(April 23, 2020). As most people reading this know by now, the legendary singer/songwriter/producer (whose greatest contributions weren’t necessarily in that order) Jim Steinman died Monday, April 19. He was 73.
The tributes have been pouring in all week for the talented man who was best known for his theatrical song productions that became monster hits for several artists including Meatloaf, Bonnie Tyler, Air Supply, Barry Manilow, Celine Dion and others.
Steinman’s first and most notable success was Bat Out Of Hell, the iconic album he created with Meatloaf in 1977, which is among the best-selling LPs of all time. It contained three of his signature creations in “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad,” “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” and “You Took The Words Out Of My Mouth,” songs that set the proverbial stage for all the bombastic Steinman productions to come.
His most recent big chart smash was Celine Dion’s 1996 version of “Its All Coming Back To Me Now,” a vocal tour de force that spent more than a month at No. 2 that autumn behind ‘90s timepieces “Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)” and “No Diggity.”
In the intervening years were huge Steinman smashes like the No. 1 “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler, and its famous runner-up “Making Love Out Of Nothing At All” by Air Supply. Those two songs memorably held the No. 1 and No. 2 spots simultaneously on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks straight in October 1983, giving the producer a rare chart feat. Joining them in the top 40 during that time was Barry Manilow’s “Read ‘Em and Weep,” another epic Steinman creation (and one befitting Manilow’s own flair for slow build-ups and big finishes in his songs).
Steinman also contributed to several movie soundtracks, like 1984’s Footloose (Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero”) and Streets of Fire (several songs including Fire Inc.’s “Tonight Is What It Means to be Young” – a song I’ll admit is a guilty pleasure I have in my 45 collection as the picture below will attest).
Known for his bombastic multi-part song productions, his lyrical melodramas, and for getting the most vocally out of the singers he produced, Jim Steinman was indeed a one-of-a-kind creator in the music business. You wouldn’t have been out of place calling him the “godfather of power rock anthems,” a role in popular music he seemed to relish. The more outrageously over-the-top the production, the better for Steinman (and those who benefited from his theatrics).
Predictably, in tribute to the music legend, many entities – industry and news publications, music critics and online music groups alike – have taken on the task of ranking Steinman’s many hits. They’ve subjectively ranked what they believe to be his greatest creations (for himself and for others) and, as you might imagine, no two rankings are alike.
In its attempt to remove some of that subjectivity, Djrobblog came up with a list that takes into account all those rankings (as well as other factors) to create what the blogger believes to be a consensus outcome.
What follows is the composite ranking of Steinman’s 20 greatest songs, which factors in top-10 lists from the following sources:
- Billboard chart performances of his songs
- Billboard critics’ choices (published this week)
- Rolling Stone critics’ list (published this week)
- Amazon music experts’ rankings (published this week)
- Newsweek magazine’s rankings (published this week)
- Lost Pop Hits Facebook music group’s rankings (as determined by voting this week)
- Djrobblog’s ranking (I know, subjective, but hey I’m the blogger)
- Current iTunes digital store chart ranks (only used as a tie-breaker when necessary as only six of the songs were still listed on iTunes’ charts as of this publication.
Each source’s list was assigned points using an inverted-point scheme such that higher ranking songs received the most points. The inclusion of the results of the polling from the Facebook group Lost Pop Hits is a nod to the many members there who voted in tribute to Mr. Steinman. Because of the high number of votes, that factor is double-weighted for the purposes of the composite ranking.
Similarly, additional weighting was given to Billboard chart performance and to that magazine’s critics’ views to break ties (near the bottom of the list).
This is the first rating of this kind from djrobblog, where usually the lists are the result of only two factors: Billboard chart data and the blogger’s personal assessments.
But a tribute to Jim Steinman wouldn’t be appropriate without going all in and creating the most complex song ranking based on that multitude of factors.
So here it is, the complete, composite (and most comprehensive) ranking of Jim Steinman’s 20 greatest hits!
Twenty. “Tonight Is What It Means to be Young” – Fire Inc. (1984).
What a way to start off a Jim Steinman countdown! The sheer bombast of the intro and that dramatic female vocal: “If I can’t get an angel, I can still get a boy. And the boy will be the next best thing, the next best thing to an angel!” And it just goes up from there. Just wow! This Streets of Fire single petered out on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 80 in 1984. Full-length version timing: 6:54. [points: 30].
Nineteen. “Hulk Hogan’s Theme” – WWF All-Stars (1985).
Not to be confused with “Real American” – Hogan’s more catchy (and goofily patriotic) entrance theme music penned by Derringer, Steinman’s piano-driven ode to the wrestling legend also appeared on 1985’s The Wrestling Album and was all instrumental, except for the anonymously supplied “Hulk” chants plugged throughout. Full-length version: 4:30. [points: 50]
Eighteen. “Nowhere Fast” – Fire Inc. (1984).
