16. Meat Loaf

What do I know about Meat Loaf?  Well, he was in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which I saw a million times in the 1980s during those golden years when my pals and I were old enough to stay out late but not old enough to go to bars.  That's about it.  I don't even know the guy's real name.  Is Meat Loaf the singer's stage name or is it the band name (kinda like how Debbie Harry is emphatically not "Blondie", and there's no one named "Leonard Skinner" (sic)...)  Well, I dunno.  Hey wait, it says "Songs by Jim Steinman" on the cover.  Maybe Steinman is the guy who appeared in Rocky Horror as "Meat Loaf"?  I'm going with that.  It'd be so easy to look this up, but that's just not how this blog rolls.  

How does this blog roll?  I'm listening to this album for the first time ever, and have not done any research at all before listening today.  The writing is entirely my tabula rasa stream-of-consciousness first impressions, and was only edited for spelling and clarity.  Going in with nothing but the meager info about this artist that has leaked into my brain over the course of life, I'm taking it at face value.  Since I've got three decades as a sound engineer under my belt, I'll be listening equally to the merits of the music and the quality of the sound production.  For more info about the mission and background of this series, see C O N T E X T (post #00).

Meat Loaf
Bat Out of Hell
Version: Cleveland / Epic / CBS  #WEK-34974 

Meat Loaf

Bat Out Of Hell
Wow, this intro is like a boogie woogie jam played at 45rpm instead of 33rpm.  Then it crashes into something more moderate.  This feels like an overture.  Is this a concept album?  The playing is good.  That drummer is rock solid.  But these guitars: parallel 4th or 5ths again!  This is, what, the 4th or 5th post in a row where I had to suffer through this sound?  This whole record sounds is a bit heavier than I expected.  The cover art (more on that later) suggests a metal album, but the one song from this record that I already know ("Paradise By The Dashboard Light") is more middle-of-the-road.  Oh man, this big chorus, it totally sounds like a showtune.  No wonder this guy got cast in Rocky Horror.  Well, that came out before this record.  But he must have roots in musical theater.  It's got that vibe, but it is much more hard rockin' than the average musical.  Lyrically, it seems like he's trying to get laid here: 
"I gotta break it out now, 
before the final crack of dawn. 
So we gotta make the most of our one night together. 
When it's over you know, we'll both be so alone."  
Then he's gonna be gone, like a bat out of hell.  Oh, this break: it's kinda cool.  Flanged guitars and a chattering rock-n-roll 8th-note piano triplets like Jerry Lee Lewis or something.  A good effective bridge, a little change-up. Song seems like it's over around the 6m mark, but then there's this impossibly dirty dense crunchy guitar (almost like a motorcycle?) and we get a coda... this is where the dancing happens in the stage musical.  Then more verses.  This song has a new mood every 45 seconds, and it goes on for nearly ten minutes.  But it keeps up its energy and sustains interest for the whole time.  It was written by someone who knows what he was doing.  This Steinman character.  He's definitely written a couple-few songs before.  I guess that's why he got props on the album cover.  Like a showtune writer really.  They always get that credit, every bit as much as the actors or the writer of the book ("the book" is the play's story, in musical theater parlance).  Seems like Steinman and all of the players were all pros when they started this project.  Not a full-time band per se, but a careful assemblage of session players.  The way they're playing has that session player feel to it.  Hard to pin down why, but I can tell.

You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)
Oh, this spoken-word intro.  I've heard this.  Again, it's very theatrical.  And the reverb on their voices.  Digital reverb was in its very infancy when this record was released (1977).  We're hearing a chamber reverb.  They actually ran the vocalists' voices through a big empty room to get that reverberation, and miked the result.  I wanna know which studio this is.  It's a nice-sounding chamber.  Oh, this vocal hook, I have actually heard this song too.  So there's two songs that I know on this record.  But most of this song seems otherwise unfamiliar.  It didn't get anywhere near the airplay of "Paradise".  Or, I was able to turn it off faster.  This song has a lot going on.  Choirs, glockenspiels, sleigh bells.  A little Motown-style drum beat in sections.  Those glocks give a little Motown feel too.  This song and the past one both seem to be about this lusty guy.  Lots of pent-up adolescent tension here.  
"Now my body is shaking like a wave on the water; 
And I guess that I'm beginning to grin; 
Oh we're finally alone and we can do what we want to; 
The night is young'".  
This record is one of the best-selling of all time.  That's kind of surprising, given the heavily theatrical feel to it (then again, the South Pacific original cast recording was the single best selling record of the 1940s, so there's that).  The songs are also very long - but that said, it was released at the height of the prog era so people were used to hearing longer songs (but these Meat Loaf tunes definitely aren't prog tunes).  Still, this music was assembled with care.  The playing is good, the arrangements stay interesting, and so far we have two long songs, both of which sustain interest.  This fade though.  The hand claps and the otherwise a capella coda work, but the song still had energy, even after a bit more than five minutes.  They needed to bring the band crashing back in for a big finish then fade it.

