Brains, Brawn and A Bat Out Of Hell

The Scene - Northeastern Ohio’s Free Rock Music Magazine
- Vol.8, No.48

This interview with the soon-to-be-infamous Meat Loaf and his partner in crime, Jim Steinman, didn’t start out that way. Actually, the two creators of the Bat Out Of Hell album (on Cleveland International Records) phoned me to take issue with a concert review I did of them when they appeared at The Cleveland Agora a few weeks back.

Although I had loved the Bat Out Of Hell album and had met Meat Loaf and Steinman when they were in town, we never really got together to discuss their music seriously. So, when they called and began chiding me a friendly manner, I thought I’d better turn the tape recorder on.

After I finished talking with the two amiable artists, I realized that we’d been on over and hour and that I had more than enough material for an interview. Ironically, when they were in town in November I’d passed on a chance to talk with them because of my schedule. No matter. The result is that the Meat Loaf story is unfolded here, and it’s a story that shows that these two talents have only just scratched the surface of their capabilities. The future holds many surprises for an unsuspecting rock public.

Meat Loaf was born in Dallas, Texas and decided to make his nickname his stage name as well. He’s been using that handle for years. When Meat Loaf starred in The Rocky Horror Picture Show film, he played the part of Eddie, a greaser with half a brain. He doubled in that film (and onstage) as Dr. Scott.

Jim Steinman hails from California, but lives in Long Island these days. Steinman and Meat Loaf joined forces when they both worked on The National Lampoon Show. Meat Loaf recalled his past experiences working as an actor:

“I’ve done a lot of Broadway shows and a lot off-Broadway things. When Jim and I did National Lampoon together, it was really crazy. For the Lampoon show, I’d go in a corner and just sit and stare from my chair for maybe four minutes. The lights were down low, and Jim would play piano. I’d just stare at them and Jim would be playing dramatic stuff. They’d get nervous and I’d just sit there; some people would dance, some would giggle and I’d just stare. Then I’d turn to the audience and smile, saying, ‘I’ll bet you’d like to know wheat the hell I going on, wouldn’t you?’”

After doing the Lampoon thing, Meat Loaf sang with Ted Nugent’s band on the Free For All album - warming up for the project that he and Steinman were planning. At the time, Meat was staying with Chevy Chase (of Saturday Night Live fame), and he and Steinman were getting ready for a concept album to end all concept albums: Bat Out Of Hell.

That project was finally realized last January, being produced and engineered by Todd Rundgren. The seven lengthy songs featured Kasim Sulton and other members of Todd’s entourage, as well as Edgar Winter (on saxophone), Max Weinberg (drums) and Roy Bittan (piano). The latter two fellows are from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, and it was no coincidence that Meat Loaf used these two, as he explained regarding Springsteen’s affecting of their project:

“One night Jim went down to see Springsteen play in New York, and he came back and told me that he couldn’t believe that Springsteen was doing the same thing we were planning to do. But Jim and I were doing what we’re doing before we ever heard of him. We were already working together when we heard of him. We’re nothing like he was, though; he’s real dramatic, too, but in a different sense.”

Anyway, Todd Rundgren did the record with a minimum amount of trouble, and Steinman and Meat Loaf were relieved at his helpful approach.

“Todd was great,” Steinman said. “I was amazed at how he didn’t impose his things on the project. He actually terrified me a bit because I expected him to come in and say, ‘I want a minute here in the song for some incredible guitar adds.’ But instead it was “Why don’t you tell me exactly what you want?’ It worked brilliantly.”

“I was actually more in awe of Max and Roy than I was in awe of Todd,” the pianist continued. “When I met Max, he was totally perplexed that I ran up to him and hugged him; he’s the most unassuming person in the world. He’s just a drummer I love, though, because he’s not self-conscious about his technique. He is an incredibly emotional drummer, and he’s responsible for a lot of the momentum on Bat Out Of Hell.”

The title cut from the album is one gargantuan production number. It’s almost nine minutes long, but because it builds in various sections, it’s incredibly well paced. I told Steinman that it must have been a bitch to record that one. He laughed.

“Bat Out Of Hell was actually done in one take,” he revealed. “When we went into the studio to cut it, I thought we were gonna be at it for 10 hours or more just getting the music down. Todd said we were gonna play it in one take, and we actually did. However, we spent $10,000 mixing that song. We mixed it about 20 times or so. It was much harder to mix than it was to record. I’d never been through anything as traumatic as mixing that song, though.”

Steinman writes all of the music and lyrics, and Meat Loaf interprets them and delivers the goods. But how does a man go about writing such an emotionally draining song, one so full of imagery?

“Well, Bat Out Of Hell was always a phrase I liked a lot,” said Steinman. “And I wrote the first two choruses and stopped. Then I decided I wanted to have a motorcycle crash in it; I always loved those car songs where people die - like Tell Laura I Love Her and things like that. I love that stuff.”

