Pat Benatar's Hit Me With Your Best Shot sold a million: now it's banned from her set

Pat Benatar onstage in 1980
Pat Benatar onstage at the Hexagon in Reading, UK, October 1980 (Image credit: Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo)

Canadian songwriter-producer Eddie Schwartz has said that Hit Me With Your Best Shot – a global hit for Pat Benatar in1980 – was inspired by punching a pillow. 

“I was in a kind of weird therapy when I was in my mid-20s – it was called bio-energetics,” Schwartz told Songfacts. “One of the things we did was punch pillows, I guess it had something to do with getting out hostility. It all seemed kind of strange, but I remember walking outside of this therapy session and the title just came to me, Hit Me With Your Best Shot.”

At the time, Schwartz was playing guitar behind singer Charity Brown, while putting together demos to try to land a music publishing deal for himself. One night, on the way to a gig, he was thinking about his pillow therapy title, and “the sky opened up and the music just came.”  In the wee hours, after the gig, he went into a studio to put the song down on tape, improvising some of the verse lyrics on the fly. 

Shortly after, Schwartz got signed to ATV Publishing in Los Angeles. But they didn't share his enthusiasm for what he thought of as his “best shot” tune. In fact, after paying for Schwartz to cut a more professional-sounding demo of it, they decided it had no prospects and ordered the session engineer to erase the tape. 

Though that sounds a bit unlikely, the engineer apparently liked the song so much that he made a safety cassette, which he handed off to Schwartz. Schwartz in turn sent it to the ATV office in New York. There it landed on the desk of the newly hired Marv Goodman, who was in the process of leaving his A & R job at Chrysalis. Schwartz said, “The story I heard was that Pat Benatar took a meeting in the office next door to Goodman's, heard the song through the wall, and got excited about it.”

Again, the story sounds a bit too scripted. More likely, Goodman heard the song's hit potential and exercising the “Repertoire” part of his title, pressed it on Benatar. 

In the late 1970s, the singer born Pat Andrzejewski had been pursuing a jazzy career in cabarets, in the spirit of Liza Minelli. To earn money on the side, she was also recording commercial jingles, which meant she had to be able to handle many different styles. This led to her discovering she had a strong, gritty rock'n'roll voice, and that sound soon got her signed to Chrysalis. 

While cutting her second album, she brought Hit Me With Your Best Shot into Sound City Studio, with producer Keith Olsen behind the boards. Though the song and the album (Crimes of Passion) would give Benatar her multi-platinum breakthrough, she told Music Connection in 1991, “It was just a bunch of material that didn't work for me, and I wasn't happy with it. People always say it's my best album, and I'm thinking to myself, 'Shit, you don't know how good I could have sung on that record.'”


And more pointedly, to Sounds, she said, “Do you know what it's like to sing 'You're a real tough cookie'? I mean, c'mon... Best Shot is a commercial song, and I'm not that crazed for commercial music.”

Released in September 1980, the song went Top 10 and became one of what Benatar later called her “Holy 14” - the signature hits she was expected to play at every show. Whatever her true feelings about the song over the years may have been, she always gave it her all on stage. But then in 2022, she took it out of the set list because she felt the lyrics could be taken as condoning gun violence.

She told USA Today, “Fans are having a heart attack and I’m like, 'I’m sorry, in deference to the victims of the families of these mass shootings, I’m not singing it.' I tell them, if you want to hear the song, go home and listen to it. The title is tongue-in-cheek, but you have to draw the line. I can’t say those words out loud with a smile on my face, I just can’t. I’m not going to go on stage and soapbox. I go to my legislators, but that’s my small contribution to protesting. I’m not going to sing it. Tough.”

The song, which was covered by Catherine Zeta-Jones in the 2012 movie Rock of Ages, and later by Kelly Clarkson, continues to be regularly played at sporting events. 

Meanwhile, it also gave Eddie Schwartz a start to a long career as a writer and producer who's resumé includes work with Joe Cocker, Carly Simon, The Doobie Brothers and Paul Carrack. 

Asked about the meaning of his best-known song – which he eventually recorded himself, on 1995's Tour De Schwartz album – Schwartz said, “At the core, it's a song about self-confidence. It's a song saying, 'No matter what you throw at me, I can handle it.'”

Bill DeMain

Bill DeMain is a correspondent for BBC Glasgow, a regular contributor to MOJO, Classic Rock and Mental Floss, and the author of six books, including the best-selling Sgt. Pepper At 50. He is also an acclaimed musician and songwriter who's written for artists including Marshall Crenshaw, Teddy Thompson and Kim Richey. His songs have appeared in TV shows such as Private Practice and Sons of Anarchy. In 2013, he started Walkin' Nashville, a music history tour that's been the #1 rated activity on Trip Advisor. An avid bird-watcher, he also makes bird cards and prints.