Collectors Edition Liner Notes
Meat Loaf? He’d do anything for love… but he won’t do that. Record a sequel to the original Bat Out Of Hell, that is. Uh-uh. Absolutely not! Try to replicate the revved-up rampage of that ker-zillion-selling classic? Get back together with his old mucker Jim Steinman for a follow-up blitzkrieg of overblown bravado? No way, Bat fans. At least that’s what it seemed like to an outsider; to someone who wasn’t entirely privy to the mad machinations of what went on between the release of the first Bat Out Of Hell album in October 1977 (January 1978 in Europe) and its long-delayed sequel, Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell a full decade-and-a-half later.
Today, with the recent release of Bat Out Of Hell III, the series has developed into something of a franchise. Purist might bemoan the absence of the aforementioned Steinman, Meat Loaf’s muse (some would say mentor), from the present-day project. But two out of three ain’t bad.
The original Bat Out Of Hell made an indelible impression. It was released at an unlikely time, when the music of British punk bands such as The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned was resonating in thousands of pairs of safety-pin-pierced ears. A stripped-down, do-it-yourself ethic prevailed. But not in the case of Bat Out Of Hell. When the album came out it created an entirely new genre of music: baroque ‘n’ roll. It was as lavish and incredible as punk’s three-minute crusades were lewd and crude. Bat Out Of Hell was more than a humble rock record. It was a leviathan.
Bat Out Of Hell was the product of two mightily contrasting personalities: singer Meat Loaf and songwriter Jim Steinman. Or perhaps actor and playwright would be closer to the mark.
Meat Loaf was born Marvin Lee Aday in 1948 in Dallas, Texas. He’d been in a psychedelic band called Popcorn Blizzard; he’d acted on stage in Hair; he’d been a car park attendant; and he’d enjoyed minor chart success with gal vocalist Stoney in the duo Stoney & Meat Loaf, purveyors of uptempo gospel soul in the manner of Delaney & Bonnie. Stoney would later go on to find a sliver of success singing with Bob Seger and Eric Clapton, while her partner Meat Loaf carreer stalled. And not for the first time.
New York-born Jim Steinman was an off-beam brainbox with hippy inclinations. His hero was, and doubtless still is, Richard Wagner. Steinman had grown up in a cultured household and had attended Amherst College in Massachusetts, one of America’s top liber art schools. The pair’s paths first crossed when Meat Loaf tried out for a show Steinman was helping to stage in the Big Apple. It was late 1971 and the venue was the city’s Shakespeare Festival Theater.
Meat was the most mesmerising thing I’d ever seen, much bigger than he is now, Steinman told Q magazine in 1993. (The man-mountain auditionee apparently weighed close to 300 pounds — that’s nearly 19 of your English stones.)
I grew up with Wagner, Steinman expanded,
so all my heroes were larger than life. Meat’s eyes went into his head like he was transfixed. I can seem arrogant at times because I’m certain of things — and I was certain of him.
Meat Loaf sang a number from the album he’d recorded with Stoney called ‘(I’d Love To Be) As Heavy As Jesus’. Steinman commented that Meat looked as heavy as at least two Jesus’s.
We are totally different people — completely, Steinman later explained.
But somehow, within the music, we connect on a level that’s pretty strange…
Five years and plenty of thespian activity later Meat Loaf found himself contributing vocals to Ted Nugent’s 1976 Free For All album.
Everything was telling me I should be in a rock band and trying to get me into one, he said.
Couldn’t do it. Jim Steinman was my man. Nevertheless, the Nugent experience proved a handy precursor to Bat Out Of Hell, which would be released one year later.
The remarkable thing was that, initially, no one was interested in Bat Out Of Hell. As Meat Loaf recalled in his autobiography To Hell And Back:
When we went to record companies, people would invariably ask me why I was haning around with this weird guy [Steinman, who thought gold lamé cloaks were casual daywear].
And what are thes songs? they’d say.
These are not rock songs. No one wants a 10-minute rock song. Well, everything we did was 10 minutes long.
But Todd Rundgren was an early advocate of Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman’s fledgling efforts; he helped pay for Bat Out Of Hell and even produced it. Eventually the album snuck out on Cleveland International Records, a subsidiary of Epic.
The album was not an immidiate hit. But when it took hold, its grasp was talon-sharp. Its mixture of epic songs, lush piano-laden melodies and tremulous tales of teenage angst, rounded off with Meat Loaf’s tempestuous voice, captivated a nation, and then the planet. Songs such as ‘You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth’, ‘Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad’, ‘Paradise By The Dashboard Light’ and of course the title track were as seductive as they were sprawling.
