Born January 10, 1953, in Brooklyn, NY; daughter of Andy (a sheet-metal worker) and Mildred (a cosmetologist) Andrzejewski; married Dennis Benatar (a video editor), c. 1972 (divorced, 1979); married Neil Geraldo (a musician, songwriter, and producer), February, 1982; children: (second marriage) Haley. Education: Trained briefly as an opera singer; studied health education. Addresses: Home-- Tarzana, CA. Agent-- Premier Talent Agency, 3 East 54th St., New York, NY 10022.
Pat Benatar burst onto the rock scene in 1979 with the scathing single "Heartbreaker." Her shag haircut, dark eye makeup, spike heels, and skin-tight pants combined with an angry, opera-trained voice to make her a unique rock commodity. In fact, Benatar's looks and voice were imitated by female rockers for years as she dominated the charts with hard-driving hit after hit. With her 1984 album, Tropico, however, Benatar began to slow down and produce a more mature sound. In 1991 she departed even further from her rock beginnings, immersing herself in the blues on the album True Love.
Benatar originally longed to be an opera singer, but she instead married and moved from New York City to Virginia with her husband. The young couple soon split, and Benatar returned to New York with a new agenda: to make it as a rock singer. Lean times followed, literally, as Benatar often found herself eating rice and beans. She sang oldies and standards at a club called Catch a Rising Star until 1978, when she was discovered there by Chrysalis Records executives.
In just a year's time, Benatar had released her first album, In the Heat of the Night. The record jolted the music industry; Benatar presented herself as a tough, rebellious woman scorned with the single "Heartbreaker," which warned listeners "Don't you mess around with me!" Fans relished her strong, sexy image and powerhouse songs. But the singer found herself at a loss to accommodate her sudden fame, commenting in the Detroit News, "I'm scared to watch the charts. I still don't understand what's going on. There have been packed houses everywhere we've gone, but every night when I step off that bus, I'm afraid there's going to be no one in the hall."
Success continued to follow Benatar. 1980's Crimes of Passion zoomed to Billboard's Top Twenty within three weeks of its release. "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," a rocking tribute to female independence, earned a particularly enthusiastic response from fans. One of the biggest singles from the album tackled a difficult social issue, which was atypical of the average rock song of the period. "Hell is for Children" looked into the problem of child abuse. "It started with a curiosity," Benatar told the Detroit Free Press. "I didn't know much about it, and I began to look into it. It was a big surprise to me.... I wanted it to be a great rock 'n' roll song--but it was never meant to be a commercial success."
Benatar ascended to Billboard' s Number One spot with the release of her 1981 album, Precious Time. Though sold-out shows were common on the tour supporting the record, critical response was mixed; a few reviewers commented that Benatar seemed to stick to a standard formula rather than venture into new ground. But the real story of Precious Time took place behind the scenes. Due to the stress of working constantly together over the previous two years, personnel problems erupted in Benatar's backup group. "Everybody was fighting," the singer remembered in the Los Angeles Times. "It was the everybody-kill-each-other stage of the band. It was a horrible, depressing experience. We couldn't get along anymore. Personal problems overshadowed everything." As Benatar strove for more artistic freedom, conflict with her producer compounded the tension.
Perhaps at the center of the difficulties surrounding Precious Time was Benatar's relationship with guitarist-writer-producer Neil Geraldo, which was falling apart under the strain. The two barely communicated during the taping sessions, and the situation deteriorated while Benatar and Geraldo toured with the rest of the band. "It was an all-time low for everything," she explained in the Los Angeles Times. "Everybody was so disgusted. We were oversaturated with everything--music and each other.... We didn't know if the band was going to stay together." Benatar decided to take a year off after the tour to gain perspective on her life and career.
The smoke began to clear during her hiatus. She and Geraldo decided that they were better together than apart; they married in Hawaii in February of 1982. When a rested Benatar went back into the studio to record Get Nervous, she was much better equipped to weather record company problems and band stresses. Get Nervous showed Benatar in top form and was considered her best album by several critics. Using the tumultuous preceding years as inspiration, Benatar showed considerable depth and range in her compositions.
