The mountain of a man with talent and heart to match was 74
One of the most perfectly suited pairings of writer and singer was Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf.
Steinman, who could have literally had “Theatrical” as his middle name, was inspired by theater as he was by rock and roll and classic pop.
While Steinman had big hits with others, he had his perfect counterpart in Meat Loaf, a big belter who passed away Thursday, reportedly of COVID-19, at the age of 74.
Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.
Being over-the-top was not viewed as a bad thing by the two together. Michael Aday came from Texas to California, his nickname and stage name coming from a high school coach.
It was the typical years-long “overnight” route to success. Meat Loaf played in a number of bands, eventually winding up in musical theater.
His performance in a Los Angeles production of “Hair” led to his first break, a deal with Motown Records and an album as a duo with his “Hair” castmate (and eventual backing singer for Bob Seger and lead singer of Little Feat) Shaun Murphy. The album — Stoney & Meatloaf — had a minor hit in their version of “What You See Is What You Get”, but there was also label interference (Meat Loaf’s vocals one song were replaced by Edwin Starr) and the album didn’t sell well.
AUDIO: Stoney and Meatloaf “What You See Is What You Get”
He and Steinman worked during the production of National Lampoon’s stage show parody of Woodstock — Lemmings.
Steinman was in the band while Meat Loaf served as John Belushi’s understudy.
Their first and most well-known work together dated back to Steinman’s days at Amherst College — a musical called “The Dream Engine”, which never was able to be turned into a full-fledged musical, despite having pre-fame Richard Gere attached to it as a lead at one point.
Steinman came back to it, changing it by incorporating elements of the Peter Pan story, titling the new musical Neverland. From there, he and Meat Loaf put together Bat Out of Hell — in part a somewhat lighter take on the the musical’s material.
Meat Loaf himself had been busy with the first American production of The Rocky Horror Show in L.A., where he played Eddie and Dr Scott, then playing Eddie in the filmed adaptation, which would become a long-running midnight movie staple and audience participation cult hit.
He was also brought in to sing on Ted Nugent’s 1976 album Free For All, doing the lead parts and vocal arrangements on the songs intended for Derek St. Holmes, who’d left the band (but would come back for the subsequent tour). That temporary gig led to offers for him, but not with Steinman. Thus he refused.
The duo believed in the finished album, but seemingly nobody in a position to sell it did. They were rejected by pretty much every label around.
VIDEO: Meat Loaf as Eddie in Rocky Horror
Meat Loaf told Rolling Stone’s Andy Greene in 2001, said labels said to him — “Listen, this guy Steinman, you can’t be with him. You’re too good.”
He responded, “’You people have no idea. You’re in the music business and you’re telling me that? You people don’t know what you’re talking about. This guy is an absolute genius. And me and him together, we’re an unstoppable force.’ Clive Davis was the worst. He told us in his office how bad we were. He said, “You don’t know how to write a song.”
An angry and exasperated Meat Loaf yelled “Fuck you, Clive” from the street up to the building after the legendary head rejected them.
Finally, it was Cleveland International, a short-lived subsidiary of Epic Records, who bit. Even then, it was a tough process as Epic had only slightly more faith in it than the labels that rejected it had.
What saved it proved to be audience reaction, with help of a pre-consolidation radio business, before mass ownership turned radio stations into the equivalent of chain restaurants like Applebee’s. The album started to pick up in other countries and thanks to a push from Cleveland International’s Steve Popovich Sr., it became a hit in scattered markets.
Through persistence and with a push from a March 28 SNL appearance (possibly in part due to Belushi’s support) on a show hosted by Christopher Lee, the album that had sold less than 150,000 copies by the end of 1977 would go on to sell over 30,000,000 copies worldwide.
VIDEO: Rocky Horror Shop SNL
In retrospect, the album works because it manages to walk that line between not taking itself seriously and being delivered with complete sincerity. Their tongues weren’t so far in their cheeks that they weren’t going to believe this, dammit! It’s two men in their late 20s turning seethingly hormonal teenage drama into Rock Opera, something that shouldn’t have worked and wouldn’t have, if the songs hadn’t been there.
