Patricia Mae Andrzejewski was born in Greenpoint, Brooklyn to Andrew and Mildred Andrzejewski, a sheet-metal worker and a beautician. Her family moved to Lindenhurst, New York on Long Island, when she was 3 years old. "I have wonderful childhood memories of picking berries in the ‘woods’ by our house, driving to the ‘docks’ on the South Bay to get freshly harvested clams", she recounted once.
Patti (as she was known) became interested in theater and began voice lessons, singing at Daniel Street Elementary School her first solo, a song called “It Must Be Spring,” at age eight. She said, "As a kid, I sang at any choir, any denomination, anywhere I could." At Lindenhurst Senior High School (1967-71), Benatar participated in musical theater, playing Queen Guinevere in the school production of Camelot, marching in the homecoming parade, singing at the annual Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony, and performing a solo of "The Christmas Song" on a holiday recording of the Lindenhurst High School Choir her senior year.
Benatar was cut off from the rock scene in nearby Manhattan though because her parents were "ridiculously strict – I was allowed to go to symphonies, opera and theater but I couldn’t go to clubs". Her musical training was strictly classical and theatrical. She said, "I was singing Puccini and West Side Story but I spent every afternoon after school with my little transistor radio listening to the Rolling Stones…"
Training as a coloratura and accepted to The Juilliard School, Benatar surprised family, friends and teachers by deciding a classical career was not for her and pursued health education at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. At 19, after one year at Stony Brook, she dropped out to marry her high school sweetheart Dennis Benatar, an army draftee who trained at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and then served with the Army Security Agency at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, before being stationed at Fort Lee, Virginia. Specialist (E-4) Dennis Benatar was stationed there for three years, and Pat worked as a bank teller in Richmond, Virginia.
In 1973, Benatar quit her job as a bank teller to pursue a singing career after being inspired by a Liza Minnelli concert she saw in Richmond. She got a job as a singing waitress at a flapper-esque nightclub named The Roaring Twenties and got a gig singing in lounge band Coxon’s Army, a regular at Sam Miller’s basement club. The band garnered enough attention to be the subject of a never-aired PBS special, and the band’s bassist Roger Capps also would go on to be the original bass player for the Pat Benatar Band. The period also yielded Benatar’s first and only single until her eventual 1979 debut on Chrysalis Records: "Day Gig" (1974), Trace Records, written and produced by Coxon’s Army band leader Phil Coxon and locally released in Richmond. Her big break came in 1975 at an amateur night at the renowned comedy club Catch a Rising Star in New York. Her rousing rendition of Judy Garland’s "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody" earned her a call back by club owner Rick Newman, who would become her manager. Benatar said:
I came in from Virginia one night. I had straight red hair and I wore a dress. I sang a Judy Garland song and I don’t know what happened, I never sang in New York before in my life, even though I grew up there, everybody just went crazy. I didn’t do anything spectacular. I don’t know what happened, it was just one of those magical things. [Rick Newman] came right in and said, ‘Let’s talk about you playing here some more…’ Newman said, ‘It was 2:45 in the morning. We had 30 performers and she was about #27. I was on the other side of the room drinking with some friends–then I suddenly heard this voice!’
The couple headed back to New York following Dennis’ discharge from the army, and Benatar went on to be a regular member at Catch A Rising Star for close to three years, until signing a record contract. Catch A Rising Star was not the only break Benatar got in 1975. She landed the part of Zephyr in Harry Chapin’s futuristic rock musical, The Zinger. Benatar’s first foray into rock. The production, which debuted on March 19, 1976, at the Performing Arts Foundation’s (PAF) Playhouse in Huntington Station, Long Island, ran for a month and also featured Beverly D’Angelo and Christine Lahti. Benatar noted: "I was 22 by the time I started to sing rock, so at first I was very conscious of technique and I was overly technical. That proved to be inhibiting so it was a disadvantage until I began to sing intuitively. That’s the only way to sing rock – from your gut level feelings. It’s the instinct that the best singers have."
Halloween 1977 proved a pivotal night in Benatar’s early, spandexed stage persona. Rather than change out of the vampire costume she had worn to a Greenwich Village cafe party that evening, she went on-stage wearing black tights, black eyeliner and a short black top. Benatar has stated: “I was dressed as a character from this ridiculous B movie called Cat-Women of the Moon.” Despite performing her usual array of songs, she received a standing ovation. Benatar has said that "[T]he crowd was always polite, but this time they went out of their minds. It was the same songs, sung the same way, and I thought, ‘Oh my god … [i]t’s these clothes and this makeup!’"
