Dusting 'Em Off
Revisiting an album, a film, or an event on its anniversary

Dusting ‘Em Off: Meatloaf – Bat Out of Hell

on May 08, 2010, 12:01am

Fifth highest-selling album of all time. Over 43 million copies sold worldwide. 12x platinum in the US alone. An average of 200,000 copies sold each year to this day. Topped the UK charts for 474 weeks. The musicians and performers on the record include: Roy Bittan, Max Weinberg, Todd Rundgren (he also produced the album), Phil Rizzuto (famed New York Yankees baseball announcer), and members of the New York and Philadelphia symphony. Can you guess the album?

Dark Side of the Moon? No.

Back in Black? Nope.

Blonde on Blonde? Still nope.

Born to Run? Close.

Eagles Greatest Hits? Not a chance.

Answer: Bat Out of Hell by Meat Loaf.

Surprised? Me too. I was first introduced to the songs from Bat Out of Hell when I was a teenager riding in my aunt’s minivan. I saw the album sitting on the floorboards, and asked my aunt, “What the heck is this?”

She laughed and said, “It’s Meat Loaf. Haven’t you heard ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Lights’?”

“I have no idea what that even means.”

“It’s amazing.”

I was amazed already at the cover art for the album—an epic painting of a longhaired man blasting out of a grave on a motorcycle with a screeching bat perched on a gravestone behind him. I told her to put it in so we could listen.

I remember being amused by how overblown and crazy the album and the music were. The guitars were loud and wailing, the orchestra was dramatic and churning, the drums were epic as shit, and the singer could wail and blast like no one I had heard. I vaguely remember my aunt just kind of laughing at the songs and my reactions to them. I had never heard anything quite like it outside of musical theater and movies, and even there things weren’t nearly as epic.

I didn’t do much solid listening to Bat Out of Hell from that time until I hit college, and a few of my friends used “Bat Out of Hell” and “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights” as go-to-dancing and karaoke songs respectively. College was where my appreciation for the glory that is Bat Out of Hell started. My musical palate had changed, and my CD collection broadened to serious, sappy indie rock and dancey pop jams. I had grown out of the “taking music too seriously” phase that I fell into during high school, and started embracing anything that just made my foot tap. These college friends were also the ones who made me appreciate Andrew W.K. for what he was and what he stood for regardless of how cheesy the music. Bat Out of Hell has fallen into steady rotation many times from college until now, and I have trouble naming an album that is better to listen to while speeding down the highway singing at the top of your lungs.

I could probably write a whole essay just on the history of this album and how it got to its place in rock history, but that’s a different feature all together. Basically, it breaks down like this:

–Jim Steinman wrote all the songs on the album.

–Three of them (“Bat Out of Hell”, “All Revved Up with No Place to Go”, and “Heaven Can Wait”) were part of a sci-fi musical based on Peter Pan that Steinman had work shopped at the Kennedy Center Music Theater Lab.
Meat Loaf was touring with Steinman as part of the National Lampoon show, and decided to record those songs along with four others Steinman had written.

–After signing Todd Rundgren on to produce the album it took them awhile to find a label to put it out, and eventually, with the help of Steven Van Zandt (also of the E Street Band), they were signed by an offshoot of Epic Records called Cleveland Records.

–The album became a grower rather than an explosion, but eventually became one of the best selling records of all time despite people saying it was “[an] unfashionable, uncool, non-radio record.” (According to a 2007 issue of Classic Rock magazine)

    Now as for the music itself. Bat Out of Hell is definitely an acquired taste. If you don’t like Andrew W.K. or The Darkness because they’re too cheesy then Meat Loaf probably isn’t your bag. If you can turn your brain off and just the music make you move, then you can love these bands.

    The album starts with the title track, a nearly 10 minute epic, and one of the best openings of an album I have heard to this day. Meat Loaf only released one album previous to Bat Out of Hell, and it was nothing like Bat Out of Hell. The opening track of this album is the perfect introduction to what people are getting themselves into. With a ridiculously fast piano intro, coupled with wailing and chugging motorcycle guitars atop Weinberg hammering on the drums, you are immediately thrown into Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf’s gothic world. There is a full two minutes before Meat Loaf even sings, but once he does it’s the perfect topping to make you want more. At the end of the nearly 10 minute song, you are exhausted, and sweaty…or at least I always was when I danced to it in dirty basements in college.

    The next track, “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth”, has an amazing spoken word opening that is pulled directly from Steinman’s sci-fi Pan show, and is performed by Steinman himself along with actress Marcia Mclain. This opening has always been one of my favorite parts of the album. I’m not sure why, but just the absolute absurdity of it is incredible. Steinman’s less than stellar acting in the intro makes me laugh every time. As he is answering the woman’s questions of him, he decides, it seems, to become progressively angrier with her before finally just snapping an annoyed “Yes!” at her to get her to shut up. Then the ending of “I bet you say that to all the boys” and the explosion of the song… gives me goose bumps and makes me smile like an idiot every time and I’m not sure why.