The first single form the album, though, is the song that follows the title cut on the album: the Phil Spector-ish You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth. Steinman explained that this song and several others on the album were written for a musical he put together some time ago. It was to be a futuristic version of Peter Pan, called Neverland. You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth opens with a spoken dialog from Ellen Foley (one of the girls from TV’s Three Girls Three) and Steinman.

“That intro,” Steinman said, “was much longer than what we put on the record. It was basically a wedding scene where Wendy is initiated into the pack of lost boys. She becomes their mother, their girl, their wife; I always loved Peter Pan.”

Steinman grafted this spoken intro onto the song to create tension from the spoken word to silence; then the music charges in. And dynamics and dramatics such as these are what make Bat Out Of Hell more than just a rock and roll album.

Steinman may create the tension, dynamics and lyrical genius that graces the tracks on Bat Out Of Hell, but onstage it is Meat Loaf who reigns supreme. In that setting, Steinman’s job is to play piano and drive the excellent road band that was put together (no mean feat) to duplicate and expand upon Bat Out Of Hell. Meat Loaf, meanwhile, creates his own tension onstage. He has been getting rave reviews and drawing large crowds in every city on their current tour. When the band played Cleveland, it was only their fourth gig, but they still blew everyone away.

“I work off improvisation; that’s my whole thing,” the singer said. “That’s where I’m coming from. Improv is like the pacing that I do and acting really nervous. I like to set up a song when I go onstage. I am an actor and I deal in theater; that whole pacing thing is part of that. I’ve performed for as many as 115,000 people and I’ve developed a lot of techniques over the years. I mean, Jim and I tried to keep it underground that we were from the theater. We want to create a different kind of rock and roll atmosphere onstage. As we go along and get more money, it’ll be more theater. I mean…this is really dramatic material we’re doing. It isn’t as easy to understand because we’re not, uh, Eric Carmen, you know?”

When I saw Meat Loaf perform, I misinterpreted some of his onstage mannerism for nervousness. He said he understood why:

“You’re basically into rock and roll, and I understand that. However, what we’re doing is different; we try to make the concert hall a living room to a point. See, everything is really well planned out. I mean it. Still, there’s always that freedom which allows us to do at any point whatever improv we want to do. What we do now is only half a skeleton of what we’re trying to do. We’ve got plans for real theater. We aren’t into flash pots and smoke bombs; we’re into dramatics.”

So, you haven’t heard the last of the dynamic duo of Steinman and Meat Loaf. Before we hung up our respective phones, I asked Steinman why the act is simply called Meat Loaf and why his own name wasn’t attached to it.

“Originally it was Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman,” he answered, “but it was changed ‘cuz we got a lot of flack from people who thought it’d be easier to market that album and package if it were just Meat Loaf. To me, Meat Loaf represents an overall project.”

Meat Loaf himself views their collaboration and partnership as a long-lasting one. “We’ve been together so long, it’s that old thing if he’s cut, I bleed. We’re that close,” the singer concluded.

When I hung up the phone I realized that I’d just talked to two of rock’s most sincere and interesting innovators. Then I cranked up Bat Out Of Hell on my tape player and thought about what they’d said.

The Meat Loaf Success Primer

The Scene - Northeastern Ohio’s Free Rock Music Magazine
- Vol.9, No.34

Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman in interview

There’s a story that I tell about getting the first cassette of Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell album. (It was exactly one year ago this week that it happened.) The story involves me playing this cassette (which was not even in stereo) for everyone who came into my office. I took the tape to last year’s Rock Awards and played it for people in LA. I was infatuated, through and through, by this odd collection of rock and roll fantasies.

A lot of people thought that Cleveland International was buying me off with sex, drugs and what not. Truth is, I was just a boy, giving it all away. Anyway, Meat Loaf found himself one staunch supporter the day I first heard that little cassette.

What was it that made me love this record so much? I tried to analyze it. I tried to rationalize it. I really didn’t know what it was. There hadn’t been an album in years that hade me recall so much teenage vision, so much humor and so much fury. I just knew that Bat Out Of Hell was a mother of an album and that I couldn’t stop playing it.

I was not alone: Clevelanders got into Bat Out Of Hell right off the proverbial bat. WMMS-FM started playing the album in really heavy rotation and getting more and more requests. Other markets weren’t so quick to become believers.

When Meat Loaf and composer/pianist Jim Steinman formed a live band to play the tunes that Todd Rundgren and Utopia, along with a host of session greats, had made so dynamic, I was skeptical. However Meat Loaf’s stage show was as powerful and convincing as his album. Those other markets were not long for this world: Meat and company would soon conquer. The band toured on an endless stream of dates. Meat’s dates in London and Europe were accepted with a fever-like response. The stage show had developed into a really dramatic look at Jim Steinman’s songs. Believers were being picked up every day; so were radio stations.

The Appeal Of Meat: The song titles themselves were inspiring enough - each one was a cliché. Each cliché was already a well-known saying that was easy to remember.

All of the songs were about lust, love, innocence and frustration. Some people called them “terminally teenage.” I called them genius. Bat Out Of Hell, For Crying Out Loud, You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth, Heaven Can Wait, Paradise By The Dashboard Light, All Revved Up With No Place To Go, and Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad were all great titles. As you can see, they are all clichés.