Between appearances at Catch A Rising Star and recording commercial jingles for Pepsi Cola and a number of regional concerns, she headlined New York City’s famous Tramps nightclub from March 29 – April 1, 1978, where her performance impressed representatives from several record companies. She was signed to Chrysalis Records by founder Terry Ellis the following week."There was a long period of three years, when I spent my time taking demo tapes around and being rejected by one record company after another. Then just two days after the debut concert with the band, we were signed to a record contract…." Recorded in June and July 1979, Benatar debuted the week of August 27, 1979 with the release of I Need A Lover from the album In the Heat of the Night. She said, "My album was the last of a bunch by female singers to come out so I was told not to expect much, even though Mike Chapman was producing."
She won an unprecedented four consecutive Grammy Awards for Best Female Rock Performance from 1980 to 1983 for her second LP, Crimes of Passion, and the songs "Fire and Ice", "Shadows of the Night", and "Love Is a Battlefield". Of the ten Grammy Award ceremonies in the 1980s, Benatar was nominated for Best Female Rock Performance eight times, including for "Invincible" in 1985, "Sex as a Weapon" in 1986, "All Fired Up" in 1988 and in 1989 for "Let’s Stay Together".
Benatar also earned Grammy Award nominations in 1985 for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female with "We Belong" and in 1986 for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Duo or Group as a member of Artists United Against Apartheid for their single, "Sun City". Benatar is also the winner of three American Music Awards: Favorite Female Pop/Rock Vocalist of 1981 and 1983, and Favorite Female Pop/Rock Video Artist of 1985. Benatar was twice named Rolling Stone magazine’s Favorite Female Vocalist, and Billboard magazine ranks her as the most successful female rock vocalist of all time based on overall record sales and the number of hit songs and their charted positions.
Pat Benatar was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame at the Second Induction Award Ceremony and Fundraising Gala held October 30, 2008. In her acceptance letter, she said, “My upbringing, and the values and ideals I learned back in my hometown kept me grounded. I never forget that a small town girl from Lindenhurst, LI actually got the chance to live her dreams.
In the Heat of the Night
"I Need a Lover" was the first single to be released on August 27, 1979. However both it and the next single, "If You Think You Know How to Love Me" (October 1979), were unsuccessful. Benatar’s third single "Heartbreaker" was released in early December 1979 and became an immediate hit, climbing to #23 in the U.S. Benatar said "That was written by these two English guys, Gill and Wade, and it had all these little English colloquialisms that Americans would never say. So the publisher gave it to me to clean up, and I had to figure out all these lyrics. It was making me crazy. But I loved the song from the first time I heard it, so I rewrote the lyrics and we did the song as it appears here. It’s one of my favorites." A fourth single "We Live for Love," which was written by her future husband Neil Giraldo, was released in February 1980, and reached US #27. Although Giraldo claims that it was written about her, Benatar has playfully accused him during interviews of having written the song long before they met, obviously about another woman.
Benatar’s debut album In the Heat of the Night was released in October 1979, and reached #12. It established Benatar as a new force in rock. Producer Mike Chapman, who had worked with Blondie and The Knack, broke his vow not to take on any new artists when he heard Benatar’s demo tape. Chapman personally produced three tracks on the album, while his long-time engineer and now independent producer, Peter Coleman (who also supervised Nick Gilder) oversaw the rest. In addition, Chapman and his partner, Nicky Chinn, wrote three songs that appear on the LP, "In the Heat of the Night" and "If You Think You Know How to Love Me" which were previously recorded by Smokie, as well as a rearranged version of a song they wrote for Sweet, "No You Don’t". The album also featured two songs written by Roger Capps and Benatar as well as "I Need a Lover" written by John Mellencamp and "Don’t Let It Show" written by Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson. The album would be Benatar’s first RIAA certified platinum album.
Crimes of Passion
In August 1980, Benatar released her second and most popular LP, Crimes of Passion, featuring her signature song "Hit Me with Your Best Shot" along with the controversial song Hell is for Children, which was inspired by reading a series of articles in the New York Times about child abuse in America. "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" (U.S. #9) was her first single to break the U.S. Top 10 and eventually sold more than 1 million copies (at that time, gold status) in the United States alone. The album peaked at U.S. #2 for six consecutive weeks in January 1981 (behind Yoko Ono and John Lennon’s Double Fantasy) and eventually sold over 5 million copies, and a month later, Benatar won her first Grammy Award for "Best Female Rock Vocal Performance" of 1980. Other singles released from Crimes of Passion were "Treat Me Right" (US #18) and the Rascal’s cover, "You Better Run" (US #42), which gained some later notoriety when it was the second music video ever played on MTV, after the Buggles’ "Video Killed the Radio Star". The album also featured a changed-tempo cover of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights. Produced by Keith Olsen, Crimes of Passion remained on the US album charts for 93 weeks and in the top 10 for more than six months, eventually becoming her second consecutive platinum certification by the RIAA. In October 1980, Benatar (along with future husband Neil Giraldo) graced the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
In August 1981, Benatar hit #1 on the Billboard U.S. Top 200 LP chart with her third LP, "Precious Time". It was also her first to chart in the UK, reaching #30. The album’s lead single, "Fire and Ice", was another big hit (US #17, AUS #30) and would win Benatar her second Grammy Award, this time for "Best Female Rock Vocal Performance" of 1981 and her third consecutive RIAA certified platinum album. Two more singles, "Promises in the Dark" (US #38) and "Take It Any Way You Want It" are also released.
