January 22, 2021

Holly Knight was a Hidden Gem


The first time I heard about Holly Knight, it was the mid-1980s. WLIR was playing this song called “Obsession” in heavy rotation. At some point it was even the Screamer of the Week.

For those unlucky enough to have not spent some of the 80s in the Greater New York City area, WLIR was the premier “New Music” station. The “Screamer of the Week” was a song that listeners voted on as their favorite song for that week. Trust me, it was a big deal.

Anyway, Holly Knight had written this song, for a movie no has ever heard of, with the great Michael Des Barres called “Obsession”. It was this amazing song and a club hit at the time. It had a driving dance beat, was pretty sexy, and yet pop enough that you could sing along to it. An all around great song. I became obsessed with finding it and ran all over Manhattan looking for it. I had no luck doing so.

Finally, another band called Animotion covered the song and it became an MTV hit. It wasn’t as good as the original. Animotion had made the beat much heavy and added a lot of drum effects which diluted the pop elements in favor of a more dance club, i.e. bland, sound. I bought the album anyway and it is still one of my more disappointing acquisitions.

After that I started realizing that Holly Knight was everywhere, hiding in plain sight as it were. She wrote or co-wrote a bunch of the big songs at the time including Scandal’s “The Warrior” and Pat Benetar’s last great song “Love is a Battlefield.” She also wrote songs for Heart’s revival during the 1980s.

Knight had been in a bunch of minor bands earlier but only had one album of her own in that timeframe, her 1988’s eponymous album. In addition to a more rocking (and in my opinion superior) version of “Love is a Battlefield” there are a lot of pop, rock, and new music gems on this album. “It’s Only Me” even has a slight country twang to it. It’s just an all around great album.

What’s fascinating about this album is how quintessentially 80s some songs are, especially “Palace of Pleasure” which sounds like an outtake from Madonna’s “Like a Prayer”. At the same time, it was more forward looking. It presaged the return of rock and power pop in the early 1990s. You can find the album on Spotify and it’s worth a listen.

I wish Holly Knight had recorded more, especially in the mid-80s. There are so many great songs that could have been hers alone. Still, her mid-80s output for others makes her one of the great songwriters of the 1980s.