Friday, May 27

Meat Loaf was a fascinating artist who fused sincerity with showmanship | Meatloaf


THere’s a petty, cynical argument that Michael Lee Aday owed his career to someone else’s talent: The late songwriter Jim Steinman, who wrote everything on Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf’s 43 million-selling hit album, bailed out his career when he was at a standstill agreeing to do 1993’s Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell and he was behind virtually every song Meat Loaf will be remembered for. Of the 18 tracks on The Very Best of Meat Loaf, only four were not written by Steinman.

It’s certainly true that Meat Loaf found things much more difficult without Steinman on board. Steinman had hits with other people, including the Sisters of Mercy and Celine Dion, but none of the albums without Steinman, Meat Loaf, released in the ’80s, were a hit in the US. European fans stayed a little longer. loyalists and occasionally scored a UK hit, most notably Steinman-esque Modern Girl in 1984. But he spent most of the decade touring relentlessly to avoid bankruptcy and the jump in sales between his album 1986’s Blind Before I Stop, which had its biggest hit in Switzerland, peaking at No. 22, and Bat Out of Hell II, a worldwide number one that sold 14 million copies, tell their own story.

Later in his career, when he and Steinman were at odds (their famously contentious relationship at one point caused Meat Loaf to try to sue the songwriter for $500 million), Meat Loaf would simply jam albums together using songs Steinman had written for other people and Projects. . He could muster an all-star supporting cast, as he did in 2010’s Hang Cool Teddy Bear, which included credits for Jon Bon Jovi, Brian May, Jack Black and Hugh Laurie, among others, but the difference between a failed Meat Loaf album and A successful one seemed to be whether or not its cover bore the subtitle “Songs by Jim Steinman.”

Meat Loaf: Bat out of Hell – video

However, their partnership was far from one-way traffic. Steinman’s songs were nothing if not unique: intentionally absurd exercises in more-is-more campy bombast, influenced in equal parts by ’60s girl-group teen melodramas, Bruce Springsteen at his most aggressive, and, as Steinman never tired of pointing. – Richard Wagner. They were so over the top that it took a very particular kind of vocalist to perform them: “Obviously playing a role, but obviously genuine,” as Steinman put it, a trick that was hard to pull off. Certainly Steinman himself couldn’t do it, as evidenced by his only solo album, Bad for Good. Neither were many others: Steinman tried to form bands to perform his material, but there were few takers in Pandora’s Box or The Dream Engine. Meat Loaf, however, could apparently do it with ease.

He had a background in musical theater and comedy, and a powerful voice that worked with histrionic hard rock; prior to Bat Out of Hell, he had sung lead vocals on a Ted Nugent album. It was a cocktail that gave him the peculiar ability to sing Steinman’s most absurd lyrics with absolute commitment and sincerity, while the contrast between his exaggerated stage personality (bulging eyes, red handkerchief clutched in his fist) and the common man he seemed to be being offstage let him know that he was in on the joke. That fit perfectly with Steinman.

Regardless of the ridiculous lengths his music went to, there was something realistic and relatable about the emotions at the core of his songs: Millions of people didn’t go out and buy Bat Out of Hell to laugh at him; They bought it because the saga of teenage romantics turned warring couples in Paradise By the Dashboard Light or All Revved Up With No Place to Go, the depiction of a self-aggrandizing teenager yearning to escape, rang true. You could believe it even when what you were hearing was unbelievable, and that was because of Meat Loaf. With all due respect to Bonnie Tyler, whose covers of Total Eclipse of the Heart and Holding Out for a Hero are masterpieces of take-no-prisoners thrills, and Cher, whose gutsy performance in Dead Ringer for Love is a blast. Absolutely no one could sell a Steinman song like Meat Loaf did.

Meat Loaf and Karla DeVito performing in Georgia.
Ridiculous and exciting… Meat Loaf and Karla DeVito performing in Georgia. Photograph: Rick Diamond/Getty Images

The simple truth is that no one was interested in Bat Out of Hell until they saw Meat Loaf performing their songs. Its first success came in Australia and the UK when a live video of the title track was shown on television. The record label that released it, Epic, hated the album (it had been signed by one of its minor subsidiary labels, Cleveland International) and refused to promote it properly until someone came up with the idea of ​​having Meat Loaf play live. at the label’s sales convention; constant touring and an appearance on Saturday Night Live took care of the rest. When Meat Loaf and the band showed up to play BBC2’s Old Gray Whistle Test in 1978, their appearance caused a sensation.

And why not? Look at the pictures of them. performing Paradise By the Dashboard Light. His voice already shows signs of the touring-induced wear and tear that would ruin the follow-up to Bat Out Of Hell, but that doesn’t matter. Meat Loaf is in all his frilly-shirt, googly-eyed, finger-pointing, handkerchief-waving majesty, while his duet partner, Karla DeVito, exaggerates for all she’s worth, alternately looking bored, stiff, furious or dismissive.

They skip to the section of the song where a baseball announcer details the progress of a backseat fumble. pretending to date each other. As DeVito rages at him about the marriage, Meat Loaf stares into the camera with a can you believe this shit? At another point, he trails behind her, gripping the microphone stand like he’s about to smash her over the head with it. The song ends with Meat Loaf doubled over, repeatedly yelling “I can’t take it anymore!” while DeVito puts his foot on his back and raises his arms in triumph.

He still looks completely deranged 44 years later. Now imagine showing up alongside the rest of the stuff Whistle Test offered that year: Dean Friedman, 10CC, Dire Straits, Billy Joel, Jefferson Starship. You might have a weird new wave band in there, but really, what price are Vibrators after something so flashy and wacky?

It’s hard to think of anyone else who could have put on such a performance, who could have done something so absurd and exciting at the same time: proof of the perfect partnership between Meat Loaf and Steinman. It’s hard to determine what Meat Loaf’s career would have been like if he hadn’t met Steinman, but it’s equally hard to imagine what would have happened to Steinman if he hadn’t met Meat Loaf. “We belonged body and soul to each other, we didn’t know each other, we didn’t They were each other,” Meat Loaf said after Steinman’s death last year. “I don’t want to die, but I may die this year because of Jim.” He was out for 20 days.

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