A hit single, "Shadows of the Night", (US #13, AUS #19) heralded a new LP, Get Nervous, released in late 1982. The album was another smash, reaching US #4, her fourth consecutive RIAA platinum certification, and the single would garner Benatar yet another Grammy, again for "Best Female Rock Vocal Performance" of 1982. The follow-up singles, "Little Too Late" and "Looking for a Stranger", were also successful, hitting US #20 and #39 respectively. The last single, "Anxiety (Get Nervous)", failed to make the Top 40. The WWII-themed music video for "Shadows of the Night" featured then-unknown actors Judge Reinhold and Bill Paxton as an American fighter copilot and a German radio operator, respectively.
Live from Earth
By 1983, Benatar had established a reputation for singing about "tough" subject matters, with a significant amount of songs featuring a "battle" metaphor. This was best exemplified by one of the biggest hits of her career, "Love Is a Battlefield" (penned by noted hit songwriter Holly Knight with Mike Chapman), released in December 1983. By then her sound had mellowed from hard rock to more atmospheric pop and the story-based video clip for "Love Is a Battlefield" was aimed squarely at MTV, even featuring Benatar in a Michael Jackson-inspired group dance number. This new pop direction was a huge commercial success, with the single peaking at #5 in the United States, and #1 in Australia for seven weeks. The song even gained some interest in the UK where it peaked at #49. The song would also net Benatar her fourth consecutive Grammy Award for "Best Female Rock Vocal Performance" of 1983. A live album, Live from Earth, which was recorded during Benatar’s sold-out Get Nervous world tour of America and Europe in 1982 and 1983, contained two studio tracks, "Love Is a Battlefield" and "Lipstick Lies." The album peaked at U.S. #13 and became her fifth consecutive RIAA platinum winner.
In October 1984, the single "We Belong" became another Top 5 smash in the US, and reached #7 in Australia. It was also Benatar’s first ever UK top 40 hit, where it peaked at #22. In November, Benatar released her sixth album, Tropico (US #14, AUS #9, UK #31). A second single release, "Ooh Ooh Song," reached U.S. #36. It is also said by Benatar and Giraldo that this album is the first where they moved away from Benatar’s famed "hard rock" sound and start experimenting with new, sometimes "gentler," styles and sounds. Despite not making the US Top 10, it earned her a sixth consecutive RIAA platinum certification. A third single, "Temporary Heroes" was also released in March 1985.
After the chart success of We Belong in the UK, Love is a Battlefield was re-released in early 1985 and became her highest chart hit there, reaching #17.
Seven the Hard Way
Benatar would hit the U.S. Top 10 with the #10 single "Invincible" (the theme from the movie, The Legend of Billie Jean) in 1985. "Sex As a Weapon" would climb as high as #28 in January 1986, and "Le Bel Age" (#54) in February. The album Seven the Hard Way peaked at #26, earning an RIAA Gold certification.
The title of the album is based on a bet in the game of craps: "Rolls of 4, 6, 8, and 10 are called "hard" or "easy" (e.g. "Six the Hard Way", "Easy Eight", "Hard Ten") depending on whether they were rolled as a "double" or as any other combination of values, because of their significance in center table bets known as the "hard ways"." The album was the band’s seventh release in seven years. Benatar is holding a pair of dice on the album cover with three and a half dots each.
Wide Awake in Dreamland
In July 1988, Benatar released her eighth album, "Wide Awake in Dreamland" (US #28, UK #11). A single lifted from the album, "All Fired Up" (written by Kerryn Tolhurst, ex-The Dingoes) reached #19 in both the US and the UK, and was a #2 smash in Australia, becoming one of the biggest hits of 1988 in that country. Other singles released from the LP are "Don’t Walk Away" (UK #42), "Let’s Stay Together", and "One Love" (UK #59). The album also earned an RIAA gold certification.
At this point I joined the RAF and stopped buying records so much, and so this is where my collection ends.