h, the nineties was a confusing time! When the decade was in full swing, grunge rock had made feathered hair, leather and acid washed a jeans a thing of the past. Yes, rock n roll got a tremendous dressing down in the CLINTON era where any rough and tumble dude or dudette could pick up a guitar and be a "somebody" in music. Apathy ruled the day and it was best you kept your head down and not make a spectacle of yourself, even though you probably had piercings on your nose and tongue and sported one of the first tramp stamps or tribal looking tats. The only people doing reality TV at the time was MTV with their REAL WORLD series as well as their subversive cartoon hit BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD, but they were also still playing music videos back then. Gangsta rap gave white folks something new to be afraid of. Maybe the white suburban angst that found a voice in the grunge rock that was coming out of Seattle wasn't anything to be afraid of in comparison. Two years before the release of ALANIS MORISSETTE's debut album JAGGED LITTLE PILL, another female rock artist had gone back to the hard rock sound that had made her famous after releasing a decidedly out-of-left-field blues album. Yes, eighties rocker PAT BENATAR changed with the times and eschewed the pixie cut, headbands and spandex that she made fashionable ten years earlier and opted for a bell-bottomed MARLO THOMAS-look, complete with hair that went past her shoulders for once. Her 1993 album GRAVITY'S RAINBOW - named after the THOMAS PYNCHON novel, though thematically, it's hard to see why such a title was given to her eleventh studio album - was more than just a rebound from a questionable artistic decision from two years earlier. It was a raw, rock n roll knock-out punch that came complete with all of the retro 70's rock flourishes that found their way into the work of other nineties rock acts. And don't think that in those apathetic times that the woman's fighting spirit had been doused. The woman once hailed as the queen of rock, was back where she belonged.RELATED LiNKS:
It was BENATAR's celebratory brand of hard rock, with a pop finish, that set her apart from everyone else that was out there. She gave us an earful and something to bang our heads to with her breakthrough single HEARTBREAKER from her 1979, largely MIKE CHAPMAN produced, debut album IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT. Even with considerable help from BLONDIE's producer, BENATAR - the vocalist - elevated the cabaret material of her debut album and stood apart from the guttersnipe sexiness of DEBORAH HARRY, the tough and tender posturing of CHRISSIE HYNDE and the ethereal rootsiness of STEVIE NICKS. The five-foot gamine rock chick with a 3-and-a-half octave range proved she was more than a one hit wonder with her second album CRIMES OF PASSION, and the rock radio hits that it spawned, such as TREAT ME RIGHT, the stomping cover of THE RASCALS' YOU BETTER RUN, the tongue-in-cheek (but who knew it then?) HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT, which became the woman's first top ten hit and the nightmarish indictment of child abuse, HELL IS FOR CHILDREN. CRIMES... became another platinum hit (multi-platinum at that) and a year later, BENATAR set a pop cultural milestone by being the first female artist on the fledgling, all-music, cable channel MTV for her raucous performance video for YOU BETTER RUN. She also issued her third album PRECIOUS TIME, her first album to reach number one, which featured the hits PROMISES IN THE DARK and the strutting torch rocker FIRE AND ICE. Rock's premiere coloratura got the eighties off to a rockin' start and earned four GRAMMY Awards for BEST FEMALE ROCK PERFORMANCE four years in a row.
At the heart of this juggernaut was the professional and romantic relationship between BENATAR and guitarist NEIL GIRALDO. (Often misspelled "GERALDO" in the notes and credits of BENATAR's classic albums) The odds were against the couple from the beginning. In those days, romance within a rock band was a liability. The romantic entanglements that bands such as FLEETWOOD MAC and HEART found themselves in made for sensational press in all of the right rock magazines. Despite a brief break up in 1981, both BENATAR and GIRALDO reconciled and got hitched on the cliffs of Hawaii in 1982. The GIRLADO's have now been married for over 35 years. That might be some kind of a record in the business of rock n roll.
