The year was 1977. While the rest of rock 'n' roll collectively shot itself at the onset of punk rock, one young man remained oblivious to it all. He, it seems, cared not one whit whether Pink Floyd ever met during recording or the Sex Pistols met during rehearsal. He had just written and produced (along with Todd Rundgren) what would one day become the biggest debut album of all time. The album was called 'Bat Out Of Hell' and his name was Jim Steinman.
Well, it still is of course, and we're now twelve years down the line. What little remains from those days is the fact that Steinman could never be bothered with the petty bickerings of the 'circus'; he had bigger fish to fry. His work has always been completely at odds with this framework. What we're talking about here is 'mini-opera' and when Steinman says he's 'Little Richard Wagner' he is only half-jesting. We think of Steinman - incidentally, 'Steinman' means 'Rock Man' in German - and we think of Loudness, Largeness, Wildness, Darkness - mon-u-mental words! - and if ever 'epic' meant something....well.
Since those heady daze, Jim Steinman has been writing and producing for an extraordinarily diverse range of artists. From his one and only solo album 'Bad For Good' and his involvement with Bonnie Tyler on 'Faster Than The Speed Of Night' (including its No.1, Grammy-Nominated, top-song of 1983, 'Total Eclipse Of The Heart') and 'Secret Dreams And Forbidden Fire', to his work as a producer, with The Sisters Of Mercy ('This Corrosion' and 'Dominion, Mother Russia'), and as writer and producer for Air Supply ('Making Love Out Of Nothing At All'), Barry Manilow ('Read 'Em And Weep'), and Barbra Streisand ('Left In The Dark'), one thing has remained unchanged: The Sound, so breathtakingly excessive, it could only be "The Richard Wagner of Rock 'n' Roll" (LA Times). Failing that, try "the Phil Spector of the '80s" (Billboard).
Convenient labels aside it is now 1989 and Jim Steinman has seen fit to unleash a wonderful new phenomenon upon us all - Pandora's Box, the band, 'Original Sin', the album. Possibly the Loudest and Biggest thing ever recorded (certainly by Steinman, and he's up there with the loudest and biggest of them), open it up and the Sins Of The World come flooding out. On the title track Steinman recorded thirty-five motor bikes and made a chord out of them, the result, - according to Steinman "the greatest sound I'd ever heard' - unfortunately blowing the studio console up. This halts the onslaught not one little bit, however, as the rest of the album blows away any preconceptions of where rock ends and opera begins; on 'Original Sin' they are as one. The themes touched upon are many and varied but redolent of Steinman's recurrent obsessions; the dark and dangerous side to love; sin and eroticism; strength through weakness. The single 'It's All Coming Back To Me Now', offers a glorious insight into the nature of love and death and is a classic case in point.
Written under the influence of 'Wuthering Heights' (definitely not Kate Bush's version), it focuses not upon our assimilated, romantic ideal of Heathcliffe and Cathy as lovers, but instead upon their ambiguous 'darker' nature; Heathcliffe digging up Cathy's body and then dancing with the dead body on the beach. In Steinman's songs the dead come to life and the living are doomed to die.
For 'Original Sin', Steinman has recruited four female vocalists who collectively make up Pandora's Box - Steinman plays keyboards and provides spoken parts. Individually they are: Elaine Caswell, a totally new talent with "the looks of an avenging angel" and who apparently collapsed five times during the singing of 'It's All Coming Back To Me Now'; Ellen Foley of 'Bat Out Of Hell' fame who Steinman describes as "the toughest girl I ever met" and who "should have been in the Shangrilas except she was much too young"; Gina Taylor, an amazing singer who Steinman first saw performing as Tina Turner ("as well as Tina ever did") in a sleazy club; and Deliria Wilde who is of Cuban, French, Italian and German descent (in that order) and who was thrown out of a nunnery five years ago for something so shocking Steinman can't even tell us what it is! Together they make up Pandora's Box while behind them a band consisting mainly of teenage boys - the girls apparently demanded this in their contracts - belt out the music. It's an extraordinary combination and one that works exceptionally well. There are moments of pure opera, and then, a common Steinman trick - he is a frustrated druid - sections of spoken word (as in 'The Want Ad' where Ellen Foley dons teenage girl persona and replies to the freaks who themselves replied to a personal ad she placed in a newspaper - "it's probably gonna bother a lot of people," says Steinman), impressively grand piano and epic, colossal rock 'n' roll.
Steinman's overall musical output over the last twelve years has been phenomenal. Briefly, apart from all the obvious stuff we might know about, he's also worked on three film soundtracks, (including 'Footloose' which gave Bonnie Tyler another hit single with 'Holding Out For A Hero'), directed the promo video for 'If You Were A Woman And I Was A Man' (Bonnie Tyler again) and will be starting production later this year on a new Electric Light Orchestra album. 'Bat Out Of Hell' for which Steinman wrote all the songs has been in the English top 200 since soon after its release in 1977 and has sold close to 17 million copies worldwide (triple platinum in America and one of the three largest selling records ever in the history of Canada and Australia). For the moment though, this is history and Pandora's Box and 'Original Sin' are beckoning in the future.
1977: Bat Out Of Hell.
1989: Back Into Hell.
Welcome To The Future.