This was mid-eighties bombast at its best. The group-sung vocals on this fast-paced number could easily have found a home in a Broadway musical, or a “rock and roll fable,” as the ill-fated movie from which it came, Streets of Fire, was billed. Somehow it evokes the musical “Hair” for me, particularly the “Godspeed” chants towards the end. Full-length version: 6:03. [points: 55]
Seventeen. “Rock Me Tonite” – Billy Squier (1984).
This is the only song on the list that Steinman didn’t have a hand in writing. But he did co-produce it with Squier, so it’s included here. Squier was once the subject of a Casey Kasem AT40 story in which the singer hated how people misspelled his last name (by switching the last two letters). Squier also later attributed his career’s demise to the video for this song, which was his biggest hit, ironically. Full-length version: 4:57. [points: 59]
Sixteen. “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” – Meatloaf (1993).
Meatloaf often claimed that many of Jim Steinman’s creations for other people were intended for him. Well, he got a chance to put his take on a song originally recorded by Steinman himself (his version is coming later in this list). Meatloaf’s version proved to be the bigger chart success nearly a decade after the original, a fact largely attributed to the momentum created by its No. 1 predecessor (also coming up later). Full-length version: 5:50. [points: 59]
Fifteen. “Bad for Good” – Jim Steinman (1981).
Steinman wasn’t the vocal powerhouse that his song protégés were, but that didn’t stop him from trying. On this mammoth title track from his only charting album, the talented pianist sang: “And I know that I’m gonna be like this forever, I’m never gonna be what I should. And you think that I’ll be bad for just a little while, But I know that I’ll be bad for good.” In this song, we learned that not only do powder kegs “give off sparks,” but so do the Northern Lights. Oh, and that “Godspeed” chant he later used in the Fire Inc. cut “Nowhere Fast” also appeared here. Nothing wrong with going to the same well a few times for inspiration if it works. Full-length version: 8:43. [points: 70]
Fourteen. “More” – Sisters of Mercy (1990).
This song was co-written by Steinman and Sisters of Mercy frontman Andrew Eldridge. It’s built on a looped synth riff (and Steinman’s piano) and is perhaps the hardest-edged song in Steinman’s repertoire. The urgent-sounding refrain “And I need all the love that I can get” is wonderfully sung by female backing vocalists, and they contrast Eldridge’s bass-baritone nicely. The song topped the alternative rock charts in 1990 for several weeks. Full-length version: 8:23. [points: 75]
Thirteen. “Left in the Dark” – Jim Steinman (1981).
Most critics note that the vocally superior Barbra Streisand and Meatloaf recorded more accessible versions of this Steinman song from his Bad for Good debut album. But no one should discount the genuine vulnerability that Steinman’s quavering vocals evoke here. Oddly, the song is omitted from Spotify’s version of the album, where you can find the remakes by Streisand and the Loaf. Full-length version: 8:03. [points: 85]
Twelve. “Dead Ringer for Love” – Meatloaf and Cher (1981).
This song featured an uncredited Cher who was nestled somewhere between her disco-ey “Take Me Home” and her John Farrar “I Paralyze” eras. She fit in nicely here (she did have some experience with melodrama on her early ‘70s story songs) as she and Meatloaf traded vocals while a rocking instrumental provided the backdrop. At just four minutes and 20 seconds, this is easily the shortest song on this list (it’s worth noting here that only three clock in at under five minutes, while six are over eight minutes long). Full-length version: 4:20. [points: 100]
Eleven. “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” – Jim Steinman (1981).
This was the only top-40 hit billed to Steinman as an artist, topping out at No. 32 during the very middle-of-the-road, adult-contemporary year that was 1981. It’s also the highest of the three Steinman-billed tunes that made this list, all from his suddenly very interesting album Bad for Good. Singer and frequent Steinman collaborator Rory Dodd provided vocals for the track. Full-length version: 6:26. [points: 129]
Ten. “Bat Out of Hell” – Meatloaf (1977).
This was the title track to – and the first of four songs on this list from – Meatloaf’s grandest album. Of course, the song is a sonic masterpiece, but I’m reminded of the great marketing of Steinman’s brand at the time, as the album carried the sub-billing “songs by Jim Steinman” on the front cover right beneath the title. Fittingly, it’s Steinman’s piano and musical composition that dominates during the song’s intro, as we don’t hear Meatloaf sing until nearly two minutes into this nearly 10-minute track. Full-length version: 9:49. [points: 130]
Nine. “Read ‘Em and Weep” – Barry Manilow (1983).
Jim Steinman returned Barry Manilow to the top 20 for the first time in over two years with this power ballad in early 1984. It also was Manilow’s last top-40 single in a career that had 25 of ‘em. Clearly the musical marriage of Steinman and Manilow boosted the “Mandy” singer, given that Steinman had just dominated the pop chart’s top two positions with hits by Bonnie Tyler and Air Supply the month prior to this song’s release. Steinman even got Manilow to go up an octave on the tune’s second verse, something he wasn’t accustomed to with his previous hits. Full-length version: 5:25. [points: 189]
Eight. “Holding Out for a Hero” – Bonnie Tyler (1984).