    The song itself is one of the strongest on the album. Weinberg’s drumming gives the song a fantastic bum-bumbum beat that drives the song perfectly, the backing vocals are well placed and orchestrated, and the breakdown at around 4:00 is a fantastic example of the Spector wall-of-sound that Rundgren was going for in production. Then the ending of handclaps and a Meat Loaf vocal ad-lib is a perfect capper.

    The album then cools it down a notch with one of the fantastic ballads on the album, “Heaven Can Wait”. Everything about this song is overdramatic. The rising and soaring and then falling orchestra, the seemingly full choir background singers, the “Desperado”-sounding piano, and Meat Loaf emoting the shit out of the lines like “I know heaven can wait/and all the gods come down here just to sing for me/and the melody’s gonna make me fly without pain, without fear,” and “I’ve got a taste of paradise that’s all I really need to make me stay just like a child again.” This song is begging and pleading to be sung by a lone actor on stage in a lone spotlight with fake tears and lots of fist pumping and chest punching.

    Things pick up again with “All Revved Up With No Place to Go” and its wailing Edgar Winter saxophone solo intro. That lone actor from the lone spotlight is now outside a party singing in the parking lot with a troupe of girls in short shorts dancing behind him while he sings to his girlfriend about wanting to take her virginity. The bass is pumping, the sax is slutty and rough, and the piano takes an upbeat turn before turning honky-tonk and letting the guitar speed up the tempo for a grand finale of glitter, spinning lights, and sweaty Meat Loaf. Seriously. Listen to it.

    “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” is one of the few weak points on the album. The drums are a little too reverb’d, and the melody and background harmonies are straight out of The Eagles. If you listen closely you could even swear that Joe Walsh and Glen Fry were singing in the backing chorus. This is one of the few songs that are out of place on the album. It’s out of place because it sounds normal… too normal. There isn’t anything epic about it at all. I would be just as comfortable with Don Henley singing it, and that’s not very comfortable. You know that line in The Big Lebowski about The Eagles? It’s about like that.

    Good thing the album kicks back up the theatrics to a 10 afterward with “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights” one of the most well known songs on the album. It is the song about that awkward moment of losing your virginity and/or touching a girl for the first time, and it is the song with the most theatrical moments. From quick style changes, quick tempo changes, the weird and random baseball play-by-play metaphor in the middle of the song, and then the vocal explosion of Ellen Foley and the subsequent duet with Meat Loaf, this song has it all. It’s easy to see why it was such a popular karaoke duet for all my theater friends in college. It allows you to act the lines out. As a matter of fact, you have to act it out because if you don’t then, well, what’s the point?

    The album then ends with the more epic than fucking-epic track “For Crying Out Loud”. It starts out with the same “Desperado” piano that starts out “Heaven Can Wait” and the same emoting Meat Loaf. He is singing about all the amazing things that his girl has done for him in his life including making his “faded Levi’s” burst apart. From his giant package you see… that’s the joke… ahem.

    Anyway, after that the piano kicks it up a bit and gets more raucous for the chorus, while Meat Loaf hits some ungodly notes with authority, before relaxing a bit for the next verse and just in time for the orchestra. The strings are weepy and moving, and Meat Loaf sings about laughing and crying to his love. Enter bass and brass then full orchestra for the next part. And then BOOM! Drums, cymbals, flutes, trumpets, tympanis, and one of the strongest moments of the whole album. It is usually the point on my road trip listen when I realize I am driving 95mph and I have blown my voice out. The mood then abruptly changes back to a somber tone before gradually building up to the powerful ending.

    Just listening to this album while I wrote this made my heart race and made me wish my roommate wasn’t home so I could be singing as loudly as possible. I have a great appreciation for performers who understand the ridiculousness of the music they are making and embrace it, but still take it seriously enough to do it well. I am always amazed how great not only the musicians on Bat Out of Hell are, but how tight the compositions are, how well the tempo and mode changes fall together, and also how fucking great of a voice Meat Loaf has. Yes, I know the songs’ contents are silly and weird, but that’s part of the majesty of Meat Loaf and Bat Out of Hell. As Todd Rundgren said in a recent documentary on the album, there are certain lines that you could “only get away with in a Meat Loaf song.”

    Meat Loaf has forged a genre of music that very few people can be fit into. He has a style 100% his own, and when you hear someone playing a similar song, you immediately know that they were listening to a lot of Meat Loaf at one time. It’s big, it’s theatrical, it’s bombastic, and it’s filled to the brim with testosterone, sweat, and rock. And I, for one, can’t get enough of it.

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