So, there you are, in 1980 or maybe 1981 and you've been accustomed to hearing good rocking songs about love, sex, broken hearts, drinking booze and Robert Plant's mystical journeys. You're driving down the road in your Chevelle or your Mustang or your Plymouth Fury and this song comes on the radio. It is a Pat Benatar song and it sounds a lot like the other songs you've heard from her the past couple of years. You turn it up and start to bob your head around and start thinking about manifolds and cold beer and chicks in halter tops and then you get this weird uncomfortable feeling. There is something about this song that is just not quite right.
The lyrics were written by Pat Benatar and Roger Capps and the music by Pat's future husband and band guitarist Neil Giraldo. It was inspired by a newspaper article about child abuse that was entitled "Hell is for Children" and it caught their eye. Meant to be a major expose on the unspoken horrors of unreported child abuse in the United States, the article disturbed Pat and Roger to the point where they just began writing this song.
When you listen to the way the words melt together with the rock and roll background, the song is probably at least as disturbing as the newspaper article because sometimes when you really listen to the song you feel strange and uncomfortable about trying to have a good time while listening to it. It isn't the information the song conveys, but the mental images that dance in your head. You just don't expect it. These days when there are few taboo subjects in rock and roll music it doesn't hit quite the same way, but back when it was released, it just wasn't the kind of thing you heard on the radio... normally. It wasn't a song preaching against child abuse. It was a song that stabbed you in the heart and read you the rule book without marking the exit ramps.
They cry in the dark, so you can't see their tears
They hide in the light, so you can't see their fears
Forgive and forget, all the while
Love and pain become one and the same
In the eyes of a wounded child
Hell Is For Children
And you know that their little lives can become such a mess
Hell Is For Children
And you shouldn't have to pay for your love with your bones and your flesh
Lyrics sample from lyrics copyright 1980, Big Tooth Music/Muscle Tone Music
Pat Benatar, Roger Capps, Neil Giraldo
First released on Pat Benatar's Crimes of Passion
Background research at benatarfanclub.com