Happy Birthday, Pat Benatar!
Chances are, if you came of age in the '80s, you heard the songs of Patricia Mae Andrzejewski on the radio. Only you came to know her by her professional name, Pat Benatar. Born January 10, 1953, she dominated the airwaves throughout much of that decade, scoring a pair of multi-platinum albums, five platinum albums, three gold albums and an astounding nineteen top 40 singles. In addition, she's the recipient of four Grammy Awards for "Best Female Rock Performance"in the early '80s, and was cited with a dozen Grammy Award nominations throughout the decade. She was also one of the first stars of a budding MTV, and her songs became indelible anthems that echoed a uniquely feminine point of view.
While Benatar has yet to attain the same heights of fame and acclaim she achieved in the '80s, she hasn't wholly disappeared either. In fact, she continues to tour, and has been on the road consistently for the past 15 years. Her memoir, Between a Heart and a Rock Place was published in June 2010 and offers a compelling commentary on her battles with her record label and the effects her career had on her personal life. Nevertheless, signature songs like "I Need a Lover," "Love is a Battlefield," "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" and her cover of the Rascals' "You Better Run" instilled a certain dark mystique that intimidated many male listeners, conveying the image of a strong woman with a no-nonsense attitude... not the kind of stance that many guys felt especially comfortable with back in the day.
Even so, Benatar wasn't the first female to assert herself with a dynamic presence. Here is our top ten list comprising performers that are especially emphatic members of that special sisterhood. There are others, of course, but these ladies prove they could be as brash and ballsy as their male counterparts.
Janis Joplin: With her scorching vocals and ever-present bottle of Jack Daniels, Joplin proved she could stand toe to toe with any brawler of the male persuasion. Her rough and tumble image, born of a troubled childhood in Port Arthur Texas, revealed a tough exterior hiding a tender interior belying her gruff image. It seemed inevitable that she would succumb early on to drink and drugs, but she still set a standard that other artists attest to.
Aretha Franklin: The once and future Queen of Soul has her had ups and downs over the years, but when she belts "Respect," she not only demands it, but obviously personifies it as well. With one of the most powerful voices in all R&B, she remains a standard-bearer for tough and tender torchlight singers of every ilk and sensibility.
Grace Slick: Slick was the ultimate hippie goddess of that shimmering Summer of Love, and along with Janis Joplin, the most predominant female singer of the San Francisco late '60s scene. With a wicked snarl that could make her male fans both cower and covet her, her lascivious image was further enhanced when it became known that she seduced nearly every member of her band, the Jefferson Airplane. She's retired now, a white haired matron aged 72 and a committed painter as well, but she's still remembered as vivacious vixen and one of the most indomitable women in all of Rock.
Joan Jett: First with the Runaways and then on her own, Jett showed her love of her profession was as emphatic as her signature song "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" professed. A leather clad goddess with a tough, tenacious visage, her punkish personality made her one of the greatest front women of all time.
Tina Turner: After years of abuse at the hands of her early mentor and mate Ike Turner, Tina showed the fortitude and determination to strike out on her own and reclaim her career. Complementing those lean sexy legs may seem sexist, but she put on a show that proved age doesn't have to be a deterrent. When she shares the stage, she overshadows everyone else, belting with a bluster that's both driven and distinctive.
Chrissie Hynde: No matter that the original Pretenders are represented only by Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers, she maintains the riveting resolve first extolled in that first incarnation. Never given to feminine stereotypes, Hynde's denim and swagger, along with her patented croon and caress, have always allowed her to stare down the competition. She remains one of the great voices in rock, bar none.
Annie Lennox: As one of two mainstays in the Eurythmics, Annie Lennox maintained a sassy, seductive stance that helped establish the band's brooding mystique. Her powerful vocals masked the artier aspects of their MO however, and the lure of a solo career proved inevitable. A distinctive voice, she's yet to realize her complete potential.
Grace Potter: A relative newcomer, she and her band the Nocturnals recall the freewheeling blend of homegrown rock, Americana and soul sprung in the late '60s. It seems only a matter of time before Porter sheds her longhaired bohemian band mates and ventures out on her own, and it's even likelier that her handlers will use her cool and confidence to transform her into a solo star.
Amy Winehouse: Like many of the greats spawned from pop realms, Winehouse's talents were nearly overshadowed by her rowdy reputation, retro image and fiery individual persona. Sadly she was caught up in her own colorful circumstance, and there too, like many of those that came before, her myth became her reality and proved to be her demise. A tortured talent, she died way before her time.
Maggie Bell: Although she never really attained the fame she was due on this side of the Atlantic, Bell's hoarse, brassy vocals, as applied at the helm of the blues rock British band Stone the Crows, established an authority comparable to Rod Stewart when he was with the Faces. Hard rocking to the max, Bell is worth discovering, even in retrospect.
Patti Smith: A punk priestess spawned from the early days of CBGB's, Smith became one of the most potent voices of literate but roughshod rock 'n' roll, thanks to her tempestuous tirades and unabashed exultation. Now renowned as an author and poet, she's gained new-found respectability, but her powerhouse presence remains unbowed.
Christine McVie: Originally a blues belter in the British band Chicken Shack, McVie helped ease Fleetwood Mac into their newfound commercial prominence in the mid '70s. Though she never lost her passionate approach, her urgent style and irresistible entreaties made her one of Britain's most distinctive divas.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.