Listen to this track by rock n’ roll and pop powerhouse Pat Benatar. It’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”, a gargantuan hit single as taken from her breakthrough 1980 record Crimes Of Passion, her second and biggest selling album to date.
The song was a top ten hit in on the US charts, and scored similar success around the world, being a hard rock song with a pop aftertaste while never sounding corporatized or manufactured a la the profusion of corporate rock at the time. The album was huge, scoring a number two placement on the charts, only bettered chartwise by John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy. She even got a Grammy for best female rock vocal performance of the year in 1981 .
One thing that stands out to me past the lyrical surface of the song, and past the mainstream success the song had, there is an important subtext to be found here that goes well beyond the material as it was written.
“Hit Me With Your Best Shot” made Pat Benatar a star, and rightly so. This was down to the basics of what made it what it was, of course. The song managed to be commercial while not sounding sanitized or ersatz, a trap which a lot of rock music on the radio at the time didn’t entirely escape. There was more to it than that, though. It should be said that this song is not a Benatar-penned tune. It was actually written by a Canadian of all people; Eddie Schwartz. But there’s something about her defiant delivery that resonates culturally, going beyond the simple story that Schwartz wrote. Maybe this is why it continues to be relevant beyond the era in which it was first heard. Having said that, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” can be considered a very telling product of its time, too, particularly when it comes to women in fields mostly dominated by men.
There are many essays and volumes regarding the subject of “women in rock”. I think this is because rock music was a guy’s game for so long, with women musicians treated as décor, or as novelties in an arena not really meant for them. It’s not that there were no ballsy and ferociously talented women making rock music for AM radio before 1980. But with Joan Jett, Debbie Harry, Chrissie Hynde, and Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart being very notable and singular exceptions, this was the battlefield (pardon the Benatar pun) on which the artist found herself by the end of the 1970s, after spending most of that decade clawing her way to success. The music industry is a real tough cookie with a long history …
For me, that’s what’s always been at the heart of this song; the struggle to stand up to forces known to chew people up and spit them out, particularly women who dared to play the success game with the cards stacked against them. In that context, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” sounds like a big “fuck you” to any system that tries to keep people in their place. By her delivery alone, that’s what Schwartz’s song becomes in Pat Benatar’s hands. Perhaps unconsciously, it also became an expression of many a woman’s plight by 1980.
During the time Benatar’s song was climbing the charts, support for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was in steady decline with Reagan in the white house and people like arch-conservative Phyllis Schlafly actively opposing it. The amendment was removed from the Republican platform, with many states to this day not having ratified it. I don’t think this song is a statement of protest in the light of that in any direct sense. But that was the political and cultural landscape out of which it became a top ten hit, which I don’t think can be easily dismissed.
This song is still resonant today, and I believe for the same reasons.”Hit Me With Your Best Shot” featured in an episode of the first series of the Supergirl TV show, the story of an extraordinary hero who has to prove herself to be as formidable as her male cousin who’s in the same line of work as she is. That story of a woman having to prove herself in a similar space where a man does not have to do the same is still a live narrative thread in the kinds of stories we tell in 2017. For many women, it’s still the story of their own lives.
In the meantime, this past weekend on January 21st, 2017, millions of women turned out in droves in cities all over the world. They marched in support of each other, and against the repressive attitudes and policies of the recently established Trump administration, dwarfing the crowds that gathered for his inauguration, despite blatant propagandist lies to the contrary from Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary. Along with their allies and their children by their sides, these women showed us a vision of a world where women everywhere will not be cowed by political bullying and blatant propaganda. They shook their fists at the establishment, but more importantly they unflinchingly stood together in solidarity against a common enemy; institutionalized sexism and all the fruit it bears, including attacks on reproductive rights, suppressing equal pay for equal work, and the normalization of sexual assault. The marches are a sure sign of hope during a dark period in history, indicating that even the best shots miss when ordinary citizens are aware of them enough to unify and stand against them.
Pat Benatar is an active singer and musician today, still in musical partnership with fellow musician, bandmate, and husband Neil Giraldo. Find out where she’s at by visiting benatargiraldo.com.