Pat Benatar still proudly shines as one of the most durable musical icons of the first half of the '80s. Even better, her '80s songs have stood the test of time quite admirably, favorably influencing scores of female pop and rock singers who followed her. It's always a heated argument among rock music devotees as to whether Benatar's early arena rock scorchers, power ballads or latter-day pop masterpieces are the preferable listening material, but it's to the singer's credit that high quality remained a constant attribute of her evolving career. Here's a chronological look at Benatar's finest songs of the decade.
This solid rocker, the first hit single of Benatar's career (from 1979's In the Heat of the Night), also happens to be one of her finest. It may have reached only No. 23 on the Billboard pop charts in early 1980, but it filled an important void in rock music at the time: a female singer capable of delivering hard rock attitude, muscular chops and a distinct sense of melody, all at the same time. For these quality reasons, Benatar made an immediate splash on the pop music scene, and this song was a highly appropriate introduction. Boasting guitar swagger, clever riffing and plenty of successfully aggressive hooks, the track simply works across the board for an array of rock music audiences, dismantling gender barriers along the way.
Benatar continued to demand considerable feminine respect through a developing tough-broad persona, unleashing another fine guitar-fueled rocker in this sterling album track from 1980's sophomore release, Crimes of Passion. Benatar's classically trained powerhouse of a voice somehow combined perfectly with gritty hard rock guitar and aggressive songwriting to bypass completely the contemporary pitfalls of the cheesy sides of arena rock and pop metal. Instead, the singer presents a lively jolt of melodic hard pop that comes across as both classy and exciting in its intensity. Of all the female stars of the '80s who became feminist icons, Benatar is arguably the most straightforward and lacking in contradictions.
Aside from a notable claim to fame as the song whose music video was the second to be played at MTV's launch, this track sparkles as a quintessential Benatar moment of guitar bravado. In her hands, this cover of a Rascals tune certainly qualifies as bona fide hard rock thanks to the active and rather blistering guitar work as well as Benatar's precise and powerful pipes. At the same time, however, its tremendous pop sensibility makes it absolutely no mystery as to how the singer has become one of the most influential female rock singers of all time. This is tremendously entertaining rock that stands the test of time so much better than almost any of the music in the hard rock category that followed it during the '80s.
For better or for worse, Benatar certainly began to sound far more of the '80s as the decade wore on. That is, by the time this late 1983 track became a No. 5 pop hit, the hard rock swagger of her work just a couple of years earlier had melted away into a rather sweetly melodic vocal and musical approach. The goofy visuals of the accompanying music video (complete with choreographed dance moves) didn't necessarily help, either, in terms of Benatar's continuing rock credibility or lack thereof. Nonetheless, it's difficult to deny the propulsive nature of the song and its justifiably ubiquitous status on the pop landscape at the time. Plus, it must have been hard for Benatar to resist the lure of her career's pop evolution.
7. "We Belong"
Even though Benatar did not write a whole lot of her most popular material, she always showed a great ear for choosing songs of strong compositional quality. This track, the singer's second and final Top 5 pop hit of her career, again reflects this keen sense of judgment. And even if it stands as one of Benatar's most strikingly guitarless numbers, it also works quite well on its own merit as a memorable, signature pop performance. It's too bad that the singer began to fade somewhat as the mid-'80s shifted its focus anew to hard rock, but there's no doubt Benatar's strong feminine persona had no prayer of succeeding within the misogynistic yet fluffy confines of hair metal.