Sometimes if we're feeling particularly confident or have nothing to lose, we feel we can take anything life throws at us. That's the sentiment in "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," written by Eddie Schwartz
, a struggling guitarist living in Toronto. He told Songfacts the story behind the song
: "I was in a kind of weird therapy when I was in my mid-20s, it was called bio-energetics, I believe. One of the things we did was punch pillows, I guess it had something to do with getting out hostility. I went to a session where we punched the pillows for a while. It all seemed kind of strange, but I remember walking outside of this therapy session and standing on the doorstep of the building I'd been in, this small house in Toronto, and the title just came to me, 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot.' I haven't been to therapy before or since. Maybe I should go back."
Schwartz took his shots and became a successful producer, moving to Nashville and working with Joe Cocker, Carly Simon, The Doobie Brothers and Jeffrey Osborne. He has written over 200 songs, including "Don't Shed a Tear
" by Paul Carrack.
Here's how the song came together and how Pat Benatar ended up recording it.
After he got the idea for this song, Eddie Schwartz was approached by a publishing company called ATV, who were interested in signing him. ATV was involved in The Beatles catalog and was a very exciting opportunity, but they wanted to hear a demo of Eddie's songs. Eddie didn't have any songs finished and was working as a guitarist for a Canadian singer named Charity Brown. Speaking with Songfacts, he described how he put together the demo for "Hit Me With Your Best Shot":
"I booked a recording session for after our gig one night. The session started at 3 a.m. and was scheduled to go until 6 or 7 in the morning. I had nothing written. On the way to the gig that night, driving along the highway in Toronto, it seemed like the sky opened up and the song just came to me (musically and the chorus, I didn't have the verse lyrics yet). I madly drove to the gig we were playing, I picked up a guitar and figured out what the chords in my head were and jotted it all down. Then we played the gig and I hired the same guys to come to this demo session. We got there at 3 in the morning, we recorded the tracks, and it was time to sing the vocals. I stepped to the microphone and realized I had no verse lyrics. The sun was coming up and we were all totally exhausted. I said, 'Just run the tape three times, whatever I sing the third time, those are the lyrics.' I really just improvised the lyrics, and as I sang the first two times if anything came out of my mouth that I liked I jotted it down. By the time the engineer pressed record on the third pass the song was written as we now know it."
Eddie sent a demo tape of four songs to ATV, with "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" as the last song. ATV signed him and flew him to Los Angeles so they could record some of the songs and pitch them to various artists. Of the songs on the tape, Eddie was most excited about "Hit Me," but ATV hated it. Says Eddie: "That was my introduction to the music business. It took weeks and weeks to convince them to demo it, and once we did demo it they hated it so much they actually erased the master recordings. I was supposed to be there for a number of weeks, but because of all this back and forth about 'Best Shot,' I ended up being there for months. I was about to get on a plane to go back to Toronto and I was so dejected that my favorite song had been recorded and then erased. The engineer, John Rhys, invited me to dinner the last night to cheer me up and at dinner he passed me over a little cassette and said, 'They told me to erase the song and I had to because they're my biggest client, but I made one copy of the song for you because I knew how much you loved the song.' When I got back to Toronto, ATV had just hired a new guy in New York named Marv Goodman. He was working at Chrysalis but he was going to leave and go to ATV, but while he was still at Chrysalis for the last couple of weeks he was listening to material he'd be working with at ATV so I sent him 'Hit Me.' Sure enough, he liked it and kept playing it over and over again. The story I heard was that Pat Benatar took a meeting in the office next door, heard it through the wall, got excited about it and that's how she heard 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot.'"
The song was written from a male standpoint, with the lyric "Before I put another notch in your lipstick case." When male bands cover it, they sometimes sing the line as "Put another notch in my guitar case." This was the only line Benatar changed when she recorded it, changing your to my.
"Hit Me With Your Best Shot" can be interpreted as a song about a one-night-stand, but that's not what its writer had in mind. Eddie Schwartz told Songfacts: "The song is laden with sexual innuendo, but at the core is a song about self confidence. It's a song saying 'no matter what you throw at me, I can handle it, I can play in your league.'"
