Meat Loaf

TrackAlbum
Bat Out Of HellBat Out Of Hell
Paradise By The Dashboard LightBat Out Of Hell
Heaven Can WaitBat Out Of Hell
Dead Ringer For LoveDead Ringer
I'd Do Anything For Love
(But I Won't Do That)
Bat Out Of Hell II
Life Is A Lemon
And I Want My Money Back
Bat Out Of Hell II
Objects in the Rear View Mirror
May Appear Closer Than They Are
Bat Out Of Hell II
Rock And Roll Dreams Come ThroughBat Out Of Hell II
It's All Coming Back To Me NowBat Out Of Hell III
Love Is Not Real/Next Time
You Stab Me In The Back
Hang Cool Teddy Bear

Meat Loaf & Jim Steinman

Meat Loaf & Jim Steinman (1977)

 

 

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Meat Loaf playlist

 

Contributor: David Lewis

*Before I start, I will be comparing the songs in this article with other songs, and bringing in other genres, acts and albums. All of these I love with every fibre of my being. Many of them are in my DNA. The comparison is contextual, not competitive. If I tell you to listen to country music, it’s because its very best stuff is art, and you might love it too. If I make Springsteen seem dull or boring, then that’s on me. I will not be engaging with people who have clearly ignored this!*

 

“Get offa me, you hunk of meatloaf,” said the opposing team member to the player then known as Marvin Aday, the birth name of the man whose moniker stuck after this interjection. That’s at least one of the stories as to where the name derived. It was in his football days, and it was to do with his size. A large man, he was probably not destined for a life as a Hollywood heart-throb, but his voice, descriptions of which can only start with ‘epic’, transcended that.

His debut album Bat Out Of Hell (and I will be talking a LOT about it) was a massive hit, including being the bestselling album of all time in Australia. He has managed to remain active in the show business industry as singer, performer, actor. His most notable work is with the late, great Jim Steinman (of whom I’ll also be talking about a LOT a bit later). Steinman wrote BOOH, its follow up and the third album in the trilogy. Plus a few more with Meat. I’ll get back to Steinman. Let’s talk about Meat for a bit.

That voice. It’s powerful, it’s got (or at least it had) an impressive range. His stage presence was unique. Sweat pouring off him, his committed performances could make one wonder if he was going to survive. He was born in Texas, but gravitated to the musical theatre scenes in New York, then Los Angeles. He met Steinman and they started a lifelong friendship – Meat claims he and Steinman never had an argument, though they came close once. He further claims that his gravestone will read merely ‘Here is Jim Steinman’s friend’. It was a fraught professional relationship – lawyers and managers suing each other, and it seems that that part cost both Steinman and Meat a fortune. In around 1974, Steinman started writing a rock musical. This is the book which would eventually become Bat Out Of Hell. It took years to sell. Eventually it was heard by Todd Rundgren, who liked it. With a contract, they went into the studio in late ’75, two years before release date.

The band on the album isn’t big. But they are huge. Steinman had seen Bruce Springsteen and knew he wanted that type of sound. In fact, both have similar approaches. Springsteen is all Phil Spector, broken dreams and often failed attempts to get out, hidden behind a massive rock and soul sound. Bat Out Of Hell is closer to Shadow Morton, but is about broken dreams, often failed attempts to get out, hidden behind a huge rock and roll sound. But Bat Out Of Hell is mythic in a way Springsteen isn’t. Whereas we hope Wendy and her partner will get out in Born To Run, we know Meat and Ellen Foley are going to make it – they themselves are mythical figures.

Like all great albums, a world is created. Steinman’s lyrical themes remained rather consistent. For all their talk of good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere, and sex and drums and rock and roll, they take love seriously. In fact, with the exception of music, love is all that matters. Lost Boys and Golden Girls fall in love in their rotten old holes, their godforsaken towns. Nothing really rocks, nothing really rolls. And the cost is never really worth it. But with the right person, paradise can be found. Meat will swear his undying fidelity to the one woman, forever. And, while it may not pass the Bechdel test, it is rather progressive. Women have agency. They’re not just objects, but real characters who make decisions and wear consequences. Compare this to, I don’t know, AC/DC, or the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin … (I know, I shouldn’t love these bands. I know.) If Byron wrote rock music, it would sound something like Bat Out Of Hell.

I am going to run out of superlatives. Bat Out Of Hell is a mixture of Wagner, Springsteen, the Who, Zeppelin, Byronic poetry, 50s rock and roll and musical theatre. Produced by the inimitable Todd Rundgren, it features a crack band including Rundgren on guitar, the E-Street band’s Roy Bittan on piano and Max Weinberg on drums, Ellen Foley and Rory Dodd on vocals. Edgar Winter plays saxophone on a couple of tracks.

