(January 22, 2022). Meat Loaf, the legendary rocker with the powerful, theatrical singing voice—and noteworthy acting credentials to boot—died Thursday (January 20) in Nashville, TN. He was 74.
Many tributes—and probably as many memes—have been pouring in since the news of his death broke Friday morning. Given his over-the-top personality (or at least his public persona), his views on the pandemic (he famously proclaimed his disdain for government-imposed lockdowns), and his musical legacy, it’s easy to see why the Dallas-born icon with one of the biggest voices and one of the biggest-selling albums (1977’s Bat Out of Hell) in music history would spark a wide-ranging set of reactions upon the news of his death.
Whatever one believes about the cause of death (reported by TMZ to be Covid-19) and whether it could’ve been prevented, one thing’s for sure, the musical marriage that was created between Meat Loaf and his late songwriter/producer Jim Steinman was one for the ages. They created a musical soundtrack that has spanned generations and will likely last for several generations to come.
Not surprisingly, Steiman’s death in 2021 took a lot out of his partner in music. As “The Loaf” put it in an interview with Rolling Stone last year following Steinman’s passing, “We belonged heart and soul to each other. We didn’t know each other. We were each other.”
“After he died, his nurse, Mary Beth, left me a message saying how much he loved me,” Meat said. “She said I was the one person he needed more than anyone else in his life.”
Indeed, when they were together they created musical magic. All of Meat Loaf’s biggest hits were the result of the creative genius of Steinman who found the perfect vehicle in Meat who, in turn, gave Oscar-worthy (yes, Oscar, not just Grammy) performances of Jim’s musical vignettes.
Said Meat about his and Steinman’s collaborations, “I sang every song we ever did in character. I left me. I was not method. I didn’t have to find something in my past life to be able to sing his songs. I became the song and he saw the ability for me to become the song.”
Fittingly, those songs were often long in stature—both in their timing and their titles. Some of them clocked at ten, twelve minutes apiece.
Short song titles would not have done Loaf’s music justice. Of his ten Hot 100 hits, including his first one billed as the duet of Stoney & Meat Loaf, none of them had fewer than six words in their titles (note: “Bat Out Of Hell” didn’t make the Hot 100 when it was released nearly a year-and-a-half after its titular album). One of his last hits, “Objects In The Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are,” is among the longest titles ever for a top-40 hit without parenthetical subtitles.
The songs were all high-drama mini-operas whose vivid storylines played out in four-, six- and sometimes even 12-minute arias. It was a situation where the man and his music were perfectly matched: neither Meat nor his songs were small in stature and one was never too big for the other.
Yet despite all of his bombast, it seemed, thematically, that all of Meat’s big hits with Steinman centered on one very sensitive topic: love. And, in Meat’s case, that love was often elusive, fleeting or tragic…and always dramatic!
Take the four singles from his epic Bat Out of Hell album.
On the first one, “You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth,” Loaf’s protagonist confesses to his love interest that he intended to utter the words “I love you” but they must have eluded him during their highly anticipated first kiss. What boy prior to this had ever thought of using that as his excuse for not telling his girlfriend the only three words she likely ever wants to hear?
On “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad,” the album’s second single and first major hit, Loaf acknowledges to his partner that his inability to commit in a dying relationship can be attributed to the fact that he simply doesn’t love her, noting that two (wanting and needing her) out of three ain’t bad.
On the album’s third single, “Paradise By The Dashboard Light,” Meat Loaf and Steinman again tackled one of the most elusive aspects of a budding relationship—the carnal part—where the singer describes going out with a girl and that they’d park somewhere, only to have her go “stop right there!” just when he thought he was about to hit the proverbial home run. (Fun fact: Loaf later explained that the “dashboard” in the song was in a 1963 Red Galaxie Convertable.)
“Bat Out Of Hell,” the album’s title track and last single release, was a classic “car-crash” song with a protagonist who dies in a motorcycle accident before getting the chance to take the girl he loves out of their “rotting old hole” of a hometown. Again, love is on the horizon but never fully materializes—this time due to tragedy.
All of those songs, each now a classic in its own right, contained the type of drama that only Meat Loaf—who was also a stellar actor (most notably of Rocky Horror Picture Show fame)—could create. His ability to bring Steinman’s vivid lyrical imagery to life was one that few others shared.
