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Pat Benatar

Drawing inspiration from the likes of SUZI QUATRO, DEBBIE HARRY, JOAN JETT and even “Cabaret” star Liza Minnelli, spandexed arena-rock glam chick, PAT BENATAR, spruced up the golden age of MTV with a string of major hit singles (`Hit Me With Your Best Shot’, `Love Is A Battlefield’ and `We Belong’, among them), plus several top-selling albums.
Born Patricia Mae Andrzejewski, January 10, 1953, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York, her sheet-metal worker father was of Polish stock, while her mother was of German/Irish/English ancestry. Always interested in the entertaining since her family relocated to Lindenhurst in Long Island; participating in musical theatre and singing in the school choir, petite Pat was destined to take up classical music at the prestigious Juilliard School, but dropped out to pursue a career in health education at the State University at Stony Brook.
In her late teens, she married high school sweetheart Dennis T. Benatar and moved to Richmond, Virginia, where she worked as a bank teller while hubby worked his way up from trainee to a specialist in the army. Having been in awe of Liza Minnelli since witnessing one of her shows in ‘71, Pat steadily climbed the ranks by singing at the Roaring Twenties and, in turn, fronting a lounge act named Coxon’s Army (bassist Roger Capps was a member). Returning to New York in the mid-70s after releasing a one-off single (`Day Gig’), she turned her hand at the cabaret circuit, albeit incorporating a harder-edged approach after meeting manager/mentor, Rick Newman. In keeping with her new rock-chick image when becoming a regular act at the Catch A Rising Star show (1975-78), she retained the – frankly, more rock’n’roll persona – PAT BENATAR, after divorcing Dennis. It came at a time in ’79 when she signed a deal with Chrysalis Records.
Adding spice to her soft-metal/AOR by roping in a band: lead guitarist/keyboardist Neil Giraldo (ex-DERRINGER), rhythm guitarist Scott St. Clair Sheets, drummer Glen Alexander Hamilton and bassist Roger Capps, the Peter Coleman/Mike Chapman-produced debut album, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (1979) {*7}, shot into the Top 20, eventually going platinum. Her undeniable mezzo-soprano vocal prowess almost made up for the slight weakness of the original material such as `So Sincere’ and `My Clone Sleeps Alone’ (penned by Pat and Roger), or the hits through Geoff Gill & Clint Wade’s `Heartbreaker’ (#23) and Giraldo’s `We Live For Love’ (#27). Here, BENATAR only really came into her own when singing other people’s songs; transforming Chinn & Chapman’s SWEET ballad `No You Don’t’, the pair’s title track and `If You Think You Know How To Love Me’ (SMOKIE cuts both), into sultry mood pieces, while then unknown JOHN COUGAR’s `I Need A Lover’ benefitted from her scuffed velvet tones; the other covers came from NICK GILDER (`Rated X’) and The ALAN PARSONS PROJECT (`Don’t Let It Show’).
Now boasting the likes of YOUNG RASCALS cover `You Better Run’ (#42), Eddie Schwartz’s `Hit Me With Your Best Shot’ (#9) and `Treat Me Right’ (#18), the Keith Olsen-produced CRIMES OF PASSION (1980) {*7} album, was a million seller, establishing BENATAR as a major contender within the North American market. Despite a power-ballad reading of KATE BUSH’s `Wuthering Heights’ and Billy Steinberg’s `I’m Gonna Follow You’, her boyfriend Giraldo’s co-credits were fast-becoming a necessary ingredient on many of the tracks including here; namely `Hell Is For Children’, `Never Wanna Leave You’, `Out-A-Touch’ and his own `Little Paradise’.
Retaining drummer Myron Grombacher from the previous set (a replacement for Hamilton), third album PRECIOUS TIME (1981) {*6}, rocketed to the top spot, bolstered no doubt by the Top 20 peaks of both `Fire And Ice’ (a Grammy winner) and `Promises In The Dark’. The obligatory token cover pieces came courtesy of PAUL REVERE & THE RAIDERS’ `Just Like Me’ and The BEATLES’ `Helter Skelter’.
Having become Mrs. Giraldo the following February, BENATAR sealed another metal-crunching Top 5 album in GET NERVOUS (1982) {*7}. Unwilling to be stereotyped as a hard-rocker, or a bona fide power-balladeer, the TONI BASIL doppelganger – at least on the “straight-jacketed” sleeve shot – siphoned the sounds from both camps in order to appeal to the masses; D.L. Byon’s `Shadows Of The Night’ (#13), Alex Call’s `Little Too Late’ (#20) and Franne Golde’s co-penned `Looking For A Stranger’ (#39), complementing the duality of Giraldo and Steinberg’s `Anxiety (Get Nervous)’, `The Victim’, et al; note that Scott’s berth was now filled by keyboard player Charlie Giordano.
