Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.
For someone who exuded so much snarl and toughness (“Hit Me with Your Best Shot”), you’d think Pat Benatar’s model was Joan Jett, say, or Suzi Quatro. Actually, it was hearing Liza Minnelli that inspired Benatar to give up her day job and give the music business her best shot. And a pretty impressive shot it was: Benatar enters the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this week.
Her timing was as striking as her voice. The singer’s rise coincided perfectly with the era of MTV. In fact, Benatar’s “You Better Run” was the first video by a solo artist that the channel ever played. True, she was well on her way to fame and fortune with her pre-MTV releases–she was already a radio star, in other words. But Benatar had the physicality, the charisma, and the work ethic to take full advantage of the new format.
We are looking at “Love is a Battlefield,” one of the singer’s best sellers. Unlike “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” her very best seller, Benatar is still willing to sing “Battlefield” today. The song also represents a pivot away from her early hard rock sound towards softer and more atmospheric material. In the ’90s she would shift gears again, to a blues and R’n’B focus.
While Benatar wrote some of her own hits, “Battlefield” wasn’t one of them. Holly Knight and Mike Chapman get the writing credit. Knight wrote another of Benatar’s hits, “Invincible,” as well as great material for Tina Turner, Bonnie Tyler, and others. Chapman, for his part, is famous mostly as a producer, most notably on the “Chinnichap” recordings of the ’70s and the breakthrough Blondie records. He also produced Benatar’s first album and at least one of her later recordings.
“Battlefield” may not be Benatar’s most popular song, but it’s by far the most covered song in her catalog. We found a few versions that standout from the field. Of these…
The Tori Amos cover is good.
The Luke Evans cover is better.
And the Jonatha Brooke cover is best.
Tori Amos–Love is a Battlefield (Pat Benatar cover)
Amos turned heads in 2001 with her all-covers concept album Strange Little Girls. The concept was to revisit songs written by men about women, but bring a woman’s perspective to the material. Thankfully, Amos didn’t stop there (she didn’t start there either, by the way, covers being a specialty of hers from her early days playing piano bars for a living). Here she is in a 2014 concert, leaning into “Battlefield” in imaginative fashion. The song choice itself is fairly surprising (hear the audience react once they get where Amos is taking them). The bare-bones arrangement is another surprise. But the arrangement succeeds, even if there’s an uncooperative keyboard involved (live music is a battlefield too, sometimes).
Luke Evans–Love is a Battlefield (Pat Benatar cover)
The Welsh actor Luke Evans naturally brings a heavy dose of theatricality to his music. A lot of production went into this version, and a decent amount of emotion too (it’s a bit buried beneath the overworked effects and supportive choir). I can think of other Welsh singers with more soul, maybe, but this reworking of Benatar’s hit is on target, and Evans as a vocalist is fully up to the task. You may not believe a man the gods have gifted with such handsomeness truly finds his love life to be a battlefield. But then again, as a gay man Evans may have matters larger than the purely personal in mind. He’s especially convincing as he charges into the chorus: “We are strong, no one can tell us we’re wrong.”
Jonatha Brooke–Love is a Battlefield (Pat Benatar cover)
Released as a single in 2012, Jonatha Brooke’s “reapproached” version of “Battlefield” comes across as thoroughly heartfelt and entirely fresh. Maybe it’s the work she put into rearranging the song for her unconventional guitar style, but she brings a sense of total ownership to the recording. As with Brooke’s stripped-down redo of Alan Parsons’ “Eye in the Sky,” she again pulls off a considerable trick: she takes a song that first came to us from a very well-funded and very ambitious studio, and she recovers the quiet vulnerable voice at the heart of it. Brooke adds plenty of production to her version too, but it arises from the voice, or so it seems. Heavy-handed production is sometimes a way to distract from something that is missing in the core performance. There’s nothing missing here.