Meat himself proclaimed this in that 2021 Rolling Stone interview while speaking about the legendary synergy between the singer and his deceased songwriter.
His point, essentially, was that the other singers who were fortunate enough to sing a Steinman tune couldn’t hold a candle to himself. This included legendary singers like Barbra Streisand (Steinman’s “Left In The Dark”) and Barry Manilow (“Read Em and Weep”).
Meat added that only Bonnie Tyler (whose 1983 classic “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was originally meant for him) did Steinman’s songs justice. (There was no mention, however, of Air Supply’s handling of Steinman’s “Making Love Out Of Nothing At All,” reportedly also meant for Meat Loaf and a concurrent chart topper with Tyler’s “Eclipse.”)
After Bat Out Of Hell, Steinman would write more songs for Loaf, namely for his 1981 followup album Dead Ringer, which included a rocking duet with Cher, the titular “Dead Ringer for Love.”
Of course, as that song’s title suggests, love appears to be fleeting or, at least, not genuine, as the two larger-than-life singers give their respective characters’ perspectives: Loaf as the lusting pursuer, Cher the unimpressed target whose only aim seems to be getting revenge on her “daddy.” It’s a fun tune, albeit one that, given both artists’ waning popularity during the early 1980s, was predictably not a hit.
Another single from Dead Ringer (and the album’s only Billboard Hot 100 chart entry), “I’m Gonna Love Her for Both of Us,” was a pitch from Loaf’s protagonist to his male friend about that friend’s neglected girlfriend and how, with the friend’s permission and, oddly, his trust, Loaf’s character would swoop in and love her for the both of them. Given the preposterousness of such an idea and the near-zero likelihood of it being accepted, it would be safe to also characterize this “love” as elusive.
After Dead Ringer, aside from a couple of previously recorded songs from earlier years, Meat Loaf and Steinman wouldn’t connect again professionally until 1993’s Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell.
That album’s lead-off smash, “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That),” put Meat Loaf and Steinman back in the spotlight once more, with all of their previous musical magic—and love-centered themes—on full melodramatic display.
In the inescapable song, which became Meat’s biggest hit and only No. 1 single, he again sings about the elusive nature of love, where the protagonist has to convince his girlfriend that he’s worthy of her affection while naming all of the things that he would—and wouldn’t—do to gain it. In the song’s coda, the female vocalist (Lorraine Crosby) sings, “Sooner or later you’ll be screwing around…”
“I won’t do that,” Loaf retorts.
On another of that album’s epic songs, the 10-minute “Objects In The Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are,” Meat sings of the various tragedies he’s endured in his lifetime, including, in the last verse, the story of a girl who “taught me everything I’ll ever know about the mystery and the muscle of love.”
But, in the end, just like the others, she vanishes, prompting Meat’s very specific observation: “I’ll probably never know where she disappeared, but I can see her rising up out of the backseat now just like an angel rising up from a tomb.” Again, elusive, fleeting love.
When it came to Meat Loaf and Steinman, perhaps the only love that wasn’t fleeting or elusive or even tragic—musically speaking, of course—was that of the music itself.
In his last true classic, a remake of Steinman’s own “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through,” Meat delivers a prayer to and for rock music, personifying it with lyrics like: “I treasure your love, I never want to lose it. You’ve been through the fires of hell and I know you got the ashes to prove it.”
The musical marriage of Meat Loaf and Steinman wasn’t always perfect, there were surely ashes to prove that—a law suit here, long gaps in communication there, contractual restrictions preventing even further collaboration.
Yet it was the kind of musical love affair that, when it worked, was truly special.
Sadly, this blogger always had the premonition that, when Steinman left this earth, Meat Loaf might not be far behind. That Rolling Stone interview, depressing as it was, seemed to predict it.
“I don’t want to die, but I may die (in 2021) because of Jim,” Meat said back then. “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.”
Maudlin? Perhaps. But that’s the kind of sentiment that characterized the pairing of Loaf and Steinman, the kind that manifested itself in the music they created.
And now, just nine months after Steinman’s death, comes Meat’s passing.
As for all the fleeting, elusive and tragic love that Meat Loaf sang about, courtesy of Jim Steinman’s pen, one thing was certain: theirs was a love that was neither fleeting nor elusive.
R.I.P. Meat Loaf (Michael Lee Aday, September 27, 1947 – January 20, 2022)
DJRob (he/him) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.
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