I’ll admit right at the start of this blog that I’ve never been a big fan of the rock musician Meat Loaf (Marvin Lee Aday). It wasn’t because I thought his voice was no good because it certainly is, nor because I didn’t like his songs. The simple fact is that if asked to name songs from his body of work prior to my researching him for this blog, I could confidently come up with only two: Paradise by the Dashboard Light and I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That.) The only other thing that I knew him from was The Rocky Horror Picture Show where he played the role of Eddie whose character sings one song in the film. I didn’t dislike Meat Loaf, but I didn’t give him much thought either; that is, until this last season of Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice, where Meat Loaf made it into the final four of the competition, and deservedly so. He showed tremendous heart and conviction when it came to raising money for his worthy charity, “The Painted Turtle,” which is a camp where children who are dealing with chronic and life threatening illnesses can spend a week amongst their peers and, hopefully, just enjoy being a child. I decided to get a copy of Bat Out of Hell, which is his second album and has sold over 40 million copies worldwide since its release on October 21, 1977.
Bat Out of Hell was originally conceived by songwriter Jim Steinman as a rock opera based on Peter Pan. Meat Loaf and Steinman made the rounds attempting to pitch their album, but most people in the music industry rejected it. Musician Todd Rundgren was not one of the naysayers; although he felt that the music was not going to be a commercial success, he signed on as a producer and also plays lead guitar on the CD. In addition, Rundgren’s band Utopia was involved as session musicians. Also standing as a potential obstacle to the album’s success was the emergence of punk rock. While Bat Out of Hell is the polar opposite of what the musical trends were during the time period in which it was released, it nevertheless slowly climbed its way up to the top of the charts selling thirteen million copies in its initial run.
The songs on the CD are a mixture of both ballads and rock which come together to form mini operatic vignettes. After listening to the album, the one word that sprang to mind was “timeless.” The CD is as fresh today as it was back in 1977 due to the themes it deals with, which are universal…especially when it comes to the reality of young love.
The title track, Bat Out of Hell, opens the album in a strong way, with wailing electric guitars, pounding drums, and keyboards, before Meat Loaf begins to sing in a style that is both high energy and full of warmth at the same time. It is a song that deals with remaining in a relationship even though the male in the song feels a degree of ambivalence toward his girlfriend. Leaving aside the story told by the lyrics, suffice it to say that with its appropriate tempo, competent backup vocals, and the dramatic quality of the melody, the title track is one of the album’s best songs.
You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night) is a song that opens with an interesting exchange of dialogue between a young girl and a wolf with a red rose. The question the wolf asks the young girl is: “On a hot summer night, will you offer your throat to the wolf with the red rose?” The girl doesn’t immediately say yes. Instead she fires off one question after another, for example: “Will he starve without me?” Finally at the end of the exchange she responds “yes” to the wolf’s original question to which the wolf replies, “I bet you say that to all the boys.” After that exchange, the music starts immediately with Meatloaf taking complete command of the song which deals with a teenage couple who are lusting for one another and don’t have the patience to withstand waiting another second. The backup chorus on the track creates an almost spiritual effect that nicely counters the primal instincts of the couple. The percussion instruments really bolster this track and the guitar work is very effective.
All Revved Up With Nowhere To Go is the fourth track on the CD and it deals with teenage angst. With its pulse pounding bass rhythm, aided by the use of a sax, the song centers around a young man who desires a young woman. The catch is he doesn’t have the courage to approach her to let his feelings be known. The lyrics to the song don’t let the listener know if the teenage girl has anyone else in her life, but to the teenage boy it would apparently make no difference even if she did. He wants her all to himself. The rockin’ melody has a feel to it that is extraordinarily poignant, which in turn speaks to the fantastic song writing abilities of Jim Steinman who wrote the piece of music.
Next is “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad,” which comes across as both heartbreaking and sad. It deals with a love affair that has turned sour. The woman yearns for the man to still love her, but it is not to be. The song deals with the man explaining the reasons why he can no longer be with her, which completes a circular journey in the man’s life. He is telling the woman the same sorts of things that were once said to him by another woman whose love he desired, but was denied. Once again the backup vocals are spectacular and the overall melody of the song about angst and sadness remains strong throughout.
The sixth song on the CD is the crowning jewel of the album, “Paradise By The Dashboard Light.” This was one song I was already familiar with and had always enjoyed listening to. Told in flashbacks which lament the loss of good days from the man’s past, it is an intense, encapsulated rock n’ roll mini-opera. Its storyline deals with what, to the guy’s way of thinking, is a one-night stand. As we find out from the lyrics sung by the very talented Ellen Foley, the female character in this little rock n’ roll opera has a very different view of the relationship. She is looking for assurances of a committed relationship before she gives herself to Meat Loaf’s character and his raging hormones. Once the listener hears the words: “Stop right there!” the tempo of the song spirals upwards and the tension starts to build to a palpable level between Meat Loaf and Foley as her character keeps pestering him to answer the simple question of “yes or no” in regards to his commitment to her once the relationship is consummated. Meat Loaf, not wanting to give in to what Foley wants, but still wanting to be with her, asks her to let him “sleep on it.”
I’ll assume, which I never like doing, but I’ll assume most of you reading this know how the rest of the song plays out, so no need for me to give a blow by blow lyrical description. I will add, that what I think makes this particular song a rock n’ roll classic is not so much the story behind the song, but instead how it is presented to the listener. I would be remiss if I didn’t also acknowledge the wonderful contribution of the voice of late New York Yankee’s hall of fame player and broadcaster Phil Rizzuto (The Scooter) whose play by play of a baseball game intermixes to pure perfection with the make-out session of the young couple, and the man trying to score. In addition to the aforementioned songs, the CD contains four other tracks: “Heaven Can Wait, “For Crying Out Loud,” “Great Boleros of Fire,” and a live version of “Bat Out Of Hell,” which all serve to compliment the album nicely.
Bat Out Of Hell has surely stood the test of time; for over thirty years it has remained, and still remains, must listening not only for fans of Meat Loaf, but music lovers in general. Until the final seconds of time tick away in our universe, teenagers will always be riddled with angst, sadness will always come into the lives of even the happiest individuals, and love will always be a dominating force. And that is why, in this blogger’s opinion, Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell album will continue to endure.