Bat Out Of Hell invented the word supersize, and don’t let any burger-guzzling fatso tell you otherwise. It made an impact, especially in the Stattes, because rock had become so sanitised over there, disco was for dummies and British punk had made negligible impact; it was an expansive ocean away, after all.
Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman rumbled on to the road to promote Bat Out Of Hell. They played more than 170 shows in the first 10 months of 1978 as Bat Fever, a highly contagious new virus, spread at an alarming rate. An initially reluctant record label becan to clamour for a follow-up. They wanted Steinman to take time off from touring to write it.
But Meat Loaf’s voice was starting to crack under the pressure of playing a gig practically every night.
It was psychosomatic at first because I didn’t want to do it, he said. But soon enough the throat problem became very real. Meat Loaf fell of stage and injured himself in Canada — on purpose, some claimed, to gain respite from the mayhem. Ultimately relations with Jim Steinman became as strained as the singer’s vocal chords.
As Bat Out Of Hell got bigger, Meat Loaf got crazier.
It was like some terrible curse where everything I’d ever wished for turned into a nightmare, and it was rapidly turning me into a maniac, he wrote in his autobiography.
Steinman completed a follow-up to Bat Out Of Hell, provisionally titled Renagade Angel. But the Loaf — after endless nights of bellowing out Jim’s soaring operathic anthems — developed a mental block about the new stuff. Renagade Angel eventually became a Steinman solo album, Bad For Good.
In spite of Meat Loaf’s fragile mental state, Steinman quickly concocted the album Dead Ringer for his partner. Meat could barely sing at this point but Steinman pieced together the vocal parts word-by-word, line-by-line.
It was like being at the scene of a traffic accident, Steinman related to journalist Greg Sandow.
I wanted to work. He [Meat Loaf] was frozen. It’s one of the strangest, most surreal things I’ve encountered.
Somehow, Dead Ringer was completed. Upon release in 1981 it went to No. 1 in the UK. But, hell… it was no Bat Out Of. It made only No. 45 in the States.
The once-dynamic duo became increasingly estranged and a battle royal ensued between Meat Loaf, Jim Steinman and the manager they shared, David Sonenberg. Meat sacked Sonenberg but Steinman didn’t; lawsuits broke out; legal bills piled up; Meat declared himself bankrupt in a fit of despair.
The problem was with a million different forces — his [Meat Loaf’s] managers, his lawyers, his vocal chords, his brain, Jim Steinman told Rolling Stone.
He had lost his voice, he had lost his house, and he was pretty much losing his mind.
For bad or for good, the pair went their separate ways. To counter his problems, Meat Loaf kept working — and working. He recorded several creditable albums — including Midnight AT The Lost And Found (1983), Bad Attitude (1984) and Blind Before I Stop (1986) — that enjoyed success in Britain and mainland Europe; however his carreer in America was in free-fall.
Meat Loaf is the heftiest footnote in rock history, taunted one US critic.
The Shadow Of The Bat loomed large. Come 1987, Meat Loaf didn’t even have a record deal.
Meanwhile, Steinman was away doing his own thing. He started to make his name as a shit-hot producer and, as you might expect, his choices of artists were distinctly left-field: Bonnie Tyler, Sisters Of Mercy, Air Supply, Barry Manilow. He even worked with Def Leppard, who famously sacked him during the sessions for their Hysteria album. Steinman responded by concocting a wildly eccentric record of his own called Original Sin with a host of female vocalist assembled under the moniker Pandora’s Box. Despite gaining favourable reviews (Steinman, an unlikely cover star, even made the front page of Kerrang! magazine, if memory serves) Original Sin was a flop. Regardless, Steinman regards it as one of favourites. He once said that
if Original Sin had been successful, then there would have been no Bat Out Of Hell II.
Ultimately though, Steinman’s songs cried out for Meat Loaf’s titanic tonsils. Meat’s talents were needed for Jim’s epic compositions to achieve their full majesty.
So the time had come, at last, for Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman to reunite. During their period of estrangement the sales of Bat Out Of Hell had been ticking over — to the tune of a cool million copies per year. And after a difficult time Meat Loaf’s career had taken an upward curve: he had expunged his demons, mended his voice and begun playing the lucrative European festival circuit. Meanwhile, in the States, the singer had left the clubs behind and was selling out theatres.
We had no record, no promotion but Bat Out Of Hell was still going through the roof, said Meat Loaf.
I talked to Steinman and said:
Jim, you have no idea what’s going on out here. Bat Out Of Hell has risen from the grave and is flying high! We’re back!
