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.
With her debut recording In the Heat of the Night, Pat Benatar wasted no time starting out of the gate with the furious leadoff track "Heartbreaker," which solidified her place in a class of women who were taking the rock world by storm in the late '70s. In the Heat of the Night was an album that obviously had its share of filler, but the one-two punch of "Heartbreaker" and the John Cougar Mellencamp tune "I Need a Lover" leading off the album made enough of a statement to put her on the pop charts. The deflated three tracks following are easily forgettable, especially the sci-fi '50s ballad "My Clone Sleeps Alone," but the remainder of the album packs enough grit and solid songwriting (especially the Blondie-esque "So Sincere") that it remains an impressive debut and foreshadows a glimpse of great things to come.
Words: Rob Theakston
With Crimes of Passion, Pat Benatar escaped the dreaded sophomore slump, thanks in no small part to the song that would become the most well-known song of her career, "Hit Me with Your Best Shot." The rest of the album is mildly hit or miss, with a few moments of filler. Thankfully, Benatar avoids the synth-happy trends of the early '80s and delivers a hard rocking ten-song session of power pop tempered with a few ballads for balance. And while "Hit Me with Your Best Shot" was one of her most praised moments, her version of Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights" is probably one of the most underrated songs of her entire catalog.
Words: Rob Theakston
The third time was definitely not the charm for Pat Benatar. While her debut and its follow-up, Crimes of Passion, both offered up hit singles and decent album material, Precious Time keeps the formula going without any of the songwriting magic of the first two records. The energy and momentum are there for the majority of the album, and even on the ballads Benatar's voice is in fine form. But there's really nothing new that Benatar has to offer (aside from an amusing cover of the Beatles' "Helter Skelter"), unlike her next album, which would see Benatar growing by leaps and bounds into the pop-friendly rock of the '80s.
Words: Rob Theakston
In interviews, Pat Benatar made it clear that she had no desire to be stereotyped as a hard rocker -- often adding that she preferred new wave's melodic keyboards over hard rock and metal's crunching guitars. Indeed, Get Nervous was the most melodic album she'd done since In the Heat of the Night. This isn't to say that Get Nervous was a return to new wave-ish leanings; in fact, songs like "Anxiety (Get Nervous)," "The Victim," and "Silent Partners" are intense, forceful jewels that rock aggressively. But at the same time, the album's pop elements and strong emphasis on melody leave no doubt that the last thing on Benatar's mind was recording another Crimes of Passion.
Words: Alex Henderson
On Tropico, Pat Benatar began refashioning her sound, moving toward a more middle-of-the-road sound as evidenced by the hit single "We Belong." The change in direction revitalized the singer, resulting in her best album since Precious Time.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Seven the Hard Way continues the slick pop approach of Tropico and is benefitted by a wealth of songs written by professional songwriters. At this point, Pat Benatar and her band weren't coming up with material as catchy or memorable as "Invincible" and "Sex as a Weapon," so the presence of the pro songwriters was a blessing, not a curse.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Although it falls short of the excellence of Crimes of Passion, Precious Time, and Get Nervous, Wide Awake in Dreamland is a generally decent and respectable effort that has more pluses than minuses. Closer in spirit to Tropico than Passion or Time, the consistently melodic Dreamland stresses pop elements and steers clear of hard rock. The CD's most memorable offerings include the haunting and moody "Too Long a Soldier," the infectious "Lift Em on Up," and a disturbing commentary on child abuse, "Suffer the Little Children." Unfortunately, Pat Benatar's popularity was starting to decline in 1988 -- and in the early-to-mid-'90s, she would receive little attention.
Words: Alex Henderson
A radical departure from the type of slick pop/rock she'd been embracing on albums like Tropico and Wide Awake in Dreamland, True Love found Pat Benatar embracing blues and early pre-rock R&B. Opting for less production and a much rawer approach, an inspired Benatar ditches the synthesizers and keyboards and sounds like she's leading a bar band in a Chicago dive. From Albert King's "I Get Evil" to B.B. King's "Payin' the Cost to Be the Boss" to Charles Brown's "Please Come Home for Christmas," the results aren't breathtaking, but are generally honest and soulful. Quite clearly, this was an album Benatar was eager to make.
Words: Alex Henderson
Gravity's Rainbow marked Pat Benatar's return to arena rock after the dismal failure of her blues album True Love. While it well-produced and carefully constructed, the album failed to capture an audience. Although she had returned to the sound that made her famous, both radio and the record-buying public had lost interest and the album slipped off the charts shortly after its release.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine