June 24, 2016

Women That Should Be in the Rock Hall, Part 2: Pat Benatar

Sound. Vision. Both are key components in the career of Pat Benatar, the second subject of this series on women that belong in the Rock Hall.

When the scope of an artist's influence and cultural impact has become too large to quantify—and they have a truckload of hits—it's time to consider them for the Rock Hall. Yet Brooklyn-born, Long Island-raised mezzo-soprano Patricia Mae Andrezejewski remains on the outside looking in. Chalk that up to the increasingly indefensible elitism and sexism that apparently afflicts this institution, causing its Nomination Committee to repeatedly overlook and snub artists of her stature.

Eligible for induction since 2004, Benatar has been absent thus far from the Rock Hall conversation, but her presence has been felt for decades on the FM dial, concert stages, and MTV. Fierce, confident, and vocally gifted, she arrived in 1979 with "Heartbreaker," the lead track of her debut album In the Heat of the Night. It's one hell of an opening salvo (key lyric: "Don't you mess around with me") and a timeless pop-rock anthem. 

The Hall's exclusion of this nearly universally-admired performer is perplexing. Its two main criteria for induction, musical excellence and influence, abound here. If the complaint is that Benatar's heyday is relegated to the '80s, that shouldn't be a negative. As the first female artist to appear on MTV ("You Better Run" was the second-ever clip to air on the fledgling network), she paved the way for the later video success of Cyndi Lauper and Madonna, among others. She didn't write enough of her songs? The Rock Hall is teeming with artists that didn't always pen their own material, and in fact, Benatar co-wrote some of her sharpest singles, including "Treat Me Right," "Promises in the Dark," and "Fire and Ice." She won Grammys four years in a row between 1980 and 1983, underscoring the respect she earned in the music industry. And her sound evolved over time— there was the resonant choral pop of "We Belong" (a Top 10 hit) and a full embrace of synthesizers on the underrated 1985 single "Sex as a Weapon." 

We are strong: The "Love is a Battlefield" video
To further expound on Benatar's MTV contributions, her risk-taking maneuver of stepping into the shoes of a homeless teenager in the "Love is a Battlefield" video was a bonafide pop culture moment, not to mention a watershed depiction of streetwise female empowerment. Also, with its cinematic story arc and choreographed group dance sequence, it paralleled and served as a counterpoint to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video. The "shoulder-shimmy-the-pimp-away" scene might seem a bit silly in hindsight, but don't miss the point: It was effectively Benatar taking control, and telegraphing the mission statement of her art: "We are strong." 

Pat Benatar is an icon—a rocker and balladeer that opened doors for everyone from Madonna to Katy Perry. She attained multi-platinum status, awards, and major airplay in a tough, male-dominated world, and did so with style and poise. Embraced by radio, MTV, and millions of fans—including teenage girls that dressed up like her—she's both a rock legend and a prime candidate for the Rock Hall. And in recent developments that boost her case, such contemporaries as Joan Jett and Heart have been inducted, while fellow AOR staples of her era like Cheap Trick and the Cars are finally making their way onto the ballot and beyond.
Copying: A Benatar lookalike in Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Maybe this quote from Benatar's memoir "Between a Heart and a Rock Place" says something the Rock Hall needs to hear:

“For every day since I was old enough to think, I’ve considered myself a feminist … I see women everywhere doing their thing and throwing themselves into situations headfirst, and not taking shit from anyone. It’s empowering to watch and to know that, perhaps in some way, I made the hard path they have to walk just a little bit easier.”

If nothing else, consider this: The woman that sang "Heartbreaker" and "Hit Me with Your Best Shot" is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Amazing.

She belongs.