Bonnie Tyler hadn’t had a hit in five years before she hooked up with Steinman on 1983’s “Total Eclipsed of the Heart,” which is coming up later. It only took her a few months after that to deliver another top-40 follow-up, courtesy of this song from the Footloose soundtrack. The song peaked at No. 34 while the more popular title track was finishing up its No. 1 run on the Hot 100. Is it me or doesn’t this song feel like it would’ve been better suited for the Streets of Fire soundtrack later that year? Full-length version: 5:48. [points: 254]
Seven. “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth” – Meatloaf (1978).
Does anything top this spoken-word intro between male and female? Question: “On a hot summer night, will you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?” Answer: “Will he offer his mouth?” The song is considered Meatloaf’s first solo single, but it didn’t take off until after his next two became top-40 hits. This one eventually followed suit, reaching No. 39 in 1979, nearly a year and a half after its initial release. Full-length version: 5:04. [points: 275]
Six. “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” – Meatloaf (1978).
This was the sleeper hit that started it all for both Meatloaf and Steinman in 1978. Although the album was released in late ‘77, this song wouldn’t enter the charts until the following March. It took nearly four months from then to reach its peak of No. 11 that July. Perhaps one of the most cleverly worded songs in Steinman’s repertoire with numerous real-life unlikely scenarios (like finding a Coupe de Ville at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box) meant to show one’s futile attempts at finding love – when being wanted and needed should be enough – is just that, futile. Like the rest of the album, this song was produced by Todd Rundgren. Full-length version: 5:24. [points: 329]
Five. “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” – Celine Dion (1996).
If ever there was a musical match made in heaven during the 1990s, it was the pairing of powerhouse singer Celine Dion and songwriter/producer Jim Steinman. Filled with all the crescendos and explosions you’d expect from a Steinman track, Dion more than held her own vocally. The reward was another million-seller that spent five frustrating weeks at No. 2 behind the more novelty-like songs “Macarena” and “No Diggity.” Steinman continued his penchant for vagueness in his lyrics: “when you see me like this and when I see you like that, we see what we want to see, it’s all coming back to me now.” We’re not sure what the “this” and the “that” are, but we’re satisfied nonetheless. Full-length version: 7:36. [points: 394]
Four. “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” – Meatloaf (1978).
This song was the true definition of a rock opera squeezed into a nearly nine-minute opus. The lady joining Meatloaf on this classic is Ellen Foley, who in today’s parlance would certainly be deserving of a label and chart feature credit, which wasn’t always a thing for unsung contributors in 1978. The song’s abrupt shift from the rock anthem it was during the first three minutes to a disco-ey number soundtracking a metaphorical baseball game play-by-play call for the next minute or so is legendary. The back-and-forth between Meatloaf and Foley afterwards is just iconic. Easily the best song on Bat Out of Hell. Full-length version: 8:28. [points: 445]
Three. “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” – Air Supply (1983).
Russell Hitchcock’s vocals powered this power rock ballad by Air Supply, but it had Steinman’s signature all over it, from the soft piano intro to the dramatic power chords that drove it the rest of the way. Crescendos and crashes abound on this No. 2 smash by the duo from Melbourne Australia (the other Russell was Graham Russell). It famously sat in the chart’s runner-up spot behind Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse” for three weeks in late 83, and it would prove to be Air Supply’s last of eight top ten hits, creating a fate similar to Barry Manilow’s later that year. Full-length version: 5:41. [points: 494]
Two. “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” (1993).
For those who still believe there’s a mystery, here are the six things that Meatloaf wouldn’t do – as mentioned very clearly throughout this huge No. 1 song’s lyrics: 1) “I’ll never forget the way you feel right now; 2) “I’ll never forgive myself if we don’t go all the way”; 3) “I’ll never do it better than I do it with you so long, so long”; 4) “I’ll never stop dreaming of you every night of my life, no way”; 5) “After a while you’ll forget everything as a brief interlude and a midsummer night’s fling; Then you’ll see that it’s time to move on”; 6) “It’ll all turn to dust and we’ll all fall down, sooner or later, you’ll be screwing around.” Full-length version: 11:58. [points: 524]
One. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” – Bonnie Tyler (1984).
Any surprise here? No matter how you slice it, this Bonnie Tyler classic anthem comes out on top. Of the seven metrics used for this list, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” ranked in the top four of all seven and in the top two for five of them, ranking at No. 1 for both Billboard charts and Lost Pop Hits Facebook group’s poll. Simply put, Jim Steinman may not have produced a better masterpiece.
Rory Dodd deserves credit here also. Without his haunting refrain of “turn around bright eyes,” would we even be talking about this? Give the album version a listen to hear Dodd vamp out at the end. Pure talent on his part, and pure genius on Steinman’s. Full-length version: 6:57. points: 734]
R.I.P. Jim Steinman, November 1, 1947 – April 19, 2021. Your music will forever live on in our hearts!
DJRob 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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