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Meat Loaf, 1947-2022

The Legendary Singer Passed Away Last Night

Jan 21, 2022
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Meat Loaf, the legendary singer and actor who made his mark in the 1970s, passed away last night at age 74. His 1977 album Bat Out of Hell remains one of the best selling records of all time. As an actor, he had memorable performances in Rocky Horror Picture Show, Fight Club, Wayne’s World, Leap of Faith, Focus, and more. His death was reported via an official post on his Facebook page. Our writer Austin Trunick is a Meat Loaf super-fan and so he has written the following tribute to the singer/actor.

***

“On a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?”

Those words, spoken by Jim Steinman in the intro to the song “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (On a Hot Summer Night),” play a huge part in my personal relationship to the Meat Loaf album, Bat Out of Hell. Over the course of the track’s 50-second lead-in, Steinman submits to a round of questioning from an unnamed female voice, laying out the stipulations under which she might give her throat to that rose-carrying wolf.

“Will he offer me his mouth?” she asks.

“Yes,” he reassures her.

“Will he offer me his teeth?” she pleads.

He agrees that, yes, his teeth would also be hers. This continues, and he promises her not only his jaws, but his hunger—he actually promises her his hunger twice—and admits, with audible frustration over her endless inquiries, that yes, he would starve without her.

“And does he love me?” she asks, finally arriving at the question she’d been wanting to ask the whole time.

“Yes,” he replies, almost sighing the word.

It’s all one long setup for a single, hilarious punchline; one that gives way to the explosion of saxophone and piano that kicked off the album’s first single and, for many, the beginning of the Meat Loaf story.

Bat Out of Hell was the one album I ever remember my father pulling out of the box of off-limits records he kept sequestered in the back of his bedroom closet. It was his all-time favorite; the one he’d occasionally throw onto the stereo during evenings of father/son bonding. I recall being entranced by the album’s cover, featuring a shirtless motorcyclist blasting out of a grave—straight out of Hell, presumably—being the most demonic-looking (and therefore the coolest) image I’d ever set my young eyes upon. I remember my father laughing—cackling, to be more precise—during the introduction for “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth,” every time he played it, without fail. To him, it was downright uproarious. I’d laugh, too, although I was only really doing it because he was. At that age it never felt like I was “in” on the joke myself.

My dad would play “Words” as well as “Bat Out of Hell,” but deemed “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” slightly too risqué for his six-year-old son. During “Bat,” he would sometimes paraphrase for me the song’s motorcycle crash narrative with his own brand of running commentary. I understood that song—a prepubescent boy could wrap his brain around the idea of a motorcycle accident. That wasn’t the song that needed explained to me. At that age, I was too inexperienced to have all but the vaguest ideas about sex, the mechanics of it or its meaning. I was old enough to be curious, but not to understand. All I did know about sex was that it probably had something to do with the spoken-word introduction to “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth:”

“On a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?”

Yes. [Pause.]

“I bet you say that to all the boys.”

***

Has there ever been a more unlikely pop album to become a megahit than Bat Out of Hell?

Since its debut in October of 1977, the record, performed by Meat Loaf and written by Jim Steinman, has been awarded RIAA Platinum certification a whopping 14 times, spent 474 consecutive weeks on the U.K. album charts, and (for many years) tagged behind hit albums from Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd, AC/DC, and Whitney Houston in all-time worldwide sales, at a reported—almost impossible to imagine—43 million copies across the globe. It’s all the more surprising that it came out of the relentless efforts of two musical theater geeks who not only didn’t fit the mold of what a pop music act should be, but weren’t even close to being in the right ballpark.

In one corner we had Meat Loaf, born Marvin Lee Aday, standing six-foot-two and weighing in at over 250 pounds, a massive hulk of a man with a voice that ranged somewhere between Elvis Presley and an opera singer’s. A Texan, born and raised. A former high school football player who tried his lot in a handful of music gigs—rock bands, an R&B duo, and Broadway musicals—before hightailing it off to Los Angeles and making his first major splash in showbiz as a lobotomized biker in the quintessential midnight movie, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. A performer whom countless rock journos resorted to describing with the age-old adage, “larger than life.”

