Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Woman Named Pat

You Better Run - Pat Benatar (mp3)
Take It Any Way You Want It - Pat Benatar (mp3)

Pat Benatar might not have owned the ‘80s, but she had a very nice lease with an option to buy.

Were I God, I would have created a serendipitous series of events that allowed Pat Benatar to marry Rick Springfield. By now, their son, Patrick Springatar, would be in his late 20s and burning up the charts with the kind of power pop we’re sorely missing. But I digress.

Because I was just a kid, I was relatively tardy to the Pat Benatar party. I’d seen a few of her videos and heard her on the local radio station. Trivia moment: Benatar’s video for “You Better Run” was the second video ever played by MTV. Proof nobody remembers second place.

I was given the 45 for “Shadows of the Night” as a Christmas gift in 1982. I was 10. It grew on me very slowly.

For some reason, the song “Anxiety (Get Nervous)” got more of my attention. Maybe the Billy Joel song “Pressure,” released the previous spring and in a similar pop pseudo-psychology vein, laid the groundwork for me being intrigued. Somehow I tie these songs and that time in my life as the first signs I would eventually seek out a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

First I got her Get Nervous album. Then I expanded my obsession when two other albums, Crimes of Passion and Precious Time, were offered at the “Nice Price” of $3.99 each. For a couple of months, these three albums comprised most of what occupied my orbital lobes.

Ironically, in a time when videos were the vehicle and measuring stick of success, one could easily argue that Pat Benatar succeeded in spite of the general suckiness of her videos. Her most popular and ambitious video, “Love is a Battlefield,” was born cheesy and only gets worse over the years.

The video for “Shadows of the Night” arguably gave Quentin Tarantino inspiration for Inglorious Basterds. It was still a bad video though.

Her first five studio albums (and one concert album) all went platinum. She released these albums over six years. Think about that. One platinum-selling LP every year for six straight years. While not unprecedented, and while certainly not Beatles-esque, I dare you to find anyone in the last 20 years capable of competing with that kind of release pace and unbroken popularity.

Eminem had four platinum albums in six years. Mariah Carey had 10 platinum albums in 15 years and nine in 12, which is about as close as I suspect you’ll get (and, arguably, more impressive).

It’s also worth noting that, in an era where female stars rose the ranks on sex appeal, Benatar didn’t -- perhaps couldn’t or wouldn’t -- win at that particular game. Nothing about her looks or her behavior worked the Madonna or Lita Ford angle, and even Heart, a legitimately respectable musical force, kicked up another level of fame on the exposed cleavage and leg kicks of Nancy Wilson.

Pat, bless her heart, has a small chest, big teeth, and as a longtime friend says, “breeder hips.” I always found her appealing, but she wasn’t someone you’d consider universally attractive, nor did her videos work too hard to sell her as such.

In fact, many of her videos seemed almost dead set on not calling too much attention to her in such a way. Her song "Sex as a Weapon" was not posing. She'd earned some of the right to take that stand... (even if she didn't write that song or anything else she sang).

The nature of our relationship to popular musicians over the course of time is to remember the 24 different greatest hits albums released rather than for their original LPs. With the possible exception of Led Zeppelin or the Beatles (or, I guess, Radiohead), we measure people by their hits. While Pat comes away looking plenty fine when measured by her hits, it seems a shame that a lot of quality pop rock gets neglected.

You can go buy Crimes of Passion as an mp3 download for only $5. It’s probably her best overall album.


BeckEye said...

I've seen Pat live twice. Once in a huge amphitheater as someone's opening act and once in a more intimate theater. She was awesome both times. That lady's pipes never got rusty.

Billy said...

I would sooooo love to see her perform live. I forgot to mention my fascination that not once in those six platinum albums did she have a #1 hit (at least, I don't think she did)...

Bob said...

Dear spouse,

If love is a battlefield where you hit me with your best shot, it will be hell for the children.

goofytakemyhand said...