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Once the duo was secure in their footing as hard rock hitmakers, they slowly found themselves inching away from the guitar-driven revelry that typified them as artists, and more into the realm of keyboards and sequencers. The first album to showcase this new wave sensibility was GET NERVOUS in 1982 featuring the bombastic singles SHADOWS OF THE NIGHT and LITTLE TOO LATE. PAT and her band would take pop sheen to dramatic heights in 1983 with their release of the single LOVE IS A BATTLEFIELD, a mid-tempo BO DIDLEY-styled, pop moment with a modernized cha-cha groove that reached the top five and gave BENATAR an iconic MTV moment as a shoulder shimmying street urchin leading a rag tag group of dime-a-dance girls to liberation. WE BELONG was the gentle makeover that a now pregnant BENATAR needed to prove that she could convey more than mere betrayed anger and it paid off with another top five placing on the charts in 1984, while the album TROPICO would become her last to go platinum. BENATAR and company closed out the decade with the albums SEVEN THE HARD WAY (1985) and WIDE AWAKE IN DREAMLAND (1988). Both albums went gold and gave her top twenty hits with INVINCIBLE and ALL FIRED UP respectively. The latter should've gone to greater heights. In less than ten years, BENATAR released eight albums and scored an number of rock radio hits that still manage to be heard overhead in the bank and the dentist's office. Clearly a "greatest hits" package was an order, and she got it with BEST SHOTS in 1989.
In 1991, the GIRALDO's opted to not issue another pop rock album in an environment filled with EXTREME, SLAUGHTER and the last of a very long line of what would later be called "hair metal" by pop culture enthusiasts. This was the same year that R&B singer NATALIE COLE picked up her father NAT "KING" COLE's mantle and started doing renditions of his work - the most memorable being UNFORGETTABLE (no pun intended) where father and daughter are reunited through audio and visual editing. The song and it's haunting video were a hit. With the nineties being brand spanking new, it probably wasn't a surprise that sentimentality was going to be the thing to shoot for. The GIRALDO's would also take a sentimental journey of their own with the swing blues album TRUE LOVE.
This was a musical direction that no one saw coming. With TRUE LOVE, the sequencing and studio wizardry of the woman's previous three albums was replaced with live studio performances featuring the celebrated big band ROOMFUL OF BLUES. At times, the results sounded like the TONIGHT SHOW BAND, but the delivery on BENATAR's part was at least heartfelt and genuine. As songwriters, BENATAR, GIRALDO and drummer MYRON GROMBACHER deserved some credit for their swinging originals I FEEL LUCKY, THE GOOD LIFE and the sultry title track. Over time, TRUE LOVE was an album that would prove to be ahead of the curve due to it's embrace of swing music years before BRIAN SETZER dreamed of starting up his own big band orchestra. Once again, BENATAR got the ball rolling and never quite got the due she deserved.
The woman was never a critic's darling, so there may have been no surprise to the indifference to BENATAR's earnest albeit sentimental nod to big band blues. ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY brutally summed up BENATAR's foray into the genre as sounding like a "housewife with a headache!" The album went on to be the last of her albums to go Gold. It's chartings were respectable for a blues album. That shaky, brave step into new musical territory didn't come with accolades.
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In the months following the release of TRUE LOVE, rock n' roll experienced a shake up with the arrival of bands like NIRVANA, SOUNDGARDEN and ALICE IN CHAINS. Seattle became the new musical capital over night and the love, sex and debauchery that typified the heavier side of rock in the eighties was replaced with musings on the darker side of life. And what was with the dirty hair and flannel shirts? The phenomenon was labeled "grunge" and it was a musical "make under" of epic proportions.
In 1993 there was no internet, let alone social media, so the only way you found about a new release by an artist was by joining their fanclub or catching an appearance on TV by chance. In my case, I caught news of her upcoming appearance on the THE ARSENIO HALL SHOW, a couple of hours in advance. I had no idea there was a new album in the works. Was this to be another blues offering? What did the woman and her band have to offer in a climate where cynicism ruled the day?
