's cohesive and exhilarating dynamic. In October 1980, just two months after the release of their second album, Benatar and Giraldo appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Precious Time, Benatar's third album, was released in July 1981 and shot to the top spot on Billboard's album chart, supported by the music video for "You Better Run," from Crimes of Passion, the second music video ever to be played on the fledgling MTV network. Precious Time was Benatar's third album to reach platinum status, and it's the single "Fire and Ice," which reached No. 17 on Billboard's singles chart earned Benatar her second Grammy award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. Benatar and Giraldo took a break from the whirlwind of touring, writing and recording to get married in February 1982, but quickly returned to the studio to produce their fourth album in as many years. Get Nervous, like her previous work, was built on dramatic songs that made the most of Benatar's powerful vocals and Giraldo's punchy, spare guitar work. Despite the preponderance of songs featuring themes of betrayal and vengeance, Benatar and Giraldo were at their most assured as a couple and as a creative partnership, and the result was a polished work that embraced Benatar's role as the reigning queen of rock. The album's lead single, "The Shadows of the Night," reached No. 13 on Billboard's singles chart and earned Benatar her third Grammy award for Best Female Rock Vocal. The WWII-themed music video for the song, starring yet-unknown actors Bill Paxton and Judge Reinhold, played in heavy rotation on MTV and helped take Get Nervousto No. 4 on Billboard's album chart. The follow up single, "Little Too Late," reached No. 20 on the singles chart.
Having built a devoted following over four years of delivering consistent hits, Benatar's 1982 live tour to support Get Nervous was a massive success. When Benatar and her band finally came off the road in 1983, they enjoyed a much-deserved rest. Live From Earth, recorded over several nights of the tour, would be the band's only release in 1983. It reached No. 13 on the U.S. album charts and would be Benatar's fifth to achieve platinum status. Despite her success, or perhaps because of it, the relationship between Benatar and her record label, Chrysalis, began to sour. Benatar had frequently disagreed with Chrysalis over song choices, and had chaffed at their insistence that she work with an outside producer, though she claimed that Giraldo had, in fact, done the lion's share of that work in the studio. After years of playing defiant, hard-edged rock, Benatar was ready to experiment with new styles. That she eventually won the battle with Chrysalis was evident in the two studio tracks included on Live From Earth, "Lipstick Lies" and "Love is A Battlefield," which stepped away from the hard rock sound of Benatar's past to embrace dance pop sensibilities. The music video for "Love is a Battlefield," directed by Bob Giraldi, who directed Michael Jackson's tonally similar "Beat It" video the year before, also broke new ground for Benatar by featuring a choreographed group dance sequence, a first for Benatar and a rarity in rock music videos at the time.
Benatar's new sound would dominate her next album, Tropico, released in November 1984. The first single, "We Belong," was spare and percussive with electronic flourishes, a far cry from the guitar rock of years past. The single reached the Top Five in the U.S. and gave Benatar her first top 40 hit in the U.K. Tropico went on to achieve platinum status. Because she had managed to retain her original rock audience while expanding her appeal to pop and dance fans, a triumphant, Benatar and Giraldo took a brief respite from recording and the road. But, even though Benatar gave birth to their first daughter in February 1985, just nine months later she released her seventh album in as many years, the aptly titled Seven the Hard Way. Benatar, Giraldo, and their new baby then hit the road with another major tour. The songs on the latest effort pushed ahead into dance pop territory with the single, "Sex as a Weapon," which reached No. 28 on the U.S. singles chart. "Invincible," from the soundtrack of the movie "The Legend of Billie Jean" would reach No. 10 and help propel Seven the Hard Way up the charts. It would be Benatar's first album to not achieve platinum sales status, however, reigniting the battle with Chrysalis over creative control.
It would be three years before Benatar would release another album. Wide Awake in Dreamland, which featured a black leather jacket-clad Benatar on the cover, was a hodge-podge of stylistic choices, from the propulsive rock of "All Fired Up," to the pop balladry of "One Love," to the choral "Cerebral Man." The album would achieve gold sales status and "All Fired Up" would reach No. 19 on the singles chart, but Wide Awake in Dreamland lacked the passion of Benatar's previous work. That missing passion was evident, however, on her next release, 1991's True Love, an album of blues tunes, including a cover of B.B. King's "Payin' the Cost to be the Boss." She would return to her Rock sound with 1993's Gravity's Rainbow, but it would be her last album with Chrysalis Records. Benatar cut short her tour supporting the LP to give birth to her second daughter. Though she toured in 1995 with Fleetwood Mac and REO Speedwagon, and again in 1996 in an effort to try out a selection of new songs, by the time she chose to return to recording, with 1997's Inamorata, she would do so on the independent label, CMC International. CMC would also release Benatar's first release of new songs in the 2000's, Go (2003). Though her musical output would diminish, Benatar remained creative, writing an autobiography, Between a Heart and a Rock Place, released in 2010. Even without new releases to support, Benatar, Giraldo, their expanding family and their band continued touring every year, frequently with other '80s acts, including a 2012 tour with Loverboy and Journey.
By John Crye
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