The mid to late 1970’s marked a subtle shift in rock music. The genres of new wave and punk began to infiltrate the airwaves. Bands like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Queen, and Van Halen would continue to define rock music and rule supreme, but they had to move over a little bit for bands like Television, Talking Heads, Blondie, and The Ramones. In the midst of it all, a new powerful multi-octave voice entered the scene at the end of the decade that juxtaposed all the genres of the time period into a fresh sound that the rock and roll world would fall in love with. A Long Island, New York singer by the name of Pat Benatar released an album entitled In the Heat of the Night. That album introduced to the world a singer that had the vocal chops of a Freddie Mercury. Yet, there was a toughness to her voice and music that echoed the personality of a Joan Jett with a group that had a somewhat slick garage band sound.
It didn’t happen overnight, not even after the album was released. By all accounts it wouldn’t have happened at all without some exceptional talent in Pat Benatar’s corner. By the time the record came out, the band incorporated bassist and backing vocalist Roger “Zel” Capps, rhythm guitarist Scott St. Clair Sheets, and drummer Glen Alexander Hamilton. But most formidably, the man playing lead guitar, slide guitar, and keyboards was Neil “Spyder” Giraldo. Neil Giraldo’s talents also included melody writing, lyric writing, and mixing. Giraldo was the creative force behind many of the songs on the In the Heat of the Night’s album, whether he got credited with them or not. (Pat and Neil also got married shortly after the release, and remain married to this day.)
Appearing in 1979, In the Heat of the Night took 28 days to record, and cost 82,000 dollars. In that time, the first two singles, ‘If You Think You Know How to Love Me, and John Cougar Mellencamp’s ‘I Need a Lover,’ floundered without much impact. Interestingly, Mellencamp’s piece had reached number one in Australia, but had not initially done well in the United States. It fared better in the United States when he re-released it as a single. These initial tracks were put out on direction of the record executives, still infatuated with disco, who believed that softer music would do better. But both Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo believed in the song “Heartbreaker.” (correctly, as it turned out). They pushed for ‘Heartbreaker,’ to go forth as a single. The record company agreed, and ‘Heartbreaker,’ lofted to number 23 on the Billboard Charts. Later a fourth song, ‘We Live for Love,’ ascended to number 30. After those ground-breakers, the record itself sprang to number twelve on the U.S. Billboard Charts.
In retrospect we shouldn’t be surprised. For ‘Heartbreaker’s,’ rough and unapologetic crunch ushered not only a new sound, but a new attitude. Forget Fleetwood Mac’s smoky mystery, forget Grace Slick’s early psychedelics, here was a female singer that would bring the rock right up to your door, and through it. Throughout her career, Pat Benatar rode the updraft of tough-girl sensibilities and combative “not gonna take it anymore” approaches to romance. And her sound matched her sentiment, loaded with forceful rhythms and brash guitar riffs. Anyone could get into it!
But the crown jewel of success was Pat Benatar’s voice. Astonishing from a frame so tiny, that voice could melt reinforced steel. Like many singers, Pat Benatar was classically trained. Her early lessons provided the range, purity, and vibrato, but that early style didn’t fit the music she wanted to make. She sounded, in her own words, like “Julie Andrews trying to sing rock” (Benatar and Cox, 1). Through incessant and painstaking re-recording as well as standing firm before executives who wanted more of the heretofore tried-and-true recipes- Pat developed the vocal variation that would land her stardom. Her skill was immediately apparent on In the Heat of the Night. From the liltingly-sweet “We Live For Love,” through the sultry title track, to her earthy growl in ‘No You Don’t,’ she could achieve most any effect she wanted. Pat Benatar’s amazing harmonies as showcased in ‘Heartbreaker,’ itself were a thing of ethereal beauty, and still remain among the best in classic rock history.
As with any album, some tracks had more impact than others. ‘We Live for Love,’ was written by Neil Giraldo, a testament to what his melodic skills were capable of. Pat Benatar generated the lyrics for two songs: ‘My Clone Sleeps Alone,’ and ‘So Sincere.’ Her subject material shows a notable departure from the one-dimensional romantic appeal of previous artists. ‘My Clone Sleeps Alone,’ describes the rift between the idealized image of womanhood and the reality; the “clone” has a spotless existence, while the actual woman is susceptible to mistakes and misfortune. ‘So Sincere,’ portrayed a couple who are feverishly in love- to the point of stifling co-dependence. ‘Rated X,’ was conceived by other writers, depicting the hardship of a woman in the sex trade. About her music, Pat felt that it was not necessary for every song to be a hit, but each one should build on the other and be a genuine reflection of the artist’s soul (Benatar and Cox, 62). It was important that the artist be truly comfortable with the music before it was revealed to the public.
And we should be glad for that. Pat Benatar, Neil Giraldo, and others of their type remained true to their vision. In the Heat of the Night shone brightly enough to enable their band to climb the charts, and justifiably establish Pat Benatar’s place as a soon to be legendary rock and roll artist.
I Need a Lover
If You Think You Know How to Love Me
In the Heat of the Night
My Clone Sleeps Alone
We Live for Love
Don’t Let It Show
No You Don’t
Benatar, Pat, and Patsi Bale Cox. Between a Heart and Rock Place. New York: HarperCollins, 2010. Print.