THE APPEARANCE ON THE ARSENiO HALL SHOW:
You could write GRAVITY'S RAINBOW off as BENATAR tossing her hat into the grunge rock scene of the nineties in an attempt to stay relevent, but the album is more than that. It is the straight ahead rock album that fans wanted her make without all of the keyboard sounds to pretty it up. Grunge was all about stripping down the music and going for a raw sound. That was something BENATAR learned when recording her blues album and because of that, GRAVITY'S RAINBOW is BENATAR's finest hour since 1981's PRECIOUS TIME. She immediately reconnects with the her hard rock roots on EVERYBODY LAY DOWN and reminds folks that music with a message has always been her winning formula as it is on SOMEBODY'S BABY - a moody rocker that paints the life of a homeless man. PAT and NEIL prove that they can get a little rootsy with songs such as TIES THAT BIND, the rock-a-billy swing of CRAZY and the back porch acoustic blues of RISE PART 2, but the full-throttle rockers are not going be denied such as the headbanging DISCONNECTED, the strutting SANCTAURY or the punk rock menace of TRADIN' DOWN. In 1993, MEATLOAF was the comeback of the year with BAT OUT OF HELL II : BACK INTO HELL, but it would've been nice to see the Queen of Hard Rock assume her throne again in an age of noxious, overbearing Riot Grrrls.
EVERYBODY LAY DOWN
EVERYBODY LAY DOWN is a rock anthem in the tradition of some of BENATAR's finest rock radio classics such as FIRE AND ICE and ALL FIRED UP but the approach here is more rhythmic and GIRALDO's guitar playing is more rooted in HENDRIX-styled riffage. Imagine if it was released in 1972! This one has all of the trademarks of a BENATAR classic from the minor progression, to the enthusiastic guitar riff, to the us-against-them chorus and a dynamic vocalist eager to sink her fangs into the proceedings. Shame on CHRYSALIS for never releasing this as a proper single, although strong, initial airplay helped the song reach #3 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Charts.
Ever since 1980's HELL IS FOR CHILDREN, at least one song per album featuring some stinging social commentary had been the norm for BENATAR. Some had succeeded (TOO LONG A SOLDIER from WIDE AWAKE IN DREAMLAND) and some of had failed (SUBURBAN KING from TROPICO). With SOMEBODY'S BABY, BENATAR and GIRALDO do their best JOHN MELLENCAMP and come up with a stirring tale of a homeless man who "...used to matter" While the rootsy production goes for the heart, the song gets bit repetitive. In tandem with the release of the single was a rather fine music video but we can't stop thinking of how amazing a video for EVERYBODY LAY DOWN would've been, Stupid record company!
THE TIES THAT BIND
The roots rock feel continues with THE TIES THAT BIND and guitarist NEIL GIRALDO steals the show with some electrifying chops that owe something to both HENDRIX and the all-too-often overlooked SCOTTY MOORE. PAT has her fighting spirit back and you can hear it in the gravelly pur of her voice. The theme of emancipation is nothing new in a BENATAR song, but the dance she did in the video for LOVE IS A BATTLEFIELD is certainly called for here.
YOU & I
The "tender ballad" was never out of BENATAR's reach. On this album, EVERY TIME I FALL BACK was the earmarked "power ballad", and while it would've been at home on an animated DISNEY soundtrack, it stands out like a sore thumb on GRAVITY'S RAINBOW. YOU & I made perfect sense in a time when rock ballads didn't get any respect. It's an understated, folky lullaby that builds up to a tough, bluesy guitar solo. It's chorus maintains that "...nothing matters more than you and I" and eschews all of the mush.
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Just when you thought that GRAVITY'S RAINBOW veered off of the path of rigtheous hard rock into more roots rock territory, along comes the epic DISCONNECTED. The track begins deceptively with hand drumming, the strumming of what sound like a nylon strings and PAT's voice floating eathereally over the proceedings, ad-libbing with Eastern-sounding harmonizing. Before long, GIRALDO's trusty telecaster kicks in with a rollicking thunderous riff. Drummer MYRON GROMABACHER kicks the bass drum and all hell breaks loose. PAT wails "Hammer lands /Verdict stands/ Walls come tumbling down!" A statement on the LA riots, perhaps? The woman and the band issue one mean headbanger in DISCONNECTED and had CHRYSALIS been doing their due dilligence, this jewel in the album's crown would've been the true follow up to EVERYBODY LAY DOWN. PAT would've had a 90's rock radio classic on her hands.
