How Pat Benatar Finished the Troubled ‘Seven the Hard Way’
Between 1979's In the Heat of the Night and 1984's Tropico, Pat Benatar released five studio LPs and a live album. She'd notch her seventh major-label release on Oct. 30, 1985, but it wouldn't come easy — hence the title, Seven the Hard Way. Afterwards, her recording career was never quite the same.
"We were tired," laughed Benatar in an exclusive interview with UCR's Matt Wardlaw, looking back on the way she and her husband and longtime musical partner, guitarist Neil Giraldo, felt during the months after Tropico's release. Having just welcomed their first child, the couple weren't exactly raring to get back to the studio or on the road. But after spending years building professional momentum, they discovered they were no longer completely in control of their career path.
"I’d just had a baby; I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. This was the worst time of my career, I think, because I was scrambling and trying to do the right thing for everybody," Benatar told The Believer. "I wanted to do the right thing as a performer. I felt I had a responsibility to do the right thing. And then I wanted to do the right thing by my family and there was no handbook. I mean, Chrissie Hynde had a baby and she wasn’t talking."
Claiming she was beholden to a "contract from hell" that required a new album every nine months — and allowed the label to withhold royalties if she didn't comply — Benatar felt backed into a corner and abandoned by a label whose coffers were overflowing with profits partly generated by her string of hit records. "No one had any sympathy that your life was totally changed. No one looked at you as a human being, no one looked at you as a woman, no one looked at you as a person. And it was just horrendous," she recalled. "They didn’t care, it was just like, 'Okay, great, you had the baby, that’s nice, can we just get on with it' — that kind of thing. And they wanted the record immediately. We had nothing done. I was not in the frame of mind to write songs. I was not in the frame of mind to make a record."
"We should have fired our manager," Giraldo said in a talk with UCR, laughing. "It was really difficult. We had to deliver a record every nine months and what that meant was that once you delivered a record, we went right on the road. So that means you’d be on the road for three to five months and then you’d have to come home [and go right back in the studio]. So the amount of songs that could be written — and good songs in that period of time — was kind of limited. You only could get what you can put out. I wish we would have had more time."
Backs against the wall, they entered the studio with co-producer Joe Chiccarelli, intent on cobbling together enough material to fill out an album. They'd often featured outside material on their records, but this time around, Benatar and Giraldo were forced to lean on other writers to an even greater extent. Of the eight new songs on the record, only half were penned by Giraldo and drummer Myron Grombacher. A ninth track, "Invincible," had been a hit for Benatar earlier in the year when it was released as a single from the soundtrack to The Legend of Billie Jean.
Watch Pat Benatar Perform 'Invincible'
Further complicating matters was the musical crossroads Benatar had been stuck between since Tropico, which sought to smooth the rougher edges of earlier efforts and reposition her as a more diverse artist with pop overtones. Even as "Invincible" rose up the charts, Benatar and Giraldo publicly conceded it was more in line with her older sound — and the track stuck out like a sore thumb amid songs like the opening track and leadoff single, "Sex as a Weapon," and the Four Tops cover "7 Rooms of Gloom." Creatively in flux and physically exhausted, they were in no position to deliver a record they could stand behind.
The result, unsurprisingly, was a recording process Benatar looked back on as "a nightmare" — and an album that she felt never should have been released. "It was an awful record," she told The Believer. "There were probably two songs on there that belonged there, and the other ones should either never have gone on there or they should have been left alone to wait to evolve into a better thing than what they were. And you know what? It was the costliest record we ever did and it sold the least. And they got exactly what they deserved: shit. Okay? Unfortunately, I did also."
Benatar's grim recollection notwithstanding, Seven the Hard Way wasn't exactly a flop. While it clearly represented a comedown from previous efforts, peaking at a relatively disappointing No. 26 and just managing to go gold, it gave her another couple of hits in "Sex as a Weapon" and the follow-up single, "La Bel Age," and preceded another tour. But once they got off the treadmill after Hard Way ran its course, it would be far longer than nine months until she and Giraldo deigned to make their way back for a follow-up.
In fact, although Benatar would score another pop hit album later in the decade with 1988's Wide Awake in Dreamland, she looked back on Seven the Hard Way as the spot where her attitude toward maintaining her own stardom irrevocably changed. In the early '90s, she'd break from her image completely with the blues collection True Love before splitting with her longtime label after one last studio release for Chrysalis, Gravity's Rainbow, in 1993.
"Chrysalis was a revolving door. A president stayed maybe two years and then split. And the only person that had been there as long as the company had was me," she shrugged. "Once I had kids, my whole attitude changed. I was like, 'You make a spinal cord from scratch and we’ll talk.'"