You didn't see her and Mr. Pat Benatar close out Riverbend in '05? Granted there was like 100,000 people, so it was just watching a screen. Goofy and friends got tired of the crowds and saw a really good side-stage funk act instead.

Billy said...

@goofy -- Riverbend main stage acts are just about the most depressing deals on the planet, and this increases in direct proportion to how much you actually like the band in question. Go to an overcrowded outdoor venue where you can't possibly get a decent view to watch a group you care about perform for less than an hour and leave sans encore. The side-stage acts are, IMO, the only legit reason to brave the insanity.

Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas said...

She might not be a traditional beauty, but we all thought she was sexy as hell back in the day.

I always thought Precious Time was an underrated song of hers.

Anonymous said...

Okay my friend, big hips? Not as popular as Madonna? Pat Benitar rocked to world to its foundation in the 80's and kept it going. Also, I think Mr. Neil Giraldo would disagree about your assessment of who she should have married. Patricia Mae has done just fine.

Videos also "get worse over the years" because it's called "contemporary music"

Anyway, not trying to bust your bullocks here but Pat Benitar is one of the best female rock vocalists ever. Grace Slick, Janis Joplin, Ann Wilson...lately Christina Aguilara (when she can remember the lyrics) and Kelly Clarkson. If you want to hear a really good singer (this will surprise everyone) listen to Cyndi Lauper. She can keep up with Aretha.

Anyway, just one man's opinion.


Billy said...

Marco: Thanks for the comments. Please don't mistake my acknowledgement of Madonna's greater popularity -- and yes, she was more popular and sold more albums, and there's not much point in debating it -- with Pat's greater talents and my (or your) preference for Pat.

The marriage thing... um, it was kind of a joke. I don't really endorse musicians sleeping together merely for the creation of Music Superbabies. And as for the women you praise for their talents, I'm happy to acknowledge all of them and dozens more, and certainly I agree with you that Pat deserves to have her name high on that list.

Please don't mistake my willingness to be a little too blunt about shortcomings with dislike. I'm a huge, ginormous Pat Benatar fan and have been since I first heard "Hell is for Children" when I was 9 years old. And, Rick Springfield jokes aside, her hubby is a very very large part of her success story.

Anonymous said...


i enjoyed the article very much. You point out very nicely that Ms. Pat is far from perfect, but does deserve all the respect in the world for what she was able to acheive in a largely male "world".

You are right, no #1 single. that is really something when you think about it. 19 top 40 hits, yet no #1. Her only #1 anything was the Precious Time LP, which was #1 for 1 week. Crimes of Passion would have been #1, but came out (I belive) the week before John Lennon was killed, so it was stuck at #2 behind his album.

Still, no other female rocker has come close to her chart success or record sales and the way the music industry is going, doubtful we'll see anything like it again. Crimes of Passion sold 8 million between the US and Canada, a 2 million seller is HUGE these days.

Thanks again for the article.


Anonymous said...

I first came across Pat Benatar in my teens, when body image was a huge issue. No breeder hips...she was tiny. And I totally aspired to have her legs, which she showed quite a bit in her leotards. She was also unafraid to wear skimpy spaghetti strap tops that showed off her little breasts, which I am grateful were never surgically enhanced (like mine). She herself made fun of her big teeth, but why mess with a good thing? In my mind, she is A+ gorgeous.

Billy said...

@Anon(Ray) & @Anon -- Thanks to both of you for your comments. I continue to feel a little guilty for my bluntness regarding Ms. Benatar's looks and level of success.

I'm not a big fan of fawning. To me, what made Pat Benatar so amazing was that she seemed far more real and relatable than the contemporary female superstar. Maybe she was managed like some huge corporate asset, but not in the way Beyonce or Rihanna or Miley or Avril are.

And I totally agree that she wasn't supermodel flawless and was all the more attractive and sexy and amazing for it. (Translation: Supermodel flawless is highly overrated.)