Jim Steinman, the weedy, Jewish kid who moved into musical theatre wrote it, hoping to put it on as a stage show. It did get there, but it took nearly fifty years. Steinman is one of the great rock songwriters. If Richard Wagner or Lord Byron played an electric guitar, he’d have written songs in the style of Steinman. Lyrically, they are teenage paeans to the great themes of rock and roll. Everything is high stakes. It’s the last night together, so decisions have to be made, before one or both of us get out of this godforsaken backwards rotten hole of a town we live in. Everyone rides motorcycles or drives hot rods. Gods and angels bestow their capricious gifts on us. We are, simply for listening to the pop songs on the radio, mythic creatures. Wizards, Warriors, Kings, Queens. Unlike Springsteen, who is one of us, whose epic tracks are an attempt to transcend the forces keeping us down – economic and political – Steinman starts elsewhere. Springsteen is the everyday lifted. Steinman is the extraordinary in the everyday. There’s a difference. True Love – promised, kept, in all its romantic (Byronic and Beethovenist romance) glory might just help us. If this doesn’t appeal, listen to country music.

It is, of course, one of the great opening tracks of an album. The tumbling, cascading piano. The hammer of doom power chords. The separate sections. The melodramatic story. The inevitable, tragic end. Remember, this was released in the year of punk – yet, it’s not that far from what those Ramone boys were doing. They see the usefulness of music as being fairly resolutely before Sgt Pepper. Sure, Steinman overproduced and overplayed, but so did all the girl groups, all the Motown guys and that’s pop music. Elvis in his jumpsuit, Chuck Berry duckwalking across the stage, Jerry Lee. The Chiffons, the Supremes. It’s all in there. Steinman (and Meat Loaf) saw them as gods, and treated them as such, building temples of musical glory to them.

 

Bat Out Of Hell – the imagery. The introduction. The howls of frustration. The gentleness of love. Those high Cs – four of them – as the storyteller’s heart is ripped out of his body, floating away, as his corpse is twisted at the foot of the silver black phantom bike. This is, and shoot me down if you can, Leader Of The Pack from the guy’s perspective. The same drama, the same melodrama, just amped up with testosterone. It is an astounding track. Those of you who may have overheard it years ago, give it a listen with fresh ears. There’s a reason this sold so well. The dynamics of the piece – going from quiet to Loud, to LOUD to seemingly LOUD but actually quiet, back to quiet. The imagery – it’s not just a motorbike, that symbol of teenage rebellion since at least Marlon Brando, it’s a silver black phantom bike. It’s not just hot – kids are foaming from the heat, and just to up the ante, there’s a killer on the bloodshot streets. There are double concept albums that don’t travel as much musical or thematic terrain as this seven minute wonder. It ranks with Stairway, Good Vibrations, Bohemian Rhapsody and Baba O’Riley for functional and awesome complexity.

One of the great comedy tracks, Paradise By The Dashboard Light (1, 2, 3) is another extraordinary track from this most extraordinary of albums. Again, Steinman’s arresting imagery and storytelling – “though it’s cold and lonely in the deep dark night/ I can see paradise by the dashboard light” – is wrapped in an early 60s rock and roll package, and tied together with the Who, circa 1971. The legendary baseball announcer Phil Rizzuto commentates. But before the ‘home run’ is hit – another change. And the twist is just superb. Meat has promised (in reward for getting the ‘home run’ – ahem) to love her till the end of time. Now he’s praying for it. And I’m going further out on a limb here and wondering if this is the male side of Will You Love Me Tomorrow? … Maybe not, but … Ellen Foley’s vocals are nothing less than amazing. “Stop right there! I gotta know right now…”

Heaven Can Wait closes the album. Meat Loaf describes it as the best love song ever written, ever, and has challenged anyone to change his mind. And, he says, they won’t. It’s gorgeous. And heartbreaking. And beautiful. I’m not going to challenge Meat. And I’m not going to state it is. But here it is for your consideration. After the bludgeoning sledgehammer of the rest of the album, this is, though, the perfect aperitif.

 

The second studio album, Dead Ringer, with all songs written by Steinman, followed four years later. The incredible Cher joins Meat Loaf for the first single from the album Dead Ringer For Love. It takes a big voice and a big personality to match Meat, and Cher of course is both of those and it’s a magnificent performance from both of them.

Meat and Steinman had a falling out – or their business interests did. So there are Meat Loaf albums without much Steinman on it including Midnight At The Lost And Found (1983) and an excellent Steinman album from a couple years earlier, Bad For Good, with no Meat. But when they reunited it was spectacular.

Released in 1992 with heavy promotion, Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell is almost the equal of its predecessor. In some cases it is its superior. Meat was in fine vocal form, Steinman had written some of his best stuff, Rundgren produced, and there was a crack band behind it.

It’s opening track I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) is epic (I’ve already run out of adjectives). It’s in the lyrics what he won’t do, so I’m not entering into that. But two things stand out. In the verse that starts “And some days it don’t come easy” we have an exceptionally accurate view of how depression works. As one who has been visited by the black dog from time to time, it nails it. Some days it don’t come at all, and these are the days that never end.

