Revisiting Pat Benatar’s Debut Album, ‘In the Heat of the Night’
When a fresh-faced young singer named Pat Benatar unveiled her first album, In the Heat of the Night, in October 1979, there wasn't much to indicate this was the debut of one of the '80s most successful rock divas. It was pretty amazing that the Brooklyn-born Patricia Mae Andrzejewski had even made it this far, after impulsively abandoning years of classical vocal training to marry young at 19, then hold down a string of nondescript jobs until belatedly realizing that performing was her inevitable calling.
So the mezzo-soprano spent the bulk of the ‘70s making up for lost time in club gigs, cabaret sets and musical theater parts before finally signing with Chrysalis Records, by which time she was also divorcing her husband and keeping only his last name — Benatar — to mark the passage of these “wasted” years.
Months later, In the Heat of the Night hit the streets and was soon generating a buzz around the petite singer with the big voice. Its first single, the all-too-safe "If You Think You Know How to Love Me," didn't do much but its second, "Heartbreaker," rocked as hard as any song on mainstream radio in 1979.
Along with the side two opener, "We Live for Love," "Heartbreaker" would help direct Benatar’s creative efforts in years to come towards rock, not pop, while introducing its composer, Neil Giraldo, as Benatar’s long-term future guitarist, chief songwriting foil and, later, second husband.
By comparison, the remaining songs on In the Heat of the Night -- though excellent showcases for Benatar’s incredible vocal range (especially her soaring take on the Alan Parsons Project’s "Don’t Let It Show") — now sound like a grab-bag of random material, largely ill-suited to her talents.
None of the three submissions by the Chrysalis-friendly songwriting duo of Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn (the failed first single, title cut and "No You Don’t" — all of them previously recorded by either the Sweet or English pop-rockers Smokie) proved very memorable, and both of Benatar’s co-writes with bassist Roger Capps (the oddly named "My Clone Sleeps Alone" and "So Sincere") were merely serviceable numbers.
But there were at least a couple more bright spots to be had in Benatar’s lively interpretations of John Cougar’s "I Need a Lover" and Nick Gilder’s "Rated X," which no doubt helped In the Heat of the Night's steady climb to an impressive No. 12 on the Billboard Top 200, and eventual platinum sales.
More than anything else, though, Benatar’s first album laid the groundwork for the more finely honed albums still ahead, while rescuing a remarkable talent that, for many years, seemed bound for certain obscurity.
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