In retrospect, its timing didn’t hurt. Bat Out of Hell at times plays like Bruce Springsteen’s most over-the-top moments on Born to Run with even more drama layered on top, then even more slathered on for good measure.
Todd Rundgren agreed to produce it because he viewed it as an over-the-top parody of Springsteen and the silliness of the idea was too much for him to resist. And his production polish definitely helps make it work.
But while the E Street Band’s Max Weinberg and Roy Bittan played on Bat Out of Hell, it’s not fully what Rundgren felt it was either.
Bruce was a Jersey kid who wanted to get out of the East Coast bar circuit and make it as a rock and roll star. He was never a theater kid and camp was not his thing. When it came down to it, Bat Out of Hell was about it being time to play the music, time to light the lights, time to put on makeup, time to dress up right and time to raise the curtains on the Meat Loaf show tonight.
It took a while for the follow-up. Meat Loaf’s voice was shot as the Bat tour dragged on and he was unable to record the intended follow-up — Bad For Good.
Steinman recorded it himself and had a minor hit “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through,” which No. 32 on the U.S. pop chart, but it was clear the material needed Meat Loaf’s voice. It was Steinman’s only album as a solo performer.
The delay didn’t help 1981’s Dead Ringer, which was a less successful attempt to cover the same turf they’d covered before, filled out with older material — “More Than You Deserve” was reworked from when Meat Loaf sang it in a 1973 musical of the same name (the two had met during the auditions for it). The title track, a duet with Cher, had originally been, of all things, a song that became the theme for Delta House, ABC’s short-lived series continuation of Animal House (complete with some of the movie’s actors, scripts with the R-rated humor eradicated for late ’70s, broadcast standards and a young Michelle Pfeiffer as part of the cast).
VIDEO: Delta House opening theme
The revamped song, which owes something to “Devil With a Blue Dress On” was one of the highlights (as was ballad “Read ‘Em And Weep”) and it was a top five hit in England for an album that topped the chart there.
It didn’t help that Meat Loaf’s vocals were still in rough shape compared to what they’d been years prior.
The creative partnership dissolved soon after in a series of lawsuits related to management and shares of the Bat Out of Hell money. Indeed, seemingly nobody was happy with Sony — Steinman, Meat Loaf or Cleveland International for that matter. The label later had to pay damages to Popovich Sr. and a later additional settlement to his estate.
The dissolution kept Meat Loaf from a chart comeback in the ’80s, because Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing At All”, written and produced by Steinman were huge hits, at one point occupying the top two spots on the U.S. pop charts for three straight weeks in October 1983. Listening to them now, it’s easy to hear them both as centerpieces on the follow-up to Dead Ringer that never happened.
Meat Loaf’s first post-Steinman album — Midnight at the Lost and Found — was produced by Tom Dowd, whose credits contained a share of classics (Dusty in Memphis, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, Idlewild South, Aretha’s Young Gifted and Black, etc.), but the pairing didn’t click. Meat Loaf’s voice had improved from Dead Ringer, but the songs were average at best and Dowd wasn’t known for acne cream-scented youth on steroids run through a Wagner and Spector filter.
1984’s Bad Attitude was initially going to be a reunion, but Meat Loaf tired of waiting for new material from Steinman and recorded two previously written songs from him instead. The overall result was a step up from its predecessor, but certainly not a return to form.
Fans would have to wait until 1993 for Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell. That piano kicks in 30 seconds into the 12-minute long album version of “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That),” and it was clear that fans were finally getting the follow-up album they’d waited 15 years for.
The single version was Meat Loaf’s biggest hit, topping the chart, a worthy successsor to the dramatic hits of the first album, if not an even better distillation of what made them work. It was rock-and-roll as bombastic musical theater showstopper.
It was also asort of target of pop culture snark version of “The Aristocrats” as to what the “that” which he “won’t do” was.
Two more singles charted — a new version of “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” with the lead singer it should have had all along and “Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer than They Are”
This wasn’t any reinvention of the wheel here. It was more of the same of what they’d done back in ’75 and ’76, but even in your mid-40s, there was no reason Steinman and Meat Loaf wouldn’t get in touch with their inner 18-year-olds and let the bombast flow as freely as wine coolers at a party while the parents were out of town (if an 18-year-old Andrew Lloyd Webber was downing those wine coolers while sitting at the piano)
It may have been defiantly out of fashion with the alternative rock explosion of the time, but its sheer committment to its approach works in its favor decades later.
