This album is 1977's Bat Out Of Hell by Meat Loaf.
This is the album that first brought Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman together, the album that cemented Meat Loaf as the owner of one of rock's great voices, and the album that established Jim Steinman as one of the very finest writers of modern rock music. Now, before we get much further into this, I should admit that when it comes to Meat Loaf I am something of a completist. I own all of his studio albums, all of his official live albums and several bootlegs, a lot of his singles and even some odd books. Meat Loaf was the thing that my (now ex-) wife and I first bonded over. So it is actually a reasonably personal album for me.
I was first introduced to it when I was in high school, probably about 1984 or 1985, and I bought it on cassette. I have since bought it on CD (twice – the original and the 25th anniversary re-release). I was introduced to it by a close mate and we once bonded over shared broken romances by screaming along to the album in its entirety (which is unfair on him, as he was a singer in a short-lived pub rock band and had quite a decent voice). I should also point out this is not my favourite Meat Loaf album, although it is one of. But it is still a classic album, and, much like the others I've looked at, every song on it is worth listening to.
This was Meat Loaf's debut album, although the world had already seen him come to life as 'Eddie' in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where he almost stole the film with his track 'Hot Patootie Bless My Soul'. Another admission – I bought the single of the song 'The Time Warp' when it came out – the very first single I ever bought – and that song was the B-side, and that was the song I played the most.
Bat Out Of Hell was born on the back of Steinman's attempt to turn the Peter Pan story into a modern rock and roll musical. I have heard a version of it online, and it is not bad. Maybe a bit talky, but nothing a few tweaks would not fix. Although there is now a Steinman/Meat Loaf musical out there, which I have not seen, so maybe that is what it evolved into. But, taken as an album, it seems to be about the male teenaged view of sex and love at that time period (and later; I could certainly relate to it ten years after it was released). The tracks speak to that age and people who remember that age; it is almost a nostalgic album in many ways, when viewed today.
Side One (yep, still with the sides) opens with guitar and piano going at a hundred miles an hour and we are straight into the title track, a near ten minute opus of incredible musicianship and singing, with some amazing lyrical metaphors and lines. The opening musical passage lasts for almost two minutes before Meat Loaf kicks in with, "The sirens are screamin'…" and straight away his voice is there. The track pounds along with all it can muster, speeding up and slowing down, and taking the listener along for a ride that is, quite simply, amazing. And then it fades out like a dream.
"On a hot summer night…" introduces the second track, a brief spoken word section that, I have discovered over time, Steinman seems to enjoy putting into songs and albums. This second song is 'Hot Summer Night', although various albums have also called it 'You Took The Words Out Of My Mouth' (but on the album it's 'Hot Summer Night'). This is filled with a wonderful female backing chorus, giving it almost a 1960's feel, as though the girl groups met heavy rock and stayed for the wedding. Like the first song, this one has become a song that so many know and enjoy. While the lyric line "You took the words right out of my mouth…" is repeated ad nauseam, it doesn't seem to matter. Simple (especially after the opening track) and really good.
Then we have the first ballad, a song style Meat Loaf generally pulls off amazingly well. 'Heaven Can Wait' is yet another song that many know and love. It is quite a tender ballad, a touching love song: "I've got a taste of paradise and I never want to let it slip away…" With a chorus, Steinman on piano and a string ensemble behind him, it is such a stark difference. And, rare for any rock song of this time, there is not a drum, with the bottom end supplied by the quite complex piano playing. This is such a beautiful song.
And we jump into another rock track to close out side one – 'All Revved Up With No Place To Go. This is just a standard rocker, and does not really stand out at first. It is not a bad song – far from it – but the opening is not anything special, dominated by a saxophone as much as by Meat Loaf's voice. And then, with a minute left to go, it speeds up and the song changes and suddenly it's nothing like the rest of the song. What an ending.
Side two opens with the second ballad 'Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad', which is one of the strangest love songs ever put onto vinyl. "I want you, I need you, but there ain't no way I'm ever gonna love you / Now don't be sad, 'cause two out of three ain't bad…"! A song about accepting what you've got because you're probably not going to get much better; that's hardly the thing of great romance, and yet the song is awesome for all that.
And then we hit yet another track that has gone down in the annals of classic rock – 'Paradise By The Dashboard Light'. In three parts, it tells of a guy and a girl getting it on, then wishing they hadn't. An unfortunately all too common teenage tale. I was once asked why he used the (spoken word again) baseball play-by-play in the middle; for non-Americans of that era, getting to certain physical points in a petting session were called "bases". First base was a kiss and fondle, all the way through to home run where intercourse actually occurred. That's all. The song has the feel of a 1950s/60s pop song on steroids, with "shoo-wop-wop"s in it, a female chorus, lush instrumentation and all that, and yet with the hard rock feel of crashing drums and driving guitar/piano. And Ellen Foley makes an incredible foil for him with her own powerful voice. It tells its own amazing story right up to the final denouement where they are both praying for the end of time to come because that was the promise he made her before finishing the deed. The song itself is a fine bit of wordsmanship from Steinman and is one of the best in the Meat Loaf canon, and certainly one of his most popular. I have a live version of this song that is almost 16 minutes long!
And we finish the album with a third and final ballad, one of those over-the-top ones Meat Loaf is so good at – 'For Crying Out Loud'. This is a more straight forward love song about a guy who feels a girl saved him from himself. It does build up, but it also begins very stark – just Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman on piano for the first three and a half minutes. No other instruments or voices, showcasing both of them so incredibly well. This is something that is missing from too many of today's artists – the ability to just sing. No computer assistance, no double tracking, just a man, a piano and a voice. Then the orchestra kicks in and everything goes up a notch. And then the band joins in and suddenly it's a power ballad that has rarely been matched. Until the end when it settles down and the album ends and… wow.
This is only eight tracks long, and yet the album clocks in at around 45 minutes. And it is yet another album that does not have a bad track on it. He released a series of albums after this, both with and without Jim Steinman, of varying degrees of quality (yes, I own them all…) but he did not really come back to the grandeur of Bat Out Of Hell until he released Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell in 1993… and that is an album on my list of classic albums to look at as well because, yes, it is really that good.
The man himself in more recent times
The songs on this album have become a staple of classic rock radio stations and playlists around the world, and deservedly so. It is also one of the biggest selling albums of all time, and copies are still being sold even now, more than 40 years after its release. It is, simply put, an incredible piece of work.
So, I hope you enjoyed this look back. And, of course, as always, any comments, questions, etc. are always gratefully received. And, once again, any requests will also be considered…