Finally-a one disc Greatest Hits by Pat Benatar that not only has all her Top 40 hits, but the one I was looking for-”Le Bel Age,” which while not Top 40-it peaked at #54-was the song on MTV that finally got my interest. Lighter than most of her earlier hits, it was nevertheless peppered with the guitar-driven music that made her one of the 80’s most formidable women. Or should I say Invincible?
Her debut single “Heartbreaker” with its racing guitar line, makes that song almost like a punk “Paranoid.” This song features her distinctive vocal styles, nice and rough, and a higher pitched disco voice. #23 for this song? No way! Higher? Way! That was followed by “We Live For Love,” which like some of her other songs, sounded like what Blondie would’ve been like if they’d been hard rock, or Berlin when they had their hard edge in Count Three And Pray. Such ferocity, including some awesome guitar work by Neil Girardo, her producer/guitarist whom she ended up marrying, is also present in “Promises In The Dark,” which only peaked at #38.
Then came her first Top Ten hit, and the one she’s usually associated with. No, not an anthem for death row inmates on firing squad, but “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” had the right sound, distinctive crunchy hard guitar chords, pop hooks, Pat’s gritty voice, and a catchy chorus that took it to #9 and gold sales.
Before Suzanne Vega’s “Luka,” Benatar did her own sobering story of child abuse in “Hell Is For Children.” She is stronger and blunter: “you shouldn’t have to pay with your bones and your flesh,” “Be daddy’s girl and don’t tell me Mommy a thing.” compared to Vega’s lyricism. “You Better Run,” a cover of the Rascals song, has fiercer guitar crunching than “Best Shot” in this angry song against a partner who’s no good. This barely missed the Top 40, by two positions.
The #18 “Treat Me Right” has a rhythm section reminiscent of Blondie’s “Call Me,” which had come out a year earlier. This might explain the existence of the Blondie/Pat Benatar Back To Back compilation. “Shadows of the Night”, with its initial acapella chorus, and the explosion of guitars and synths, goes into the power synth/rock ballad genre before Bon Jovi, Cher, and others ran with it in the mid to late 80’s.
Holly Knight co-wrote one of Benatar’s highest charting hits, the #5 “Love Is A Battlefield,” which she would later do on her solo album. With its quick tempo on drums and particularly keyboards, it’s no wonder it also peaked at #1 on the rock charts for four weeks. The other was the soaring “We Belong,” which combined rock ballad dynamics with keyboard fills.
Rockabilly meets synth pop in the infectiously danceable “Ooh Ooh Song,” which inexplicably only got the #35. By the time I got around to Pat Benatar, her career was already entering its final stages. Thanks to my friend George, who loaned me his copy of Seven The Hard Way, I got into her. I’d already heard the anthemic “Invincible,” the theme to the Helen Slater movie The Legend of Billie Jean. The other single, “Sex as a Weapon,” was a slap against the use of men and women models using their bods to sell stuff, hence the chorus goes “stop using sex as a weapon/Love is more than a one way reflection.”
However, listening now to “All Fired Up” from Wide Awake In Dreamland, I found that she had lost none of her fire-only her audience, as that song reached #19. The pounding drums and insistent guitar attack, leading to a refrain of self-affirmation, first softly, then culminating in her usual style: “I believe there comes a time, when everything just falls in line/we live and learn from our mistakes/our deepest cuts are healed by fate.”
For those frustrated by some songs missing from other compilations, e.g. Best Shots, or others such as All Fired Up or Synchronistic Wanderings that have too much material, Greatest Hits is to me the best shot of compilations.