Meat Loaf met with Steinman at the latter’s house in Putnam County, New York, one night in 1989. With Steinman pummelling a lone piano and Meat Loaf pacing up and down, they staged an improptu performance of Bat Out Of Hell in its entirety. The dark magic was still there. They set to work on a sequel, and
when he [Steinman] played ‘I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)’ for me, I melted, Meat Loaf recalled. Bat Out Of Hell II finally emerged in the autumn of 1993.
It took a long time to get the album done, Meat explained in his autobiography.
Jim’s songs may be miniature operas, but they’re always too long for radio. Practically every one has to be edited down from nine or 11 minutes to something that the stations will play. He goes through incredible agony over these edits. As far as he is concerned, it’ll kill the song.
Meat Loaf’s new manager, Jim Kovac, summed up the approach succinctly:
You guys don’t make records, you make events. An example: the album version of ‘I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)’ lasts for 12 minutes; the radio version is just under eight minutes. But that still makes it the longest No. 1 hit single ever, beating even The Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’. Steinman shrugged:
Everything I do is dictated by the dramatic. Interestingly, however, six songs on Bat Out Of Hell II were remakes: ‘Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through’, ‘Out Of The Frying Pan (And Into The Fire)’, ‘Lost Boys And Golden Girls’ and the crazed poem ‘Love & Death & An American Guitar’ originally cropped up on Steinman’s Bad For Good solo effort, while ‘Good Girls Go To Heaven (Bad Girls Go Everywhere)’ and ‘It Just Won’t Quit’ were on Original Sin by Pandora’s Box. As the review of Bat Out Of Hell II in Q magazine noted:
None of them differs wildly from the originals, they’re just a bit louder.
Talking about the preponderance of ‘old’ songs, Meat Loaf explained:
The way Jim works on an album is this: first he recycles stuff that’s either been lying around, or, often, songs he’s used elsewhere in another form. His albums consist of different little operas taken from a number of different years. He regurgitates the older material, then write three our four new songs, and that makes the album new. When he has the content down, then the album is ready to be recorded. Steinman, meanwhile, was more concerned about Meat Loaf’s physique. The singer had lost weight; he was eighty pounds lighter than when they had recorded the first Bat Out Of Hell. Steinman wanted to make sure Meat’s lumbering, blustering power was at optimum power for the sequel. So he reportedly laid a trail of doughnuts around the studio in the hope of, er, beefing up Mr Meat.
Despite the presence of a bunch of recycled songs, there’s a distinct difference between Bat Out Of Hell II and its predecessor. Whereas the original was fulkl of wistful musings on the American teenage dream — where everything is a scene played out on a giant-size drive-in screen — the follow up is much darker. After all, the world was in a different place in 1993 than it was in 1977-8. Tracks such as ‘Life Is A Lemon And I Want My Money Back’ and ‘Objects in The Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are’ declare that adulthood is daunting and forbidding, and that the adolescence-in-day-glo vibe of the original Bat may have been a bitter fantasy after all. But then again… there’s always the possibility of redemption via the god-almighty power of rock ‘n’ roll.
Despite the success of the original Bat Out Of Hell, record labels weren’t exactly frothing at the mouth at the prospect of a follow-up. Especially not in the early 1990s, when the name Nirvana was on everyone’s lips and Seattle was the base camp for every self-respecting A&R man.
Bat Out Of Hell II eventually materialised on MCA in the States and Virgin in the rest of the world. MCA’s then chairman Al Teller admitted:
I faced tremendous scepticism. The conventional wisdom was:
Are these guys kidding?
Teller needn’t have worried. Bat Out Of Hell II sold a cool 150,000 copies in its first week of release and went No. 1 on both sides of the Atlantic, and in 18 other countries besides. To date, the album has sold more than 15 million copies around the globe.
Nobody writes like Jim, Meat Loaf stated to Rolling Stone in November 1993.
All these things — bombastic, over the top, self-indulgent. All these things are positives.
Bombastic? said Steinman.
Of course it’s bombastic. I take that as a compliment. Rock ‘n’ roll is the most bombastic form ever — heightened, oversized, gigantic, thrilling and silly.
As Bat Out Of Hell II became the fastest selling album since Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the headline to a celebratory press advertisement proclaimed:
The Road To hell Is Paved With Platinum. Praise be to the God Of Sex and Drums and Rock ‘n’ Roll. Meat Loaf, The Prince Of Pandemonium, and Jim Steinman, The Emperor Of Excess, were back in business. And how!
Classic Rock, October 2006