Things picked up a pace with the excellent `Love Is A Battlefield’, a brooding, catchy pop-rock number which gave BENATAR her biggest hit to date (Top 5 and a UK Top 50 breaker), and was one of two studio cuts that supplemented her single-disc concert document, LIVE FROM EARTH (1983) {*5}; the other was `Lipstick Lies’. Recorded on Le Mobile during her “Get Nervous” tour, the Top 20 record was best served up on a subsequent video.
A year on, the singer released, what was probably her finest moment in `We Belong’, a seductively melodic Top 5 single which secured siren BENATAR her first substantial UK success at number 22. After relatively moderate Top 20 sales of parent set, TROPICO (1984) {*5} – by coincidence she’d become pregnant with her first child, Haley – the Giraldo’s `Ooh Ooh Song’ (#36) seemed another aptly-titled piece. Capps, incidentally, was replaced by Donnie Nossov.
Improving on her previous effort would not be difficult, so 1985’s SEVEN THE HARD WAY {*6} was slightly disappointing in its Top 30 sales figures. Highlighting two major hits, the Mike Chapman-produced `Invincible’ (from the lowly-rated flick, The Legend Of Billie Jean) and the provocative `Sex As A Weapon’, were head-and-padded-shoulders above `Le Bel Age’ (#54) and a cover of the FOUR TOPS’ `7 Rooms Of Gloom’.
BENATAR (and Giraldo) duly took an extended break to look after their daughter. During this spell, Chrysalis released BEST SHOTS (1987) {*8}, an initially UK-only compilation that did surprisingly well (No.6) and was re-promoted on home-soil some two years later.
Swapping Nossov for Fernando Saunders, Pat’s next studio album, WIDE AWAKE IN DREAMLAND (1988) {*5}, was more fruitful in the UK, where attendant single `All Fired Up’ (a Rattling Sabres cover), had also cracked the Top 20. That’s not to say the record had any lasting merit, and but for modest Brit hits, `Don’t Walk Away’ and `One Love’, it was clear that, on a critical level at least, her career was in decline.
Subsequently willing to push out the envelope, BENATAR chanced her arm with an ill-advised album of jump blues tracks, TRUE LOVE (1991) {*3}. Consisting of a handful of band/self-penned cues interspersed with several covers from the likes of B.B. KING (`Payin’ The Cost To Be The Boss’ and `I’ve Got Papers On You’), TAMPA RED (`I Get Evil’), etc., it barely scraped into the Top 40.
After the album’s critical and commercial panning, the singer returned to familiar, if overly well-worn arena-rock territory, on GRAVITY’S RAINBOW (1993) {*4}. Sounding as outdated as her previous record had sounded out of context, the grunge-less Giraldo and Grombacher had been joined by bassist Frank Linx, although poor sales were down the back-to-basics simplicity of `Somebody’s Baby’ (a minor UK hit) and others.
At 41, Pat gave birth to a second daughter, Hana, and understandably took time out from an ever-evolving music scene to concentrate on raising her children. 1997’s INNAMORATA {*5} was therefore something of a surprise when it was unveiled. Augmented by multi-instrumentalist Giraldo, bassist Mick Mahan, drummer Ray Brinkell and violinist/keyboardist Allison Cornell, it was certainly a more interesting and acoustic-based set, which at least paid BENATAR the favour of allowing space for her still impressive vocal chords; check out `Strawberry Wine’ and `Dirty Little Secrets’. Unsurprisingly, it was also perhaps her most intimate record, showcasing a soulfulness missing on conveyor-belt concert sets such as the one on which she shared the bill with hubby Giraldo: LIVE: SUMMER VACATION TOUR SOUNDTRACK (2002) {*4}.
As cliched and pedestrian as its title suggested, the record was one for dedicated fans only, or at least those who were still keeping the faith. Which, judging by the creative stagnation of GO (2003) {*3} – her first new studio work of the new millennium – must’ve been increasingly difficult. Turning 50, BENATAR could still rock hard, as on the title track, but constant drifting into anthemic pop-rock that MADONNA, BLONDIE or ALANNAH MYLES would’ve turned down, had left older fans disillusioned.
Fast-forward a dozen years and quite out of the blue, the twin-billed Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo concert double-CD, 35th ANNIVERSARY TOUR {*7}, was unleashed in 2015. All fired up and hitting the audience with all her best shots, it proved beyond doubt that a radiant Pat (just over 60 when it was recorded) and her long-standing husband Neil, could still hack it among the young rockers of the day.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD-MCS // rev-up MCS Mar2016

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