Pat Benatar found fame in 1979 with her debut album “In the Heat of the Night,” which featured well known tracks “Heartbreaker” and “We Live for Love.” Those tunes, as well as, “Love is a Battlefield,” “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” and “We Belong” are probably some of the most recognized song titles in rock and roll, and they’ve stood the test of time, transcending generations, and, although perhaps inadvertently, and with the help of films like “13 Going On 30,” have become staples in female youth culture. Benatar’s story is one of perseverance — a woman in a man’s world who would become a fierce trailblazer for women in music.
Record companies often tried to promote Benatar as a sex symbol. Since rock and roll has been rocking and rolling, there has been the myth of the social outcast — the Lone Rocker, dare we say. Solo male artists were what companies thought people wanted to hear; women were just something to look at. Benatar began when this myth was in vogue, as was the idea that there was no audience for a rock act that highlighted a solo lady on stage.
Rockers are seen as the those telling truths we can’t find anywhere else, but Benatar has always given a proverbial — if sometimes a quite literal middle finger — to the music and social establishment. Pat is not a god away, quite high above and beyond us. Those Rock gods fell a long time ago. Besides, gods rarely have to get dirty or fight, but Benatar has had to fight every day just to do the kind of music she wanted to make, regardless of some CEO in a dark suit trying to tell her what music was. She is a pioneer not just for female rockers, but rock and roll itself. Benatar could sing any type of music, in any style, but it took time for her voice to become that soprano turned rebel lady rocker edge that defined her music once she was independent from the first record company that released her debut album.
The singer-songwriter has performed and created 15 top 40 singles and multi-platinum albums, but her singing career began in a very different fashion. Benatar went to a special preparatory academy, and the plan was for her to graduate, head to Juilliard, and become a trained coloratura soprano. She decided instead to sing in clubs and bands before landing her first gig. She became the first female artist to play on MTV, performing, “You Better Run.” After the music video aired, she became a household name, at least in those households with cable.
Benatar seems to be be one the the quintessential “bad girls” onstage, but it is quite clear that such a stance is largely just a part of her skilled acting in the performance of the songs. She is just one of the best lead singers around. Aside from the quality of her voice, the drama and her showmanship make her performances electric. Add to that the controversy that has surrounded her, via songs like, “Hell is for Children,” which Benatar tries to perform at every concert because it was written in response to hearing some heart-wrenching stories from survivors of child abuse. Far Right groups have been known to stand outside and picket many shows at many venues, wanting to protest the title alone without really listening to the lyrics to the songs themselves that makes them so angry in the first place.
Benatar has had to fight ignorance and hostility just to be taken seriously as a rock and roll artist at the same caliber as anyone else considered an essential to the cannon. She demands such recognition at every level. Here’s an excerpt from the aforementioned, “controversial,” “Hell is for Children:”
They cry in the dark
So you can’t see their tears
They hide in the light
So you can’t see their fears
Forgive and forget
All the while
Love and pain become one and the same
In the eyes of a wounded child
Because hell, hell is for children
And you know that their little lives can become such a mess
Hell, hell is for children
And you shouldn’t have to pay for your love
With your bones and your flesh
Those who listen to this powerful music, should all be grateful to Benatar for paving the way for all women regardless of profession or genre. Whenever great art is written and produced by an independent female artist, such things trickle down to everyone touched with a lyric or drumbeat or guitar strum. If nothing else, that is why the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should take note of her continuing contribution to rock and roll as the ‘bad girl’ that brought down the gods of old, and gave us anthems written by real people, songs that truly stand the test of time.