“He looks a lot like a zeppelin with feet—until the music starts,” stated The Washington Times in a 1978 piece on the singer. “Then he looks like a Tasmanian devil on speed. A fat Tasmanian devil on speed. Meat Loaf sweats. He groans. He throws his matted hair out of his eyes by snapping his neck back on a classic ’60s move… This rock ‘n’ roll is not pretty.”

In the opposite corner you have Jim Steinman, a scrawny, long-haired, wispy individual with a taste for both the kitsch and the macabre. A man rarely seen without his leather jacket and mirrored shades (and often wearing a long cape and flashy gauntlets, to boot). A drama major and playwright out of Amherst College who listed Wagner along with Phil Spector and The Beach Boys among his biggest influences. A man who was perhaps the most unusual and iconoclastic hit manufacturer of the last 70 years.

“One of the first things I remember listening to on a record player was Wagner’s Tristan And Isolde,” Steinman told Sounds in 1979. “And then when it was all over, I put on a Little Richard album. I think I got the two confused in my mind and I’ve never been able to untangle them.”

And then you have the songs themselves: a collection of bombastic, excessive, and campy mini-epics, offering flamboyant tales of young lust and frank, unromantic looks at love and relationships. Steinman’s mind was a dark fantasy world occupied by teenagers and tragedy; Meat Loaf’s voice was the only one with the gusto necessary to give that world life. With the aid of producer Todd Rundgren, a pack of studio musicians who included members of Utopia and the E Street Band, and a handful of Broadway singers, Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf recorded an album that somehow successfully melded The Big Bopper, Bruce Springsteen, and Black Sabbath with Rodgers & Hammerstein. It was a unique and potent aural cocktail, not short on tongue-in-check clichés and gratuitous sexual innuendo.

“Meat’s music was like early Springsteen with an aching hard-on and atomic-bomb balls,” the late Steven Wells wrote in The Guardian in 2008. “Every song started with gentle foreplay, then rushed rapidly to an earth’s crust-shattering climax. And then another earth’s crust-shattering climax. And then a climax where the earth actually exploded. Then a quiet bit. And then a climax where the very fabric of the universe was rent asunder.”

The music certainly wasn’t for everyone. Robert Christgau described it as “grotesquely grandiose” in his Consumer Guide review of the album. In a live review from 1978, Melody Maker dubbed them the worst rock and roll band in the history of rock and roll. Even the venerable Dave Marsh was unconvinced in his 1977 Rolling Stone album review:

“Meat Loaf has an outstanding voice, but his phrasing is way too stage-struck to make the album’s pretensions to comic-book street life real. He needs a little less West Side Story and a little more Bruce Springsteen. Jim Steinman…needs a lot less of both. Some of the songs…are swell, but they are entirely mannered and derivative. Steinman is wordy, and his attempts to recapture adolescence are only remembrances…. The arrangements aren’t bad, although they play into the hammiest of Meat Loaf’s postures…the principals have some growing to do.”

Critics eventually came around to Bat Out of Hell, but the initial wave of press erred on the side of cautious skepticism. Very little on the album even seemed to suggest the huge commercial appeal the record would wind up having. Two of its hit singles, “Bat Out of Hell” and “Paradise By the Dashboard Light,” clocked in at nine and eight minutes, respectively. The former describes a motorcycle accident in graphic detail, down to the unforgettable image of the narrator’s heart bursting out of his chest and flying away. The latter song, “Paradise,” is divided into several disparate sections, features two primary vocalists—three, if you count Yankees announcer Phil Rizzuto’s lively play-by-play—and a host of secondary vocalists singing a shoo-wop backing. (Queen’s similarly bonkers “Bohemian Rhapsody” runs two minutes shorter, if that helps put things in perspective.) It’s a wonder that such an off-the-wall record would set sales benchmarks for a debut album; it’s even stranger that it boomed at a time when the charts were dominated by Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.

