Rock 'n' Roll In Gothic Panavision
By Sandy Robertson
Apart from the enthusiasm engendered by the richly encrusted aural jewelry of 'Bat Out Of Hell' (Meat Loaf's stunning debut album), the thing that made me quite happy to be sitting in the CBS offices at midnight on a lonely, Citizen Kane level (for yes, this was a London to New York 'phone interview'), was the fact that Jim Steinman (the conceptual rock genius who composed all the record's songs) was apparently once in a group that boasted the title of The Clitoris That Thought It Was A Puppy. Pieces of info like that really make my day, y'know? And having picked up that little beauty from an American article recently I had to know more…
Well, I do know about an earlier Meat Loaf record on Rare Earth, the Motown subsidiary for white men, called 'Stoney and Meat Loaf'…What was it like? Over to Meat Loaf: "It was junk! It was like an r&b sorta thing, y'know? That was eight years ago. That was my first record contract and I really didn't know what I was doing, so I just did what they told me to do."
The only other recorded evidence of the man mountain's vocal prowess seems to be ML's appearance as vocalist on Ted Nugent's 'Free For All' ear mutilation special.
"I met Ted a long time ago. I had a rock 'n' roll band back in the sixties…67,68,69, outta Detroit, that opened for people like the Who, Cream, Joplin, Hendrix at big pop festivals…not anything like Woodstock, just festivals that'd last for two days. Ted had the Amboy Dukes and I was the opening act on a sixty day tour with him. We were called 'Popcorn Blizzard', nuthin important."
Reportedly, the Meat Loaf stage show is amazing and theatrical. Indeed, that's how the team of ML and songwriter Jim Steinman got together…via the stage. There was a play titled 'More Than You Deserve' and: "Jimmy wrote the words and music. I auditioned for him and I got the part and we've been working together ever since. That was about six years ago. I did plays in between, but the last three years we've worked together solid."
Meat Loaf's album, in case you don't know it, is a beautifully produced slab of visionary rock grandiosity. Todd Rundgren goes bananas on knob twiddling and guitar, the whole thing being very classically structured in a peculiarly American way. It evokes everything from heavy metal to Spector (the single 'You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)' ought to be a hit) to Springsteen.
Some people might see this as a shrewd record company marketing exercise. Like Frank Zappa seems to think that rock groups in the States are invented by the record companies as surrogates and/or replacements for other bands. Meat Loaf is confident: "I don't think he'd say the same thing about me, because there's not another rock band doing what I'm doing. I'm not a copy of anybody. They try to compare me to Springsteen, but he mentions Harlem and names of streets and things in his songs. He's very street oriented and ours is very fantasy…fever 'n' fantasy! It's rock 'n' roll, it relates back to where rock 'n' roll really started more than the homogenized rock 'n' roll of the 70's. People like Peter Frampton to me are manufactured by record companies. They really have nothing to say, they're just cute. They're like appliances, like a television, or a refrigerator."
Still, a lot of people may be suspicious of a guy who was an actor in Shakespeare, 'Hair' and 'The Rocky Horror Picture' Show getting up on stage and doing something which is so self-avowedly theatrical in rock.
"The live show we do is theatrical, but we don't use lasers, we don't use smoke or fire or anything like that. Kiss and Alice Cooper's theatrics didn't come from within the music. The basis of our whole thing has been trying to put across the dramatics of what we do live on the record. The record is very cinematic. We're both into films, like 'Bat Out Of Hell' to Jimmy was like the beginning of 'Psycho'. His songs are visions in his head. It's like rolling films in our heads when he writes and I perform. Jimmy's a genius…he writes and arranges and he leaves the stage thing pretty much to me."
The album is on Epic, but devious are the twists and turns you have to go to get your ideas on vinyl: "The album was done before we went to CBS. We started out on RCA and they didn't want to use Todd Rundgren as producer, so we went to Bearsville and Warners wanted it, because Bearsville is a subsidiary of Warners, and then CBS came up with a better deal."
As all good business students will know, Epic is part of CBS, so the album is out now on that company's distribution network, but also bears the logo of Cleveland International. Confusing stuff, but Jim Steinman can handle all this easily, apparently scrupulously studying the airplay charts in search of the great hit in the sky. They even fought to get the cover exactly the way they wanted, drafting in 'Heavy Metal' magazine artist Richard Corben from way out in Kansas to realize their concept of heroic motorcycle fantasy.
"He did that cover in 4 days…we wanted it like German opera records with gothic lettering…mythical, like a god."
Apparently, Japanese reporters went crazy on seeing it.
How does Meat Loaf, a giant man who had to be given oxygen backstage once and who does 'River Deep, Mountain High' live, see himself as relating to the new wave?
"There's three elements that I look at as rock 'n' roll, which are the fever, the fantasy and the fun…There's gotta be that fun, and I think punk misses it a little bit for me. The fever of rock 'n' roll is in the new wave. Some of them (punk fans) come to see us and they enjoy it. I think the Ramones are funny and the Sex Pistols…I don't think it was all as negative as people were letting on. I think people took it overboard."
Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman are the best visionary/artist team in over-the-top hard rock since Blue Oyster Cult met Sandy Pearlman. In the same way that Pearlman used The Cult as a vehicle for the merging of his militaristic/Black Sabbath/Lovecraftian themes and obsessions, Meat Loaf is the perfect interpreter for the Steinman exploration of cliché and young America.
The only difference is that it's taken The Cult years to get to the point where they can get in hooks, memorable tunes as well as chrome screams from the underground, whereas Meat Loaf's album abounds with them. The Spectorish single with it's hand clapping middle, 'Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad'- ballad mastery. 'All Revved Up With No Place To Go'-Springsteen stylization supreme, the title cut - BOC meets 'Sweet Jane' ('R&R Animal' version, that is).
On the evidence of one of those 'official live bootleg' things, Meat Loaf live seems to be guitar-oriented, energetic, crowd-pleasing and very dramatic. ML prefaces 'All Revved Up…' with a poetic yet straightforward rap which is presumably a Steinman creation, judging by the way in which Jimbo spins off into flights of fancy in the interviews recently featured in the American rock press, tales of death by guitars, girls as human surfboards, etc, etc.
They've been touring solidly for months and a U.K. visit is planned soon. Will they be headlining?
"Yeah…I won't do anything but that." Another album is planned with Todd Rundgren producing again and Richard Corben once more doing the graphics.
Before we finished, I had to inquire…The Clitoris That Thought It Was A Puppy?!
"Yeah…I've heard Jim mention that. There was another one too, Naugahyde sumthin'…He says that the reason he joined the group was to make some money and meet girls. I would say that back when he was doing that and I was doing my rock 'n' roll band neither of us was very serious about our music. We've suddenly become very artistic and very serious!"
Being a Meat Loaf fan, I have one question I must ask all you SOUNDS readers: On a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?
As on the record, I hope the answer is a thrilled "yes".