On June 15, 2014, Casey Kasem, host of the longtime countdown program, AMERICAN TOP 40, passed away at the age of 82. From my first blog post (and prolly some more inbetween then and now), I explained how, in 1979, I was a geeky, lanky and somewhat lost 12-year-old living in Central Maine, had a few friends and not a lot of interest in much of anything, but at some point early that year, I discovered AMERICAN TOP 40, and was glued to it every weekend. Not only could I hear the 40 biggest songs in the country every week, but also Casey’s cool trivia and facts about the songs and the artists, a trait I treasure to this day. For me, the show was No. 1 with a bullet. And still is (thanks to the re-airing of broadcasts of AT40 on iHeart Radio).
In honor of my radio hero, Casey Kasem, for the entire month of June, I will be highlighting a song each day (some days will have two songs!) that peaked in the Top 40 of the BILLBOARD Hot 100 (including five (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s), and with every blog post, just like on AMERICAN TOP 40, the hits will get bigger with each post. On June 1, 2017, I featured a song that peaked at No. 40. On June 30, I’ll feature a “song of the day” that went all the way to No. 1.
As Casey used to say on AT40, “And on we go!”
When most folks think of the lovely and totally rockin’ Pat Benatar, the first songs that come to mind are rightfully “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” “We Belong,” “Love Is A Battlefield,” “Shadows In The Night,” and her first hit, “Heartbreaker” (from her 1979 debut album, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT), which was a Top 30 hit for her in March 1980.
But the beauty of the music of Pat Benatar is that she has so many other great songs that were hits, just weren’t big hits. Between “Heartbreaker” and 1988’s “All Fired Up,” Pat Benatar hit the BILLBOARD Hot 100 17 times, and out of those 17 singles, an impressive 15 of them reached the Top 40. The only ones that didn’t become Top 40 hits were 1980’s “You Better Run” (the second video to ever air on MTV) and the sadly forgotten “Le Bel Age” from 1986.
Another sadly forgotten gem (though not by me) is from Pat’s third album, PRECIOUS TIME (her only album to reach No. 1 on BILLBOARD’s Album chart) – “Promises In The Dark.”
The second of two singles released from PRECIOUS TIME (the first being the Top 20 hit and Grammy winner, “Fire And Ice”), “Promises In The Dark” looked promising on the Hot 100, debuting at No. 71, and was the second-highest debuting song that week (Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” – the future No. 1 song of the 80s – was the highest).
“Promises In The Dark,” written with her guitarist and future husband, Neil Giraldo, is a song about how the issues of past relationships are affecting the present one. In one 1984 interview, Pat Benatar said, “Sometimes I really hate singing in the first person – it’s so personal sometimes… I do mostly observational lyric but if it’s directly from something that happened, I can’t stand to sing it in first person. I’d rather sing it as we or they or you, or something else.”
In another interview, Neil Giraldo added, “I thought it was deep in a really good way. I think that it was a commercial hit, but I love the expression of the melody. It gave a lot of room for the vocal to be powerful. And then when we rehearsed the song, that’s where I came up with that little guitar riff, which is the signature to that break between the slow part and the fast part. When I hit that in rehearsal and I put the song way up tempo – because the song was a ballad – I found I hit that, then I knew, I went, ‘Oh, we got something now. This is going to work.’ I knew it right then we had it.”
Oh, don’t worry guys – “Promises In The Dark” definitely has it, and always has with me. I’d say it’s still one of my Top 5 favorite Pat Benatar songs of all-time, and if I get to go see Pat and Neil at Portland’s Maine State Pier in late July (fingers crossed), I hope they play this.
Back in 1981 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100, “Promises In The Dark” played out a bit differently. It reached No. 38 in just its fifth week, but stopped there, and sadly fell off the Hot 100 after just 11 weeks. Over on BILLBOARD’s Mainstream Rock chart, it reached No. 16, the same position it peaked at in France.
PRECIOUS TIME, despite its chart success and sales (selling more than two million copies), was not a well-received album. But, as artists like Pat Benatar have proven, you can’t let poor reviews deter you from doing what you love. And it didn’t. Pat Benatar found her biggest success after this album, not to mention her marriage to Neil Giraldo, which remains very strong and kicking ass to this day.
Still, I wish more folks had latched on to this song when it came out. It deserved to be a bigger chart hit than it was. Neil’s guitar work on this song impresses me to this day, and Pat’s Classical vocal training truly radiates on this song, belting out lyrics like:
“But promises you know what they’re for / It sounds so convincing, but you heard it before / ‘Cause talk is cheap and you gotta be sure / And so you put up your guard / And you try to be hard but your heart says try again…”
A warning to everyone who is scheduled to attend the concert featuring Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo at the Maine State Pier in late July – if I do get to go, and Pat and Neil do play this song, if you hear a loud scream (which may or may not sound like a lit-tle girl), that will be me. I promise…