On August 1st, 1981, Pat Benatar strutted her way onto MTV, the upstart video channel that would change the way a generation listened to music. The petite New York native with the gigantic voice tore through a cover of the Young Rascals’ “You Better Run,” sticking her index finger in the face of some imaginary foe, and pointing toward a future in which women would grab rock & roll by the wallet. Only the second-ever video played on MTV, it followed the Buggles’ synth-heavy “Video Killed the Radio Star” on the channel and helped turn the classically trained Benatar into a rock superstar with dozens of chart hits, a Number One album and a seemingly endless concert tour that continues to this day. By her side, playing guitar in the clip, was Neil Giraldo, who would secure his own place in history as the first-ever guitarist spotlighted on MTV. In addition to serving as her musical partner, Giraldo would also secure a place in Benatar’s heart — they married in 1982 and have two daughters.
Although “You Better Run” was Benatar’s first music video to air on MTV, it was the lead single from her second album, Crimes of Passion. Her initial chart hit, the blistering “Heartbreaker,” reached Number 23 and helped her debut LP, In the Heat of the Night, reach million-seller status. In October of 1980, Benatar and Giraldo canoodled on the cover of Rolling Stone. In 2014, the couple launched their 35th Anniversary Tour, and last month released a CD/DVD set commemorating the trek and containing more than a dozen of their iconic rockers, including “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” “Shadows of the Night,” “All Fired Up,” “We Belong” and “Promises in the Dark.”
After a whirlwind media day in New York last week, Benatar and Giraldo landed in Nashville to play the Ryman Auditorium, the Mother Church of Country Music, a fitting venue for the couple as they feel a close kinship to one of country music’s most legendary couples. That’s one reason their set list includes an incendiary mash-up of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” (co-written by the future Mrs. Cash, June Carter) and the couple’s own “Heartbreaker.” The result is one of their still-spectacular live show’s most thrilling and genuine moments.
Backstage at the Ryman, Rolling Stone Country sat down with Benatar and Giraldo [or “Patricia” and “Spyder,” as they call each other] where they proved that even if they will never be mistaken for a country act on stage, out of the spotlight they’re an extremely nice, extraordinarily normal, family-oriented couple — which should probably at least qualify them for honorary membership in the country community.
How did you come up with the idea to pair “Heartbreaker” with “Ring of Fire”?
Neil Giraldo: That was me. I think of weird stuff for us to do, cover songs to do. I always thought it would be a good song for us, because we’re like Johnny and June.