In the early 80s, American Pat Benatar was big - that included in New Zealand - and her songs, Love is a Battlefield and We Belong, made the top 10. But she was also an anomaly.
Most of the female artists who topped the Kiwi charts in 1983 and 1984 did so using pop (Irene Cara, Bonnie Tyler, Cyndi Lauper and Annie Lennox) or soul and jazz (Tina Turner, Sade).
Benatar was the only woman who made any impact on the charts with a more rock sound, often the preserve of male performers. She'd been doing so since 1980 with the no nonsense rocker Heartbreaker. By We Belong in 1984, Benatar, who trained as an opera singer, had multiple bestselling albums, singles and Grammy awards.
Today, Benatar, who turned 60 this month, has mixed feelings about her 80s achievements. On the one hand: ''It was great. It was fun,'' she says. But she remembers the blatant sexism. Love wasn't the battlefield. Instead it was whether women should perform rock songs and how they look and dress.
''It was hard work. Every day was a battle. The country was in flux, the women's movement was in full blast. I was going for it. There was nobody who was going to tell me I couldn't do this thing that I wanted to do. I believed it to be my right and destiny.
''But every day was a constant battle. I was fighting with programme directors and promoters. [They'd say] 'Oh we have a girl singer on our playlist right now'.
''I wanted everything to stand on its own on the music and everything. I fought really hard. But it was still that time in America when it was kind of creepy and weird. You just had to fight that every day. So besides trying to get your music [done] you had to do all this other stuff on top of that. It was nuts.''
Benatar's popularity continued through the 80s, but doubt crept in. ''There was a time, probably in 88, where I was just going to retire. I had totally lost my grip. But it wasn't because of the music, ever. It was because of the drudgery of being in the music business. They made it so unpleasant and just having to do all the garbage you had to do in those days. It kind of ruined it for me. I was pretty much done.''
Benatar says as a response she deliberately decided to do something different and in 1991 released the album True Love, which embraced an up-tempo blues sound. In the US it was her lowest charting album since her 1979 debut, In the Heat of the Night.
''It was to clean the slate and do something that you love. It was to erase where you were and start from there and move forward. And it really did the trick.''
Post True Love, Benatar has released only three albums. For several years she focused on raising her family - she had two daughters with guitarist and hit songwriter Neil ''Spyder'' Giraldo, whom she married in 1982.
For the past 12 years she and Giraldo, who will perform with her in Wellington and Taupo next month, have concentrated on touring.
At the time of this interview, Benatar is in the middle of a tour with fellow 80s chart rockers Journey and Loverboy.
''It's just been amazing these last 12 years. It's been so absolutely gratifying. The audiences have been amazing and we are having such a good time because we don't care. We are just playing for fun.''
Benatar says today she has a broad audience and it includes fans who were born after her 80s heydays.
''It is pretty mixed and really hilarious. You'll have people who are maybe 19 or 20 when you began and they're in their 50s. Then they'll have their kids who are in their 30s and then they'll have their kids. Sometimes I have 8-year-olds singing every lyric to every song on their dad's shoulders. I'm like 'What? That's so great'.''
Benatar says that's the bottom line for her. Not the chart success, not the awards. It's making the music she wants to make and the audience responding to it.
''Music is really a spiritual, emotional thing and when it's pure and you're having a great time - so is everybody else.''
Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo play Amphitheatre, Taupo, on February 16 and Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, on February 20 with Bachman & Turner and America
- © Fairfax NZ News
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