On 15 March 1980, “Heartbreaker” by Pat Benatar peaked at #23.
I learned something new today. I learned that Pat Benatar isn’t the original artist for “Heartbreaker“. This is hard for me to absorb, because even though it wasn’t her first hit or her biggest hit, it’s one of the songs I most associate with her. The original was recorded in 1978 by a British woman named Jenny Darren, and so far as I can tell the only recording of that version on youtube is here, complete with some commentary and an interview at the end. I thought maybe I’d be able to talk here a bit about how British and American tastes in music are different, mainly because I was expecting Jenny Darren to sound something like Bonnie Tyler, but apart from some twinkle-toes keyboard in the original (which is more British, if not very British) and a gospel-like vocal in the remake (which is very American) the two versions are very similar. I can say I think Pat Benatar’s version is better: it’s a tighter production without being over-produced, and I think her voice is better suited to the material, being both hard and soft instead of just gritty. But maybe it’s just because I’m so used to Pat Benatar’s version that I like it better?
Anyway, the reason I think Pat Benatar’s hard-but-soft voice is a better fit is because this song is about a tough girl being vulnerable to a tough guy. When you hear the opening chug and Pat’s bombastic delivery of that line about love being like a tidal wave, you know this is a woman who has seen a lot, survived it all, and refuses to shrink back from challenges, even ones that touch her emotions. And she tells this guy how much she enjoys the rough-and-tumble relationship they’re in, but also lays down the line: “Don’t you mess around with me.” Pat Benatar can dish it out if she needs to and she will if she has to.
This was, amazingly, Pat Benatar’s third single, and the first to chart. She more or less came out of the gate running, setting the standard for other female rockers, and made herself a staple on the top 40 charts for most of the 80s.