And then there’s that cover art. Painted by comic book and Heavy Metal magazine illustrator Richard Corben from a concept by Steinman, it depicts a motorcycle exploding out from the ground, a cow skull strapped to its handlebars, a column of white-hot flames blasting out from its exhaust pipes. The bike’s rider is a nude, muscle-bound man, his long blond hair billowing behind him, his back arched orgasmically in a painful-looking display of flexibility, his features frozen into a permanent ‘O’ face. As if that wasn’t weird enough, this is all set in a shadowy cemetery, against a blood-red sky. In the near distance, a monstrous bat with the wingspan of an F-22 stretches its appendages, letting out a piercing screech from its perch atop the steeple of a Gothic mausoleum.

At this point, is it even necessary to mention that several of the album’s tracks were adapted from a stage musical, written by Steinman, titled Neverland? A musical which took elements of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan story, dropped them into a Flash Gordon-esque science fiction world and then injected illicit sex and brutal violence?

No, there has never been another album quite like Bat Out of Hell.

Not even Bat Out of Hell II.

***

Meat Loaf—or, Marvin Lee Aday—passed away last night, aged 74. His death came less than nine months after that of his most valuable collaborator, Jim Steinman. Writer and muse, they were two parts of one of pop music’s most interdependent love-hate relationships. The two men had had their differences over the years—Meat Loaf described their relationship as ambivalent—but there is no denying that they were never better than when they were together. That’s because, as Q Magazine put it in 1993, “nobody sings a Jim Steinman song quite like Meat Loaf and nobody writes for Meat Loaf remotely like Jim Steinman.”

If there’s any sort of afterlife, I hope that the two can patch things up and there’ll be a Bat Out of Hell IV waiting for us in the Great Beyond.

***

Bat Out of Hell was my father’s favorite record, and the man didn’t own all that many. Through his playing it over and over and over again, I learned what rock and roll was. When my father passed away, unexpectedly and far too young, it helped me through things.

I saw Meat Loaf live four times over the years. There was one tour where it seemed like he probably wasn’t in good shape, health-wise, but I was shocked by how much energy he still seemed to project while rarely getting up from his chair.

Over two short years I worked at Late Night with Conan O’Brien. During that time I once helped Max Weinberg move some furniture around at his house. He drove us back to the train station afterwards, and I asked him about what it was like recording Bat Out of Hell. He said Meat Loaf was one of the wildest people he’d ever worked with.

I had the opportunity to meet Meat once, at a junket for the 2007 documentary In Search of Paradise. This was before my time with Under the Radar, and I had to beg a newspaper I hadn’t written for in over a year into letting me cover it so that I would have the shake to shake an idol’s hand. Meat Loaf was very nice during our interview, but preoccupied with his fantasy football draft that was happening later that day. He asked me who I thought he should draft with the second overall pick. I was given the chance to meet one of my childhood heroes, and mostly wound up giving him fantasy football advice.

Celebrity deaths don’t often rattle me, but this one is tough. There are too many memories of people, friends, and good times where those songs played a part. Fortunately, it’s not a loss I’ll need to mourn alone—Meat Loaf was the voice of one of the best-selling albums of all time, after all, and my deeply emotional, personal connection to this over-the-top, dare-I-say silly record is far from unique. It had a weird way of hitting people who needed it.

Here’s a tip: for just two bucks, you can play almost the entire record on practically any modern jukebox in the world. (Thank goodness for all those nine-minute pop singles.) That’s over 40 minutes’ worth of entertainment, and a surefire way to bring joy to an entire room. If it isn’t, you’re drinking in the wrong bar.

www.meatloaf.net

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