Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
Artist: MEAT LOAF
Album: BAT OUT OF HELL
[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]
There has never been a more unlikely hit record than Meat Loaf’s mega-platinum Bat Out Of Hell. With the beautiful bellowing voice of the behemoth formerly known as Marvin Lee Aday (actor, stage performer and one-time Ted Nugent vocalist) and the over-the-top songwriting of Jim Steinman, numerous record companies turned them down throughout 1975 & 1976 before Epic Records subsidiary Cleveland International took a chance on the duo. Production & arrangements were handled by the multi-talented Todd Rundgren, who surrounded Meat & Steinman with world class musicians like saxophonist Edgar Winter, E Street Band members Roy Bittan (piano) & Max Weinberg (drums) and Rundgren’s Utopia bandmates Kasim Sulton (bass), John “Willie” Wilcox (drums) & Roger Powell (synths). Bat Out Of Hell features only seven songs, three of which clock in between 8 & 10 minutes, showcasing Steinman’s love of Phil Spector’s “Wall Of Sound” recordings, ‘60s girls groups (specifically teenage “tragedy” records like The Shangri-La’s “Leader Of The Pack”) and bombastic, operatic showtunes. Paired with lyrics that are often aimed at the sex-obsessed minds of teenage boys, and an overall sound that owes a huge debt to Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run, it’s hard to believe anyone gave this project a chance and equally surprising at how successful it became; a record out-of-time that became timeless as a result.
Four songs that would either crack the Top 40 or become FM radio staples form the core of this unique album. “You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)” was the first single and an ideal choice to introduce Meat Loaf to the world. Following a dramatic spoken-word intro from Steinman & actress Marcia McClain (“On a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?), we get a hybrid of Springsteen, Motown and the aforementioned “wall of sound,” with hand claps, sleigh bells and soaring backing vocals courtesy of Rundren & singer/actress Ellen Foley. Although not the highest charting single, “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” has become Meat Loaf’s signature song. With three distinct sections (“Glowing like the metal on the edge of a knife/We were barely seventeen & we were barely dressed”; “Do you love me, will you love me forever/Let me sleep on it”; “Praying for the end of time”) punctuated by the funky middle section with famed Yankees broadcaster Phil Rizzuto delivering the play-by-play of Meat and his lady going (almost) all the way, there’s really nothing else like it in the history of popular music. The stunning ballad “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad” has long been one of my two favorite Meat Loaf songs, a straightforward declaration of lust that could almost work as a love song if you ignore the lyrics (“I want you, I need you, but there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you…”). I especially love his tender vocal performance on this one. The nearly 10-minute album opener “Bat Out Of Hell” is my other favorite track, appealing to my progressive rock side with its flashy musicianship, various tempo & tonal shifts and vivid imagery (like this opening verse: “The sirens are screaming and the fires are howling way down in the valley tonight, There’s a man in the shadows with a gun in his eye and a blade shining oh so bright, There’s evil in the air and there’s thunder in sky and a killer’s on the bloodshot streets, Oh and down in the tunnel where the deadly are rising, oh, I swear I saw a young boy down in the gutter, he was starting to foam in the heat”). If you put equal parts Styx, Queen, Rundgren’s Utopia and Springsteen’s “Jungleland” into a blender, this mammoth track would be the result.
The stomping, old-time rock ‘n’ roll of “All Revved Up And No Place To Go” got a lot of radio play in the late-‘70s but I think it’s been largely overlooked since then in favor of the songs discussed above. It’s a sax-fueled tour-de-force for Edgar Winter, and I’ve always enjoyed the shift to double-time tempo in the final minute. This must have been a highlight of his theatrical live performances. Two wonderful ballads round out the album. “Heaven Can Wait” is a string-laden spiritual and “For Crying Out Loud” closes out the record in grand style, with orchestral accompaniment following an extended piano-and-vocal intro. Bat Out Of Hell might be one of those you-had-to-be-there albums, so I have no idea how it would sound to someone hearing it for the first time all these years later, but whenever I play it I’m immediately transported back to my adolescence and it always makes me smile. It also has one of the most iconic album covers of all time.