Favorite Musicians: Pat Benatar

Pat Benatar

Photo by Heidi Escobar, used under Creative Commons

I remember one night in the ninth grade doing my algebra homework and listening to WMMS when these machine-gun drum beats came blaring through the speakers, followed by three angry chords. I expected The Ramones or maybe even The Kinks in one of their angrier moods. Nope. The voice that joined in was female, singing, “Your love is like a tidal wave spinning over my head!” A few lines later, she sang, “You’re the right kind of sinner to release my inner fantasy…”

I was in love. Her name was Pat Benatar, and she blew my mind. This chick was tough, a little scary, and maybe the first woman I wanted to have a drink with. (And I didn’t drink yet. That was about three years into the future.) In that voice, you could hear a woman who had already been through everything life had to throw at her. You heard a survivor.

The tough singer was nothing new in 1979. The tough female singer was still a novelty. Janis Joplin and Grace Slick were exceptions, not the rule. Or they were strictly in the realm of punk. Pat Benatar brought the tough chick singer front and center and permanently into the mainstream.

She had released a couple of singles before that never really stuck. Then came “Heartbreaker,” which fit in with ‘MMS’s edgier sound. Cleveland adopted her like a tough little cupie doll. Part of it had to do with her lead guitarist and future husband, Neil Giraldo, who hailed from nearby Parma. He had already made several connections locally, and the combination of the sound he and Benatar created and his reputation in the local music scene made sure that, while the rest of the country kind of knew who she was, Pat Benatar pretty much owned the city. She and local rockers The Michael Stanley Band.

The hits came fast and furious after that. Benatar had an album-a-year salvo that kept coming from 1979 through 1985, ending with Tropico. She kept throwing punches with “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” “Treat Me Right,” “Promises in the Dark,” and “Shadows of the Night.” During this time, she married Giraldo, and in 1985, they had their first daughter, Haley. Haley is herself a rocker like her parents.

1985 also marked a shift both in sound and in output. Tropico‘s first single, “We Belong,” was written for Haley. Subsequent albums, much to the chagrin of Chrysalis Records, became more experimental in sound. Benatar’s star faded. And that seems to be okay with her. She seems to prefer the lighter touring these days, has only occasionally drifted back into the studio, and relishes her role as a mother.

But those first six or so albums made high school something special for many of us.