Twenty years ago, Pat Benatar began blazing a trail for female rock stars that broke all the rules. Unlike others who came before her, she was bold, self-assured, independent. She was alluring but not exploitive. She was vulnerable but not weak. She was strong-minded without being hard-hearted
Songs such as “Love Is A Battlefield,” “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” “We Live For Love” and “Heartbreaker” became anthems for a new attitude. At the dawn of MTV, Benatar was the image of the female rocker for an entire generation of young women–and the young men who loved them. That generation has grown up with her; generations since have walked down the path she helped pave.
Now celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of her debut album, married for the last 17 of those years to guitarist, songwriter, producer, collaborator and bandmate Neil Giraldo, and the mother of two daughters, Benatar looks ahead to her future, which includes a summer 1999 tour and a new album by early next year (2000).
She also looks back to her past with the three-CD collection Synchronistic Wanderings: Recorded Anthology 1979-1999 (Chrysalis/Cpitol), released June 15, 1999, distributed by EMI Music Distribution. The definitive collection spanning her entire career and compiled with her cooperation, Synchronistic Wanderings includes the album versions of all 19 of her Top 40 singles, songs from soundtracks to Speed and other films, contributions to tribute/benefit projects, previously unreleased live recordings and outtakes, B-sides and rarities never before available on CD, and even the demo to “Love Is A Battlefield,” perhaps Benatar’s signature song.
Benatar was surely the leading female rock vocalist of the ’80s. Of the nine original albums she headlined from 1979 to 1989, six were certified platinum and three gold. Of the decade’s 10 Grammy years, she was nominated for Best Rock Performance (Female) in eight of them, winning an unprecedented four consecutive years. One of the most popular performers in rock, she was also one of the most recognizable and admired.
Born Pat Andrzejewski in Brooklyn, New York, she always wanted to be a singer. Raised in Lindenhurst on Long Island, she studied voice since she was in elementary school, singing both in school and in Catholic church choirs. At 19, she married her high school sweetheart, becoming Pat Benatar, and moved to Richmond, Virginia, where she worked as a bank clerk and moonlighted as a singing waitress in a Roaring ’20s theme restaurant as well as a singer in motel lounges.
In 1975, the couple moved back to New York, soon to be divorced. Determined to follow her dream, Benatar took to performing cabaret on Long Island before being cast in The Zinger, a short-lived off-Broadway sci-fi musical composed by Harry Chapin. She then hit the Manhattan cabaret circuit, incorporating more rock and pop into her repertoire of standards and Broadway show tunes. As with many young performers, she’d also show up at open mike nights at Catch A Rising Star, a showcase club featuring singers and comedians. Her three a.m. rendition of Judy Garland’s “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody” earned her a steady slot there.
Then, in 1977, came the turning point. For Halloween, she wore a streetwise vampire costume (black tights, short black top, black eyeliner) to a party at a Greenwich Village cafe. Instead of changing clothes for her gig that night at Catch A Rising Star, she went on stage wearing her costume. She sang the same songs she usually did. Only this time, instead of the good response she ordinarily received, the audience stood and cheered. Suddenly her powerful singing (later to reach a 4 octave range) was matched by an equally powerful image. The following year, Benatar signed to Chrysalis. Multi-instrumentalist Giraldo, a respected session player who had worked with several Midwest-based groups as well as being a member of Rick Derringer’s band, was brought in as musician and arranger. The two sparked an immediate rapport on stage and off, put together a band and relocated to Southern California.
Benatar debuted with the platinum In The Heat Of The Night (1979) and both “Heartbreaker” and “We Live For Love” charted in the Top 40. Her next album, Crimes Of Passion (1980), rocketed to #2, reached quadruple platinum, and included her first Top 10 hit, the gold-certified “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” The album also spawned the video for “You Better Run,” the second ever aired on MTV, which debuted that year. In addition, Crimes Of Passion copped the first of her Grammy Awards.
It was just the beginning. Her next album, Precious Time (1981), went double platinum and outdid its predecessor by hitting #1. Its “Fire And Ice” brought Benatar her second Grammy. Other platinum albums followed: Get Nervous (1982) was Top Five and featured the Grammy-winning “Shadows Of The Night”; Live From Earth (1983) boasted the gold, Grammy-winning, Top Five hit “Love Is A Battlefield” (and its classic video), and Tropico (1984) shined its spotlight on the Top Five charting “We Belong,” nominated for Best Pop Vocal Performance (Female).
Following the gold Seven The Hard Way (1984), whose Top 10 Grammy-nominated “Invincible” was the theme for the film The Legend Of Billie Jean, Benatar took time off to become a mother. She and Giraldo had married in 1982 and, in 1985, they became the proud parents of a baby girl, Haley. The following year, “Sex As A Weapon,” also from Seven The Hard Way, brought another Grammy nomination–and Benatar returned to the studio. The gold Wide Awake In Dreamland (1988) spun off the Top 20 hit “All Fired Up” and two more Grammy nominations, for the latter song and, in 1989, for “Let’s Stay Together.” In 1989, the greatest hits compilation Best Shots also was certified gold.
In 1991 Benatar wrought the ahead of its time retro-swing effort, True Love (1991) backed by the Roomful of Blues rhythm section. Pat successfully modernized her sound for the critically acclaimed Gravity’s Rainbow (1993) while continuing to tour with Fleetwood Mac, the Steve Miller Band and others.
In 1997, her first original album in four years, Innamorata (CMC International), was released. She was also invited to perform that year at the Lilith Fair, where so many female artists enjoyed the fruits of their success thanks in part to the seeds planted by the pioneering Benatar. In 1998, 8-15-80 (CMC), an album of live recordings from her concert that long-ago night at The Old Waldorf in San Francisco, was released.
Twenty years later, having found that unique balance between raising a family and countinuing to do what she loves, Pat Benatar is still rocking.