A Milk Crate Full Of Records: Meat Loaf – Bat Out Of Hell (1977)

My first introduction to Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell” came via my mother. I remember her listening to that album on cassette on my old Sony Walkman while she mowed the lawns on the ride on mower. I knew she was listening to Meat Loaf because she would sing along with the songs. At loud volume above the noise of the lawnmower. Out of key and off pitch. Naturally, as a thirteen year old, it wasn’t to my taste as I was first getting into hard rock and heavy metal.

Fast forward almost twenty years and my tastes have changed and my appreciation for music has greaten, I know get why my mum loved this album so much. Seven tracks and 45 minutes of some of the most grandiose rock music you will ever hear. There is no album quite like “Bat Out Of Hell”. It’s thunderous drums with ripping guitar solos and honky tonk pianos. Rock theatrics at it’s best without a story line or even a screen play to accompany it. A penchant for 9 minute epics that told a tale mostly of teenage romance with a hint of chauvinism. Some of the tracks were originally longer according to the albums songwriter Jim Steinman. “Most of them were edited down anyway. They were 20 minutes when I wrote them.”

Steinman came from a background of musical theatre when he partnered with a young actor with a powerful voice that sung emotion. They talked about writing a rock album together. Four years later “Bat Out Of Hell” was born an unleashed to the music public in 1977. But initial reaction to the album was poor to say the least. No one really cared for the theatrical rock style despite the popularity of rock operas and musicals with “Hair” and The Who’s “Tommy”.

The album opens with the title track ‘Bat Out Of Hell’. A seven plus minute track that chronicles the story of a man who flees a one night stand on the back of his motorcycle only to crash and die. The song flows from a cheeky bad boy rebel rising into a melancholy, heartfelt remorse when the character realizes he may die. The album producer Todd Rundgren created the motorcycle sound thats heard half way through the song on his guitar before launching into one of the best guitar solo’s in rock today. The sound effect was only created to shut Jim Steinman up who keep pestering Rundgren to add the effect into the song. “you want a motorcycle? A thousand background vocals, a million guitar solos, a ten-minute song … and you want a motorcycle!” For Jim, this was his version of a “car crash song” which he had a soft spot for. The song has an innocent 60s vibe with the songs character you can imagine wearing a leather jacket riding a Harley Davidson before he rides it off the road and meets his young demise.

The albums second track ‘You Took The Words Right Out Of Mouth’ became one of the hit singles off the record. It was also the song that caught attention of Cleveland International Records who eventually picked up the album after Jim and Meat where knocked back hundreds of times over the course of eighteen months. For the label owner Steve Popovich he believed the first twenty seconds of the intro to the song “was the most rock intro I ever heard”. (probably helps when your backing band for the record contains members of Springsteen’s E Street Band) Before the song starts, there is a spoken word dialogue between a man and a woman as if sampled from a movie. The man asks if the woman would essentially surrender herself to the beast and she asks the same of the man. The song speaks of a young couple all alone and the first kiss that could, or more than likely ended up in them having sex.

Sexual tension and innuendo is often placed through out the songs in this album. This was an album of late teenage sexuality and angst from a male perspective. ‘All Revved Up With No Place To Go’ is about cruising the streets looking to pick up chicks but is also the hidden meaning of getting aroused before being stopped from going any further. But the height of sexual tension comes in the track ‘Paradise By The Dashboard Light’.

First performed live on The Grey Whistle Test program in the UK, the song help catapult Meatloaf and the album into the charts. It became the uncool album that everyone had to have. It was unfashionable and that was cool for the kids leading into the punk revolution of London. It also helped Bat Out Of Hell sell over a million copies and to this day still sells in the tens of thousands copies a year making it one of the highest selling albums of all time. In Australia, it stands at number two and the total amount sold in Iceland meant that every home owns approximately 10 copies each!

‘Paradise…’ combines all the elements of the album that makes it unique. There’s the sexual tension, the theatrics, the musical composition and clocks in at over 9 minutes. The songs character woos the girl and they make out in the back seat of his car and just as he gets to the final base, he is stopped to promise to love the girl for the rest of time before he can sleep with her. The middle part of the song is the moral dilemma for all young men trying to get laid. She wants to know he will still be there in the morning and love her for the rest of time. Does he lie to her for the sake of sex? Inevitably he does and then is stuck with the girl for the rest of time declaring “…and now I’m praying for the end of time/ So I can end my time with you.”

The song is the signature piece for the record and is the one song audiences go crazy for when Meat Loaf plays live. The album’s success saw Meat Loaf go on a horrendous touring schedule that saw him exhausted at the end of each night, performing five to six nights a week. That on top the excess of his new found celebrity saw the musical partnership with Jim Steinman dissolve. Jim even took Meat to court over royalties in ’83 to sum of $85 million. They patched things up to release a sequel before falling out again.

For a record that two guys wanted to make, that no one wanted to listen to has now sold over 43 million copies word wide. In retrospect, its lauded as a brilliant musical masterpiece. It took theatrical rock to a new level and changed the musical kaleidoscope.

I know understand why my mother used to sing it at the top of her lungs…..it’s how this record should be viewed. As over the top rock n roll.

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