Pat Benatar charted with "Heartbreaker
" and "We Live For Love
" from her debut album, In The Heat Of The Night
, but "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" was her first big hit. It was the second single from her second album, Crimes Of Passion
, following her cover of The Young Rascals' "You Better Run
." The song made a slow climb to #9 in the US in December 1980 and eventually sold over one million copies as a single in America (Crimes Of Passion
sold 4 million).
This song was a big hit when aerobics was catching on in America; it was often played in the classes. Benatar's colorful fashion choices were often emulated in these classes.
In 1984, Benatar had an interesting exchange with Songwriter Connection magazine regarding this song. Responding to a question about standing behind what she sings, Benatar said: "There's very few songs where I let lyrics go. I mean, there's times when I let lyrics go because the rest of the song is fine. But, most of the time, I'm real meticulous with the lyrics because I gotta sing them. There were certain parts of that song ('Hit Me With Your Best Shot') that I liked, but most of it that I've sort of outgrown. I mean, it's so hard to sing, 'you're a real tough cookie.'
One night, you know sometimes you announce people's names, this is by so-and-so? When I said 'Eddie Schwartz,' I swear to God, the room - it wasn't very big, then, it was about 1500 people - it just went dead - silence, like, Eddie Schwartz?"
The lyrics are suggestive, but most people didn't consider the song offensive. There was some politically correct commentary in newspapers at the time about it being sexist and about encouraging violence against women. Says Eddie: "This shocked me because it was written from a man's standpoint at the beginning and it was always meant metaphorically - no punches are actually thrown in the song."
In a 2012 Songfacts interview with Neil Giraldo
(Benatar's guitarist, producer and husband), he revealed that this is one of his least favorite songs, but he finds ways to make it work when he performs it. Said Neil: "I try to find something new inside the song to do either by the guitar or keyboards or vocal, anything. I try to make it different in a way. I may go, 'Ooh, I like what I did on this one tonight.' So they always change. Even a song like 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot,' which is one of the ones I hate the most. But some nights I'll go, Wow, I did something different and I really like that. That was my favorite song to play tonight."
Catherine Zeta-Jones performs this song in the 2012 movie Rock of Ages, which features iconic songs from the '80s. Other movies to use the song include:
Shrek Forever After (2010)
What Happens in Vegas (2008)
John Tucker Must Die (2006)
Spring Fever (1982)
TV series to use it include:
The Vampire Diaries ("I Could Never Love Like That" - 2015)
Family Guy ("Fresh Heir" - 2014)
The Goldbergs ("Kara-Te" - 2013)
Community ("Modern Warfare" - 2010)
ER ("Let It Snow" - 2008)
90210 ("Games People Play" - 2008)
Doogie Howser, M.D. ("And the Winner Is..." - 1990)
Miami Vice ("Bad Timing" - 1988, "Milk Run" - 1985)
Benatar didn't make a music video for "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," but did for the album's first single, "You Better Run," which became the second video MTV ever played (after "Video Killed The Radio Star
") when they went on the air August 1, 1981. Pre-MTV, American acts rarely made videos because there were few places to show them, whereas in Europe they aired on lots of news and variety shows. "You Better Run" was one of the few videos MTV had from a female American rock artist, so they gave it plenty of spins; if they had one for "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" they surely would have given it considerable airplay.
The fashionable and photogenic Benatar made sure to make videos for all her singles in the MTV era and became a star on the network. Her video for "Love Is A Battlefield
" is a classic of their early years.
This song returned to the charts in 2011 when it was performed on the TV show Glee
in a mashup with Blondie's "One Way Or Another
." This version by the Glee Cast hit #86 in the US.
Pat Benatar retired "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" from her live sets in 2022 when she deemed the lyrics inappropriate in the light of a spate of mass shootings in the United States. "We're not doing 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot' and 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," she told USA Today
Benatar added that though the title is tongue-in-cheek, she had to draw the line. "I can't say those words out loud with a smile on my face, I just can't," she said. "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."