Don't think for a minute that the GIRALDOs abandoned their love for the blues because of the less than enthusiastic response to TRUE LOVE. NEIL has his amp cranked up on this swinging, rockabilly romp. Instead of ROOMFUL OF BLUES backing the proceedings, CRAZY gets by with a little help from one mean saxophone doing battle with GIRALDO's telecaster. Where PAT came off measured and congenial on her blues album, here she finally cuts loose vocally, especially on the song's chorus.
Throughout GRAVITY'S RAINBOW, we hear a band and a female artist exploring various rhythms and subjects, but with SANCTUARY, the rebel rocker that we've come to know since 1979 finally re-emerges. SANCTUARY is a pulsating, strutting rocker which probably should've been a single instead of SOMEBODY'S BABY.
The "battlefield" has been a leitmotif in BENATAR's music since the beginning and it was only a matter of time before it was reivsted in GRAVITY'S RAINBOW. KINGDOM KEY is a moody, haunting acoustic ballad with a sense of battle weariness written in between it's lines.
t would've been amazing to see the woman and her new music all over MTV and VH1 with a series of new music videos that took advantage of her hip new look. Instead, fans were going to have to settle for the positive notices the album recieived. ROLLING STONE declared: "BENATAR the rock diva still can be heard – but she is older, wiser and socially aware. Instead of issuing threats like YOU BETTER RUN and TREAT ME RIGHT, BENATAR is now troubled by passivity and alienation. What sets her apart from other former rebels with a cause is her delivery ... BENATAR is capable of performing blues, opera and cabaret material, but she merely comes across as studied. The real truth is in the delivery, and withGRAVITY'S RAINBOW , BENATAR sounds genuine once again."
THE LA TIMES took notice of BENATAR's more nuanced musical approach: "The one-time queen of hard rock and her songwriting partner-guitarist-husband NEIL GIRALDO are back to what they do best after a one-album foray into torch-song blues, and they sound reinvigorated. BENATAR sings with the command and subtlety of someone who's been practicing for nearly two decades."
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY was a little more cautious but friendly: "In a season when alternatives rule and riot grrrls are acting up, PAT BENATAR, who blossomed amid the corporate-rock wallpaper rolled out in the early ’80s by TOTO, JOURNEY, and REO SPEEDWAGON, is less compelling if, oddly enough, more likable than ever. She has finally surrendered her phony tough-chick pose for a lyrical perspective not unlike the good intentions of any other bighearted suburban mom."
There was every reason to believe that GRAVITY'S RAINBOW was going to go the distance. The reviews were positive and the muisc didn't sound out of place from what one would expect from mainstream rock that time. Her venture into blues music was a thing of the past and we could've sworn that BENATAR would go on making the defiant brand of rock n roll that she did best. In 1994, BENATAR and the CHRYSALIS label parted ways. As free agents, the GIRALDOs took the vintage rock set on the road and have toured every year since 1995. In that time there were two albums released after her days at CHRYSALIS. 1997's INNAMORATA showcased more subdued, acoustic-led singer-songwritery material that came out just in time for LILITH FAIR. In 2003, the slick-yet-directionless GO was released and that would just about do it for any further album releases, and that is iunfortunate given the fact that album-oriented rock is the format where BENATAR truly shines. In 2017, BENATAR turned her attention to singles. On the heels of election of DONALD TRUMP to President of the United States, BENATAR put her politics on display for the first time in her and teamed up with LINDA PERRY for the single SHINE, and understated anthem dedicated to the Women's March that took place during TRUMP's innauguration. Later that year she released DANCING THROUGH THE WRECKAGE, also with the help of PERRY, for the documentary film SERVED LIKE A GIRL. The song and it's striking video gave BENATAR her first significant chart placing in years (#22 on the BILLBOARD ADULT CONTEMPORARY CHARTS). The pairing of BENATAR and PERRY has yielded some exciting results. We only hope it's a matter of time before we hear this meeting of the minds in the form of a top notch LP. Of course, GRAVITY'S RAINBOW would be a hard feat to top.
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