Tropico, Benatar's next release, was a decided departure from her established hard-edged, confrontational tone. Songs about romance and motherhood were featured. Benatar was pregnant while she developed much of the release, and her band had matured and changed. They no longer went into each recording session just to bang out hard rock; they were now taking more time to formulate their artistic vision and plan its execution. Sales of Tropico did not match those of Benatar's previous efforts, but the singer remained steadfast about her career's direction. "Instead of making records that are expected of me," Benatar told the Detroit News, "I'm making the records I want to make."
With the 1986 release of Seven the Hard Way, Benatar's band sought to combine their new-found sophistication with some of their older, more aggressive energy. As Benatar said in the Detroit News of the album's intent, "If anyone doubted that we would ever kick ass after I became a mother, think again." The single "Sex as a Weapon" became a hit. It was Benatar's way of trouncing the media for forcing sex into people's lives--something she had experienced first-hand during her days of being touted as a sex symbol.
In 1991 Benatar released True Love, a collection of blues compositions. A complete departure from her previous work, People contributor Craig Tomashoff said of the record, "This come-back-to-basics disc is what [Benatar] should have been doing all along," though some critics were not as spirited about the effort. Backed by the popular outfit Roomful of Blues, Benatar's skillful voice rendered each song--both old and new--her own. Despite True Love' s only marginal connection to rock and roll, a single, the B. B. King-penned "Payin' the Cost to Be the Boss," received some airplay on mainstream and classic-rock radio stations.
With her singularly powerful voice and potently unconstrained image, Benatar has made a significant mark on rock and roll--one that has since paved the way for many women entering this male-dominated field. And in shunning the limelight to pursue her not-always-commercial artistic vision, Benatar has further provided an independent alternative for would-be singer-songwriters. Where she once felt the need to please her record company first and foremost, Benatar asserted in Spin that concerning song choices for future albums, "From now on they will all be my favorites."
by Nancy Rampson
Pat Benatar's Career
Worked as a bank teller, and lounge singer in bars and Holiday Inns, Richmond, VA, 1972-74; worked as a singing waitress; "discovered" at a New York City club and signed by Chrysalis Records, 1978; recording and performing artist, 1979--.
Pat Benatar's Awards
Grammy Awards for best female rock vocal performance, 1981-84; Grammy Award nomination for best female rock vocal performance, 1986, for "Invincible."
- Selective Works
- In the Heat of the Night (includes "Heartbreaker"), Chrysalis, 1979.
- Crimes of Passion (includes "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" and "Hell Is for Children"), Chrysalis, 1980.
- Precious Time Chrysalis, 1981.
- Get Nervous Chrysalis, 1982.
- Live From Earth Chrysalis, 1983.
- Tropico Chrysalis, 1984.
- Seven the Hard Way (includes "Sex as a Weapon"), Chrysalis, 1986.
- Wide Awake in Dreamland Chrysalis, 1988.
- Best Shots Chrysalis, 1989.
- True Love Chrysalis, 1991.
August 12, 2003: Benatar's album, Go, is released. Source: Yahoo! Shopping, shopping.yahoo.com/shop?d=product&id=1921988837, August 14, 2003.
- Christian Science Monitor, September 21, 1984; December 4, 1984.
- Detroit Free Press, November 2, 1979; September 17, 1981; November 26, 1982; February 14, 1986.
- Detroit News, November 5, 1979; November 26, 1982; February 14, 1986.
- Guitar Player, December 1980.
- Los Angeles Times, March 13, 1983.
- Mother Jones, June 1982.
- Ms., December 1982.
- People, May 12, 1980; December 29, 1980; September 28, 1981; January 17, 1983; January 6, 1986; February 3, 1986; May 6, 1991.
- Rolling Stone, May 1, 1980; December 16, 1980; November 13, 1980; December 25, 1980; May 1, 1981; June 25, 1981; October 29, 1981; December 24, 1981; November 25, 1982; December 9, 1982; November 24, 1983; January 31, 1985; January 16, 1986; June 27, 1991.
- Spin, September 1985.
- Stereo Review, April 1991; September 1991.
- Variety, January 4, 1989.