Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Rise Of Pat Benatar

 During the summer holidays of 1983 I gained ownership of my very first turntable.  Prior to this I had access to a turntable, but it was easier to make use of my own cassette player, so the first few years of buying compilation albums was almost exclusively the medium of the cassette.  Owning a turntable meant buying albums with all the artwork included and inside sleeve material.  It also meant getting a better sound, as cassettes for all their good points still had that hiss sound, whilst records just had better dynamic range - I didn’t know that at the time, all I knew was records sounded better.  One of my first albums purchased on the LP format was ‘Live From Earth’ by Pat Benatar.  I’d already been hooked on the single release ‘Love As A Battlefield’, but I wanted more Pat, and so an album featuring two studio tracks, including ‘Love Is A Battlefield’, and a stack of hits ‘live’ seemed a pretty savvy way to gain an insight on one of the coolest rock chicks on the planet.  Suffice to say I was hooked on Ms. Benatar, and for the next few years continued to buy her LPs, until…..until I purchased my first CD player.  But rather than focus attention on the evolution of my record collection, let’s take a closer look at the progression of Pat Benatar’s music career, from her breakthrough hits of the late 70s, through her dominance of the pop-rock charts of the 80s, to a broadening style through the 90s and beyond.

To say music was in Pat Benatar’s blood would be an understatement.  Born Patricia Andrzejewski, she
grew up in Long Island, New York, and by the age of seventeen had her sights firmly set on a stint at the famed Juilliard School of Music, to further her talents as a mezzo-soprano.  But by eighteen, Miss Andrzejewski had grown tired of the formal environment, and had opted to pursue her own version of ‘fame’ via a different pathway.  By the age of 20 Patricia Andrzejewski had married, and after a brief move to Virginia, had returned home to New York to pursue her singing career once more.  She soon began performing in clubs under the new moniker of Pat Benatar - no doubt a welcome move for DJs and billboard writers everywhere.  It was during this period (in 1977) that the single ‘Day Gig’ (credited to Pat Benetar) surfaced and in the same breath disappeared with no trace on Benatar’s official discography.

Whilst performing regularly on the Manhattan cabaret circuit Benatar came to the notice of artist manager Rick Newman during a show at the Catch a Rising Star club.  Benatar signed with Newman, who
encouraged the diminutively built Benatar to let go of her chanteuse cabaret style, in favour of letting loose the rock diva inside. Soon after, the talented, high energy singer was signed up to Chrysalis Records, in an association that would feature in Benatar’s career for more than a decade.  Benatar and her management also made a key decision during the late 70s, which was to form a stable and charismatic backing band for both live and studio work - another association that would pay dividends for the singer.  Drummer Myron Grombacher, bassist Roger Capps, keyboardist Charlie Giordano, and guitarist/keyboardist Neil Geraldo (ex-Derringer) were the key backing players across Benatar’s first half dozen albums, who formed a talented and charismatic instrumental platform from which Benatar could project her powerhouse rock vocals to the world.  Giraldo in particular would play a key and lasting role in both the life and career of Ms. Benatar (the couple married in 1982, and Giraldo co-wrote much of Benatar’s material, and took on the producer’s role).

During the first half of 1979, gun producer Mike Chapman (worked with Blondie, The Knack, Racey - see previous posts - to name a few), liked what he heard of Pat Benatar’s demo tape for the Chrysalis label. 
Chapman took time out from a hectic production schedule to oversee work on Benatar’s debut set (including personally producing and co-writing several tracks).  ‘In The Heat Of The Night’ was released in October of ‘79, but was prefaced by the lead out single ‘I Need A Lover’ (a cover of the John Cougar, later of the Mellencamp variety, song).  The Mike Chapman/Nicky Chinn penned ‘If You Think You Know How To Love Me’ followed, but it was the album’s third single which would bring Benatar to the attention of the rock world.  ‘Heartbreaker’ announced Pat Benatar as a female rock vocalist of rare distinction and climbed steadily up the US Hot 100 (US#23/OZ#95) in early 1980.  I find it difficult to listen to ‘Heartbreaker’ without thinking of the hilarious Seinfeld reference to the song during one of the later season episodes.  The song helped push the album ‘In The Heat Of The Night’ up the charts (US#12/OZ#25/UK#98/CA#3), selling over a million copies in the process, and was followed up by the impassioned rock treat ‘We Live For Love’ (penned by Neil Giraldo - US#27/OZ#28), a song which is a personal favourite of this author, and
hinted strongly in the chorus of Benatar’s classical training.  That same vocal dexterity came to the fore on another cover, Kate Bush’s haunting ‘Wuthering Heights’.

Pat Benatar’s sophomore album surfaced in August of 1980, shortly after the lead out single ‘You Better Run’ (US#42/OZ#31) hit the airwaves.  The single was classic edgy rock with attitude, with the accompanying video shot in the docks area of New York City.  The video holds the honour of being the second music video to be aired on the then new MTV network (aired in August of ‘’81, following on from the Buggles’ ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’) - and Pat Benatar was the first solo artist played on the iconic network.  ‘Crimes Of Passion’ offered up ten more tracks from a singer who was fast establishing herself as one of the pre-eminent ‘rock chicks’ on the popular music scene.  The second single ‘I’m Gonna Follow You’ failed to attract a following on the charts, but it did feature another strong music video, again shot on NYC city streets.  Whilst shooting the video Ms. Benatar received a nasty knock on the
head from a stray lighting truss.  Thankfully there were no after effects from the knock, and Benatar soon hit back with the no nonsense power pop cut ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot’, which hit the target inside the US Top 10 (US#9/OZ#33) late in 1980.  The ensuing single, ‘Treat Me Right’, proved a strong follow up effort (US#18).  With a string of hit singles and a relentless touring schedule, the ‘Crimes Of Passion’ album (US#2/OZ#16), knocked on the door of the US#1 address in early ‘81, and was only refused entry by the John Lennon/Yoko Ono ‘Double Fantasy’ set.

