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Bat out of Hell
The most Metal album of all time, that isn't actually Metal
In my earlier posts I recounted my discovery of Heavy Music in the late 80s. On school holidays my cousins vinyl collection opened a Pandoras box of different hard rock styles. The album covers of W.A.S.P., Metallica, Ozzy, AC/DC, all fired the imagination almost as much as the music did.
One album cover stood out though. When I tentatively put it on, I was overwhelmed by a loud guitar intro, and… a piano. Of course Meat Loaf himself had the most powerful voice I’d ever heard. Not just powerful, but soft and emotional as well. But I digress… A PIANO!
This was the late 1980s remember. There was no ‘November Rain’ yet. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ hadn’t had its second coming due to Wayne’s World. That was all in the future.
Immediately after the exciting rock guitar intro to the title track, a piano riff starts that is absolutely exhilarating. Then it slows down, there’s some wah pedal effects on guitar, a screeching solo, then the drum and bass settle into a steady beat. The tune slows again, the piano sounds plaintive, and Meat starts to sing. We’re already two minutes into the track and it’s only just beginning. The lyrics to the opening verse paint a picture that pulp novelists of the same era would have killed to pull off.
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 the sky
And a killer's on the bloodshot streets
And down in the tunnels 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
My mind was blown. The music should have been a bit uncool, but it wasn’t. It was the coolest thing pre-teen me had ever heard.
Of course all of Meat Loaf’s super successful career was due to this partnership with composer Jim Steinman. I didn’t know exactly what his role was as an adolescent, but his name appears on the album cover so I guessed he was a big deal.
I’m not going to write about the relationship between the two men. I pieced together much of it when Meatloaf re-entered the public consciousness with ‘Bat out of Hell II’ (and the radio junkets that accompanied this mega promoted album). Much of this promotion was a reaction from Meat and Jim, to how poorly the original ‘Bat out of Hell’ was received when it was initially released. In the US, nobody wanted anything to do with them in 1977, but rock fans in the UK and Australia requested the title song ad nauseam on tv and radio. The 1993 sequel album which featured his most successful single ‘I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)’, was so successful it actually caused the '‘Bat out of Hell’ title track to enter the UK top ten for the very first time.
Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf sued each other over the years. They fell out. They got back together. ‘Bat out of Hell III’ was released to much less fanfare in the 2000s. It didn’t matter. The legend had been made.
Steinman wrote hits for Bonnie Tyler, Sisters of Mercy, Celine Dion, and Boyzone. ‘Bat out of Hell’ became a musical. When Jim Steinman passed away in 2021 Meat Loaf was quoted as saying "We didn't know each other, we were each other.”
Meat Loaf passed away in January of 2022. He was a complicated guy. He didn’t believe in climate change. He was an early fan of Donald Trump’s Presidency in the US, but later showed some disapproval. In spite of his name, he was also known to espouse vegetarianism and veganism.
In fifty years from now, none of that will be remembered. But the two ‘Bat out of Hell’ albums will be. They are two albums that had all the trappings of Metal. The demonic and occultish artwork. The subject matter of sex and death. The motorbikes and leather gear on stage. But this music is pure classic rock.
If you’re in your car late at night and you turn on your classic rock radio station, there’s a good chance ‘Bat out of Hell’ will be playing. Or, if you’re feeling lucky, maybe it’ll be this tune below:
I genuinely thought it was a song about engine trouble when I was 12.
The legacy for me, was being introduced to a style of hard rock that had its roots in Rockabilly and early Rock n’ Roll. As an aside I was introduced to the ‘Rock Epic’. There are three tracks on Bat out of Hell over 8 minutes long. Meat Loaf as a front man had a larger than life persona. He possessed an ability to inhabit the characters in his songs, and breathe life into them. He could be the hero, the villain, or more commonly a victim. It’s no big surprise he was also an actor. He appeared in many tv and film roles, with the character of Robert Paulson in 1999’s Fight Club being a notable example of his ability to play the antithesis of his stage persona, in a self deprecating way.
If you ‘get’ Meat Loaf, then you should have no problem ‘getting’ Metal. It’s music that is made with the utmost seriousness and dedication. On the flip-side, it’s also music that is theatrical, tongue in cheek, and cathartic.
Next week: The Aquanaut takes a look at a few bands that you may not have heard of…