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Holly Knight

Songwriter Holly Knight helped shape the sound of Top 40 radio in the 1980s with her anthemic blend of muscle and melody. She herself cracked the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 with 1980's "New Romance (It's a Mystery)" as a member of Spider before going on to score Top Ten hits as co-writer of songs like Pat Benatar's "Love Is a Battlefield" (1983), Tina Turner's "Better Be Good to Me" (1984), Scandal's "The Warrior" (1984), and Animotion's "Obsession" (1984). Another Top 40 appearance, this time as a member of short-lived hard rockers Device, came in 1986 for "Hanging on a Heart Attack," and she issued an eponymous solo album in 1988. As the sounds of the charts shifted, Knight continued to pen tunes for such names as Heart and Aaron Neville in the '90s, and her TV themes for Angel and Still Standing aired on the WB and CBS, respectively, into the mid-2000s. She found occasional work producing material for, among others, Antonia Bennett (daughter of Tony), the Donnas, and Fefe Dobson in the 2000s and 2010s. Some of her '80s songs resurfaced in the late 2010s as part of Broadway's Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, and one of those Turner hits, "The Best," accompanied Joe Biden's presidential victory speech in 2020. A native New Yorker, Holly Knight studied classical piano beginning at the age of four, continuing her studies at the New School's Mannes School of Music. In 1977, she formed the rock band Spider with lead singer Amanda Blue Leigh, guitarist Keith Lentin, bass player Jimmy Lowell, and drummer Anton Fig (later in David Letterman's house band). Knight played keyboards and sang backup. Issued on Dreamland Records in 1980, their eponymous debut album rose to number 130 on the Billboard 200 with help from the single "New Romance (It's a Mystery)," which reached number 39 on the Hot 100. It was written by Knight and Fig. The band just missed the Top 40, peaking at 43 with the Knight-penned "It Didn't Take Long" from their second album, 1981's Between the Lines. That LP also included the Knight song "Change," a hit in 1982 for John Waite, and "Better Be Good to Me," which was later a Top Five hit for Tina Turner. "Better Be Good to Me" was co-written by Knight, Nicky Chinn, and Dreamland president Michael Chapman, who encouraged Knight to relocate to Los Angeles to focus on her work as a songwriter. Knight and Chapman worked together again on "Love Is a Battlefield," which became a Top Five hit for Pat Benatar in 1983. After Turner scored with "Better Be Good to Me" in 1984, Benatar reached number ten the following year with the Knight song "Invincible." That same year, the Knight-Nick Gilder tune "The Warrior" went to number seven for Patty Smyth's Scandal, and a song she wrote with Michael Des Barres, "Obsession," was an international Top Ten hit for Animotion, peaking at number six in the States. Now one of the defining songwriters of empowering '80s anthems, she formed the short-lived rock group Device in 1985 with singer Paul Engemann and guitarist Gene Black. They collaborated with Turner on her recording of Knight's "One of the Living" (another Top 20 hit) for the soundtrack to that year's Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome before hitting number 35 on their own with "Hanging on a Heart Attack" from Device's only album, 1986's 22B3. Knight released a solo album titled Holly Knight on Columbia in 1988. It included her own version of "Love Is a Battlefield." That year, she was among the songwriting team of Aerosmith's Top 20-charting "Rag Doll," and the Knight-Chapman track "The Best" appeared on Bonnie Tyler's album Hide Your Heart. It was Tina Turner, however, who took the song to number 15 in the U.S. and number nine in the U.K. in 1989. Although the popularity of Knight's distinctive style waned in the '90s, the prolific songwriter continued to collaborate with Tyler as well as the likes of Aaron Neville, Dusty Springfield, Heart, and Kiss. Her theme music for TV's Angel (which ran from 1999 to 2004), a spinoff of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, debuted in October 1999, overlapping with the run of the CBS sitcom Still Standing (2002 to 2006), which featured a theme song written and produced by Knight and performed by Will Hoge. In the 2000s and 2010s, she produced albums for jazz vocalist Antonia Bennett in addition to tracks for artists ranging from Fefe Dobson to Otep and the Donnas. Knight was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2013. In April 2018, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical opened on the West End before opening on Broadway in November 2019. It featured three of Knight's songs, including "The Best," which played at the close of Joe Biden's presidential victory speech in November of 2020.
© Marcy Donelson /TiVo


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