In mid ‘81, Pat Benatar returned with another set of pristine power pop tracks on the album ‘Precious Time’ (US#1/UK#30/OZ#8).  The lead out single ‘Fire And Ice’ (US#17/OZ#30) managed to sizzle on the charts.  The song was pulsating guitar driven rock at its best, and fairly brimmed with a tumultuous emotionality thanks to a blistering vocal performance from Benatar (a performance that would later earn the
singer her second Grammy Award for ‘Best Female Rock Vocal Per- formance’).  The follow up single ‘Promises In The Dark’ (US#38) demonstrated a more restrained side to Benatar’s vocal style, with the rock ballad (penned by Benatar and Giraldo), offering a softer, more mellow feel.  The album’s title track, ‘Precious Time’, failed to chart but was promoted by a video that was on heavy rotation on MTV.  It featured Pat Benatar in best Olivia Newton-John mode, with the ‘Physical’ headband look, and to save a quid on production costs, the video was shot at the house of the president of Chrysalis Records.  After a constant presence in the charts and on the airwaves (not to mention relentless touring), Pat Benatar was rewarded late in ‘81, when ‘Precious Time’ reached the zenith of the US album charts (OZ#8/UK#30).

On the back of a chart topping album, you’d have thought that Pat Benatar would have been relaxed and
confident ahead of the release of her next set.  Well, there’s every chance she was exactly that (I mean I wasn’t there at the time), but the title of Benatar’s 1982, and fourth, album ‘Get Nervous’ likely didn‘t reflect the singer’s frame of mind at the time.  To this point, Benatar had largely resisted the lure of the more melodic, synth-styled new wave sound.  This album around saw some flirtation with the new wave genre, on tracks such as ‘Silent Partner’ and ‘I’ll Do It’, but the fuel injected guitar driven rock isn’t far away, as showcased by ‘I Want Out’, ‘The Victim’, and the brooding rock ballad ‘Fight It Out’.  The title track ‘Anxiety (Get Nervous)’ may not have charted, but was accompanied by a clever music video.  Benatar finds herself in the waiting room of a mental ward, with hair and makeup reflecting an apparent descent into madness.  The song and video’s ‘manic’ feel wasn’t a million miles away from the concept for Billy Joel’s ‘Pressure’.

The lead out single, ‘Shadows Of The Night’, further embossed Pat Benatar’s reputation as a vocal tour de force.  The song’s pristine production value (thanks to Neil Giraldo), was offset by some slick guitar work
and Benatar’s impassioned vocals, to deliver an anthemic rock track of the highest order.  There was no hiding in the shadows from this classic pop-rock song, as it climbed steadily like a fighter plane into the charts (US#13/OZ#19/UK#50).  And speaking of fighter planes, the accompanying music video illustrated all that was great about music videos through the golden 80s era.  Working in a factory, Pat daydreams about joining the fight in the air, via the ‘Midnight Angel’ mustang fighter on a vital mission.  The cameos from Judge Reinhold and Bill Paxton (pre stardom) add to the charms of the video.  Though it stopped short of cracking the top ten, ‘Shadows Of The Night’ stands out as one of Pat Benatar’s most polished performances, and earned her a third Grammy Award, this time for ‘Best Female Rock Vocal Performance’ for 1982.

The follow up single, ‘Little Too Late’ crept inside the US Hot 100 top 20 (#20), but a personal favourite of this author was the third single ‘Looking For A Stranger’ (US#39), a crisp and vibrant melding of synth edged, guitar driven pop.  The source album, ‘Get Nervous’, put in another strong chart performance (US#4/UK#73/OZ#15), earning Benatar a fourth straight platinum selling album.

Given Benatar’s relentless touring schedule over the previous five years, it was no great surprise that her next
album release was a live set, showcasing her power packed live vocals across eight tracks, with two new studio tracks to round out the 1983 album ‘Live From Earth’ (US#13/UK#60/OZ#2).  The usual suspects appeared in the lineup of live tracks, including ‘Fire And Ice’, ‘We Live For Love’, and ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot’.  But it was the first of two studio tracks that would cause a stir on the charts during late ‘83 and early ‘84.  ‘Love Is A Battlefield hit shelves during October of ‘83, and hit my turntable soon after.  The brooding, atmospheric pop-rock number seemed to feel just right for an Australian summer, though it proved all most at home in a northern winter.  ‘Love Is A Battlefield’ (penned by Mike Chapman and Holly Knight) was also backed with one of the best music videos to emerge during the mid 80s.  The storyline of the video need not have matched the lyrical narrative, but it was compelling in its own right.  Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo stated in commentary for the video (from the ‘Choice Cuts’ DVD) that it didn’t represent what they had envisioned for the song, but (as is so often the case) a lack of artistic control over the record company meant
some aspects of their creative vision were compromised.  Regardless, ‘Love Is A Battlefield’ stands tall as a quintessentially 80s music video.  The song forged into the top five in the US (UK#17), but it was in Australia that opposition forces capitulated as ‘Love Is A Battlefield’ scored a momentous victory over all comers, spending 5 weeks atop the Aussie charts.  The song also scored Benatar her fifth Grammy Award for ‘Best Female Rock Vocal Performance’ for 1983.  The other studio track featured on ‘Live For Earth’, ‘Lipstick Lies’, was a more new wave-ish style track, very much guitar and synth driven melodically, and was also accompanied by an appealing period piece music video, complete with cool neon electric violins.

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