But apart from the outstanding opening, the terrific band, the lyrics, Lorraine Crosby’s vocals are among the very best ever. Shaping some of the most striking images Steinman had written, the vocal is astonishing. As it winds through what she wants – “will you raise me up, will you help me down”. As it progresses, with Meat singing the refrain “I can do that, I can do that” or a variant, Crosby’s vocals grow more complex. When she starts to accuse him of letting her down, his vocals become a little more pleading. By the last line she’s performing perhaps the best vocal performance on any Meat Loaf album – the last line, “Sooner or later you’ll be screwing around” has at least six emotions. I hear anger, sadness, fear, accusation, hopelessness, hope (that he won’t). Extraordinary. Legend has it that this was a scratch vocal – Cher, Ellen Foley and Bonnie Tyler had all been considered, but this take was considered more than enough. As great as all of those three are, and they are, I don’t think any of them would have improved on Crosby’s interpretation.

Things take a turn for the dark in Life Is A Lemon And I Want My Money Back. Excellent vocal arrangements – these guys never stray far from their musical theatre roots – and a wryly humorous vocal make for a great track. But the album, as we shall see, has redemption.

Objects In The Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are is a gorgeous and a fairly incisive melody. Usually, as we’ve seen, Steinman wrote the rock and roll fantasy – teenage outlaws getting out, swearing eternal love, motorbikes, guitars … This is a story of redemption, of how one’s past shapes you. Meat of course handles the lyrics magnificently: “My father’s eyes were blank as he hit me again and again and again/ I swear I still believe he’d never let me leave …” And the third verse on his first important love – tear inducing. Getting out of the godforsaken hole, but for actual reasons. Gorgeous. Truly insightful. Pretty perfect.

Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through is perhaps Steinman’s greatest song. One of the standout tracks on his Bad For Good album, this is a reinterpretation, but it works. On the darkest night, keep on believing, because when you really, really need it the most, that’s when Rock and Roll dreams come through. Listening to the radio with the gods dropping golden nuggets – those singles of the sixties. Backbeats, amps, and angels with guitars.

If this has slightly pivoted to Steinman it’s because Meat’s best stuff is with Jim, and really, vice versa. Steinman wrote for Bonnie Tyler, Little River Band, Barbra Streisand, Barry Manilow and others. Meat wasn’t impressed with Manilow or Streisand’s interpretation, stating that you can’t just sing a Steinman song – you have to inhabit it. Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse Of The Heart is an example – histrionic, melodramatic, over the top. Yet take one element down or up a notch and the whole thing falls down.

 

There’s a third album in the trilogy, Bat Out Of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose (2006). Wrapped in legal issues, produced by Desmond Child but with seven Steinman songs, it’s pretty good. Compared to its earlier counterparts it does fall short. But there are some great songs on it. It’s All Coming Back To Me Now is typical Steinman. Celine Dion had done an excellent version, but Meat’s duet with Marion Raven is superlative. Based loosely on Wuthering Heights apparently, it showed Meat was still on his game, and Steinman was still on his.

I saw Meat Loaf perform in about 2010. His range was vastly reduced. He struggled vocally with some of the earlier tracks of his career, but was carried magnificently by the best backing band I’d seen. He was touring the concept album Hang Cool Teddy Bear which is about a wounded soldier seeing his life in the future. Though those high Cs were gone, Meat is still a formidable vocalist with the right material. I’ve chosen Love Is Not Real/Next Time You Stab Me In The Back. It features both Brian May (of whom I’ve written on here before) and Steve Vai. Halfway through, the drums quote the Queen song More Of That Jazz. Justin Hawkins of the Darkness has a co-write on my selection and contributes backing vocals and guitar to a few tracks.

Tragically, Jim Steinman passed in 2021. One hopes he was borne aloft by winged, muscled angels to a Stratocaster played through Marshalls, bass and drums fanfare into rock and roll heaven. A celestial host of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Shadow Morton, Jimi Hendrix and many others applauding him in. His death devastated Meat, who has darkly hinted he may not live much longer either. One hopes this not to be the case. But both men, had they done nothing else but the first Bat Out Of Hell album, have left a powerful and permanent legacy. While there are teenagers wanting to get out, holding on to every song like it’s the only thing they have – while there are small towns and poverty and broken dreams that can be fixed, Meat Loaf will be listened to. Just keep on believing, baby.

 

 

 

 

Jim Steinman (1947–2021)

 

Meat Loaf official website

Meat Loaf UK Fan Club

“To Hell and Back: An Autobiography”
Meat Loaf with David Dalton (Virgin Books 2000)

Meat Loaf biography (AllMusic)

David Lewis is Australia’s best jazz mandolinist, unless you can name someone else: then he’s Australia’s second-best. In any case, he’s almost certainly top 100. He is a regular contributor to Toppermost, and also plays guitar, banjo and bass professionally. More of his writing can be found at his rarely updated website. David is also the co-author of “Divided Opinions” and “Politics, Protest, Pandemic: The Year That Changed Australia”, both derived from an established podcast on Australian politics.

TopperPost #974

1 Comment

  1. Andrew Shields
    Aug 3, 2021

    Superb Toppermost. Bat was one of those albums that was played constantly in our house in late 70s – particularly by my older brother. So much so that I haven’t listened to it in years. This great piece has sent me back to it and filled in the broader picture.

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