Heaven Can Wait
Ah, the ballad.  Of course.  
"I got a taste of paradise, 
that's all I really need to make me stay".  
Yeah, this whole album is about the pursuit of some booty.  I know what's coming up lyrically with "Paradise By The Dashboard Light", and so far we're three-for-three with songs that foreshadow that theme.  There's a solid list of songs from the 1970s that use a very specific sort of faux-Baroque french horn arrangement style.  It was a trend back then.  There's a subtle use of it in this song, but it makes the list, along with "The Man With The Child In His Eyes" by Kate Bush and a whole bunch of others that I can't think of right now.  This song is kinda dull though.  Ballads can be great, but this one isn't holding me.  Still, it was assembled with the same care as the other songs have been.

All Revved Up With No Place To Go
This sax.  I really really hate this rock sax sound.  The guy in Bruce Springsteen's band is the worst.  Did he start the mania for this 1970s/1980s rock sax sound?  Ech.  I don't know where it came from.  The component of R+B that fed into early rock and roll used a sax like this, but those old-timers made it work (Louis Jordan, I'm looking at you, and with great fondness), but after laying low for a while it came back, but just... wrong.  Like the new Star Wars movies or something.  So much potential in the originals, but a new generation who just didn't get it ended up making it annoying.  Yeah, I fucking hate this sax tone so much.  When did it go away again?  Late 1980s?  Geez, I am surprised - quite pleasantly - that it hasn't come back again.  Anyway, the singer is still horny in this one.  
"Every Saturday night, 
I felt the fever grow; 
Do ya know what it's like, 
all revved up with no place to go".  
Got it.

Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad
Speaking of sounds I hate: this acoustic guitar.  They used a high-pass filter to get rid of everything below like 900 Hertz.  It sounds thin and chimey.  It's the worst. The rest of the mix is fine.  Actually the mixing on this whole record is just as competent as the playing and arrangement are, but we're into another limp ballad here.  
"I want you, I need you, 
but there ain't no way I'm ever gonna love you; 
don't be sad because two out of three ain't bad".  
That sounds like a country lyric.  But still, yeah, we have a whole album here about a guy who just wants to get some.  This song reminds me of that DJ Drama & Plies rap where Akon is singing all slow and tortured and sensitive, but addressing a stripper, auto-crooning: "I wanna fuck you".  First time I heard that one was in 2008 at a konbini (convenience store) in Tokyo at like midnight.  I couldn't believe what I was hearing.  This passionate ballad about how much he wants to pork a pole cat.  It's so ludicrous, it must have been a parody.  But it's not, and hearing it in the context of a Tokyo konbini's tinny sound system made it all the more surreal.  Akon delivers his plea so sincerely, with great yearning.  Anyway, this Meatloaf song is really the same thing.

Paradise By The Dashboard Light
Aside from way too many screenings of Rocky Horror, something else that happened about a million times in my youth was hearing "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" on FM radio.  It was kind of inescapable back then, but I don't think I've heard it in decades.  Somehow, I've managed to outrun it or something, perhaps with a mental motorcycle even more ridiculous than the one on this album cover.  And look at the guy riding it.  Is his spine broken?  He looks like he's in pain.  OK, I guess he was just in hell, so maybe he's not doing so well.  But he's escaping at least.  He should look happier, being recently de-helled and all.  Maybe he just broke his back.  The pose and the look on his face both support that theory.  Or yoga.  This guy got kicked out of hell for doing too much yoga.  Who painted this?  It looks like Richard Corben, who did a lot of stuff in good ol' Metal Hurlant around this same time period.  Anyway, this song spends a lot of time - 8m 28s - building a case for an essential truth about adolescent male sexuality, which is that a pubescent boy will say or do any fucking thing he has to in order to get laid.  All the young dudes are programmed that way by their very DNA.  They are biologically compelled by the most ancient forces of nature to fuck as much as possible.  From an evolutionary point of view, it is why he exists.  But modern life makes it so hard.  Heh.  So hard.  Quite so.  In the case of this song, the poor lad gets what he wants, and he regrets it when his girlfriend goes on to drive him crazy.  Lyrically there's a big punch line here, which is pretty obvious in retrospect, but hearing this song so regularly for so many years kind of diminishes the impact.  I'm surprised and not surprised that I could (if I wanted to which I don't) sing along with all of this.  The mix on this one sounds even more expensive than the others.  They put some effort into this.  And some cash. I'm listening to the drums during the "love scene" (where the baseball announcer is doing his thing).  This drummer is killing it, laying back on the groove after the snare on the four-beat, with that open hi-hat.  It's so simple, not showy, but it's all skill.  Subtle.  Then he wails on the fills at this section's er... climax.  This piano player is working hard too.  Lots of inventive stuff in the arrangement.