There was one last gasp for Meat Loaf on the pop charts, this time a song from hitmaker Diane Warren — “I’d Lie for You (And That’s the Truth)” — a duet with Patti Russo that’s basically a Steinman ballad turned down from into the red down to a 7.5 — from 1995’s Welcome to the Neighborhood.
The overall album, while not bad, was missing Steinman again (only two of his songs). Considering Celine Dion had a huge hit a year later with “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now”, another song seemingly tailor made for the Steinman-Meat Loaf combination, it’s a loss that’s felt.
During all these years, Meat Loaf also stayed busy with acting, something he did concurrently with his music career — notably as the lead in 1980’s Roadie and a key supporting role as the doomed Robert Paulson in 1999’s Fight Club.
VIDEO: Meat Loaf in Fight Club (1999)
Music-wise, Meat Loaf kept going, putting out six more albums over the next 20 years.
There was Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose in 2006, but Steinman, who’d been having health problems, wasn’t involved.
There were a number of prior Steinman songs (including “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now”). Producer Desmond Child, like Warren, a major hitmaker and other writers give it their best shot to recreate the camp grandeur of the predecessors, but without Steinman as the writer throughout, it’s a facsimilie lacking in unification.
The two finally reunited on 2016’s Braver Than We Are, complete with Bat Out of Hell’s duet partner and backing vocal star Ellen Foley and Karla DeVito, who filled Foley’s role on the Bat tour, appearing on “Going All the Way Is Just the Start (A Song in 6 Movements).” As good as it is to hear the Steinman/Meat Loaf combo together for a full album again, the vocals are much rougher than they were 40 years prior, not unexpected given Meat Loaf was almost 70.
While that adds a degree of vulnerability that wasn’t there before, it makes it a tough listen in spots. That said, while it’s not the peak of their collaborations, it offers enough reminders of why they worked so well in tandem, a fitting enough coda.
That was it. Meat Loaf spent recent years with health issues, including multiple back surgeries. He also opted to brand himself as a climate change denier and opposing protection measures against COVID-19. He promoted Van Morrison’s anti-protection song with anti-vaxxer Eric Clapton last year and expanded on his views later.
In an August interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he called someone who asked him to wear a mask on a plane “a Nazi” (Spoiler alert: They were not).
The interviewer gave that false characterization a pass, saying, “Oh, God. We’re being controlled by everybody.”
Meat Loaf’s response aged poorly. He said, “Yeah, I know. But not me. If I die, I die, but I’m not going to be controlled.”
Meat Loaf leaves behind his wife, Deborah, his daughters Pearl and Amanda and a host of other family and friends grieving his loss.
The COVID battle was the final wrench in his hopes to record again. He posted last November that the plan was to go into the studio earlier this month and record seven songs for a new album that would include a variety of live material from the ’70s through the ’00s.
In a 2021 interview after Steinman’s death, Meat Loaf said, “After he died, his nurse, Mary Beth, left me a message saying how much he loved me. She said I was the one person he needed more than anyone else in his life. I don’t want to die, but I may die this year because of Jim. I’m always with him and he’s right here with me now. I’ve always been with Jim and Jim has always been with me. We belonged heart and soul to each other. We didn’t know each other. We were each other.”
Looking back, even when the material didn’t work — and there’s no way lines like “I can barely fit my dick in my pants” from 2010’s “California Isn’t Big Enough (Hey There Girl) had a chance — Meat Loaf was absolutely committed to it. Sometimes that was to its detriment, as he could be overwrought (to put it mildly), but it’s impossible not to respect the passion he brought to what he did artistically. If the material was A+ or D-, or his voice was on or off, he would go all out.
And when he had the material, as he did during the best collaborations with Steinman, they delivered some of the best examples of a composer/singer team doing exactly what they set out to do in a way that others just wouldn’t be able to and that they couldn’t do apart.
One hopes that his audience ignores his COVID-19 advice and protects themselves so that they can enjoy those moments longer.
VIDEO: Meat Loaf “Paradise By The Dashboard Light”