For Crying Out Loud
All right, so this guy finally got some, and regretted it.  Now we get a ballad.  This boy has exhibited a perpetual refusal to commit or open up to any emotions over the course of this record, always just wanting to get laid.  I predict he is going to crack by the end of this song and he's gonna fall for the girl.  That's the happy ending right?  Well he got the "happy ending" in the previous song.  But then he was sad about it.  
"I was cold and you were fire"  
Yup, here we go.  
This ballad is going to also build into a big album closer, I can feeeeel it.  
"For crying out loud, you know I love you"
There it is.  He's crabby about it, but he cracked.  Now he's really screwed.  A pause, some strings, a verse, and then - woah - at 4:36, we have the mother of all mid-ballad bombastic lifts.  The thing just gets huge.  This songwriting trope is predictable well beyond the scope of being a cliché, but this whole record's vibe has been about going big with the production, and they do indeed do.  Indeed.  But the mastering here... who the hell fucked this up?  It so so clearly and obviously distorted.  Someone totally fell asleep at the wheel on this one.  Complete and absolute fail.  Sounds like my loudspeaker is broken... but it's not.  The fucking mastering industry is broken.  Oh wait, the song has mellowed again.  Yeah, I can't even focus on this one anymore.  Ok, must focus.  So the lyrics in the last few minutes of this also-epic song (this one is 8m 43s).  Seem to be almost religious.  There's some stuff here that can easily be construed as him singing to his lord rather than the girl.  Maybe he dumped the dame and found Jesus.  

I don't really like this record, but I respect it.  Everyone involved - from the writers to the performers to the original engineers - were at the top of their game.  It's quality.  But I just don't dig the musical theater vibe.

I rarely do this, but after writing all of the above I had to look some stuff up:
Turns out that Jim Steinman is not Meat Loaf.  Michael Lee Aday is Meat Loaf, and yeah, he was in the original stage cast of Rocky Horror.  Makes sense.  The female voice on a few songs is the noted Ellen Foley.  Lo and behold, this record was produced by the admirable Todd Rundgren, with members of his band Utopia playing on it... as did a few guys from Springsteen's band.  But not the sax clown.  That's Edgar Winter playing that yakety sax on "All Revved Up".  Sorry Edgar.  Go away.  But I was in the ballpark with the Springsteen thing, and: "Rundgren found the album hilarious, thinking it was a parody of Springsteen."  Shit, Springsteen is his own parody.  It was recorded in several places, including Rundgren's Bearsville Studio in upstate New York.  No word on whether "You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth" was mixed there though (to get that reverb sound), but apparently Rundgren did mix that track so it's likely we're hearing Bearsville.  Steinman was a composer, lyricist, record producer, and playwright who also produced Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" which you'll never, ever, ever read about again in this series.  He died in April of this year [2021].  Corben did indeed paint the album cover.  His Den character in Metal Hurlant was always kind of lame anyway.  I was more of a Moebius guy.

Song for the IFHTB mix tape:
Ok, this album is like 47 minutes long (pushing the limits for the carrying capacity of a vinyl record in its day; the rule of thumb was to max out around 22 minutes per side before we start losing sound quality).  Three of the songs are over eight minutes.  This isn't really a mix tape friendly songwriting style.  It's a freakin' miracle that "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" was played on the radio.  It's as long as three regular pop singles.  I dunno.  Maybe "Hot Summer Night "... or we can end the mix with "Paradise"?

Jethro Tull, coming December 15, 2021

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