The lyrics to Jim Steinman’s songs are brilliant. Good rock lyrics are hard to find but Steinman had a gold mine of lyrics in Bat Out Of Hell. His lyrics were clever, funny and totally heartfelt:

You’ll never find your gold on a sandy beach
You’ll never drill for oil on a city street
I know you’re looking for a ruby in a mountain of rocks
But there ain’t no Coupe de Ville hiding at the bottom of a Cracker Jack Box
(from Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad)

The arrangements of the songs were just as much a part of the magic. There’s drama in every guitar passage and fire in the chords. The passion of the lyrics and the drive of the band make for a successful marriage.

Then there’s Meat Loaf himself. His voice is unlike any other. He is theatrical and macho where other singers are typical. Every song is a one-act play and each song is a real story. Some singers sing the songs on the record and perform them in the studio and act them out onstage. And some people are still wondering what all of the fuss is about?

Meat The Man: Meat Loaf is already one of rock’s most talked about figures. With only one album under his (large) belt, Meat Loaf has gone from being a lightweight contender to a heavyweight superstar.

The Dallas born Meat Loaf got into rock ass backwards, so to speak. He was an actor in the National Lampoon Show and hung out with the cast (including Chevy Chase and a pianist named Jim Steinman). Prior to that he starred in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (he’s on the album and film version) as Eddie, the biker with half a brain. He sings a few songs and, generally, blends into the film quiet well. The film is picking up tremendous momentum as a Midnight Movie attraction and a lot of the renewed interest in the film is due to Meat’s recent success.

He’s soft spoken unless provoked. Meat once cornered and scolded me for printing that he was a good singer, but not a sex symbol. Meat pulled out a book of phone numbers he’d collected on the road. The proof is in the pudding.

So, Meat Loaf is a sex symbol, of sorts. However, unlike other rock superstars, he isn’t untouchable. No, Meat’s whole thing is that he’s just another guy walking around.

If Meat Loaf is a sex symbol, he is one to thousands of non-trendy looking women. Most groupies (you know: skinny blondes with bare midriffs and big balconies) would find Meat such a strange character that they wouldn’t know how to handle him. For the most part, Meat Loaf has proven that you don’t have to be some half-starved pinhead to become a rock and roll star. And for all of the guys in the audience, Meat Loaf represents normalcy - the kind of guy you might work at the machine shop with. So, when Meat sings All Revved Up With No Place To Go, he can sell the song; he’s been there, brother.

Counterpoint: If Meat Loaf is the macho side of the act, then Jim Steinman is the intellectual side of the image. A total New Yorker in speech and approach, Steinman talks fast and thinks faster. He’s an excitable boy and he loves his work. Steinman has recently stopped playing piano with the band (except for special dates) in order to write the material for the second album.

Steinman is a man with vision, a strange combination of businessman and artist. It’s a winning combination.

Steinman was able to use his excellent writing and playing skills to compose an album of total fantasy. Most of the songs on Bat Out Of Hell were from a rock and roll play he wrote called Neverland; it was a rock version of Peter Pan. People thought he was crazy.

However Bat Out Of Hell is now a platinum album and Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad was a huge Top 40 hit this summer. Steinman is a success.

Steinman prefers really good pop music to anything else. He’s a big Raspberries fan and a big fan of music in general. His enthusiasm for music is what makes his work so diverse and captivating.

Marketing The Meat: It hasn’t always been a breeze. Selling Meat Loaf was a laborious and frustrating thing several months ago. The strategy was to totally saturate every possible media: interviews, special pressings of the album on picture disc, live broadcasts, television, radio shows. “Whatever it takes” seemed to be the motto of the people at Cleveland International Records, based right here in town.

Having an act like Meat Loaf presented a few immediate problems. First, Meat Loaf was a hulking guy who wasn’t a socialite or a pretty boy. Secondly, the songs on the album were long and many radio programmers freaked out or wanted edited versions of the songs. Thirdly, the album was getting heavy airplay in the Midwest, but was almost totally ignored on the West Coast. To this day, Meat Loaf isn’t nearly as big in LA as he is in other parts of the country.

There were lots of stigmas to overcome in marketing Meat Loaf. The graphics from the album appeared in posters, billboards, press ads and all over the world. It’s not over yet, either.

The Moral Of The Meat: The moral of this story is that if you want something bad enough, and really believe in it, then there is no stopping you. Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman weren’t just content to make a brilliantly hip album. They didn’t expect the “company” to sell it for them and make them both millionaires. The devoted crowds didn’t just appear out of nowhere and the mania wasn’t something that a good press agent bought them.

No, Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman have been selling their dream from the day Bat Out Of Hell came out. They’ve done it because they’ve believed in it. Unlike many of their peers, they don’t have any limitations on what they will or won’t do. Anything is possible.

And if Meat and Steinman become millionaires, it’ll have been because they have worked harder than anyone else for it.

If they do become wealthy (as all rock stars aspire to do), I hope they will remain as enthusiastic and sincere as they are now. People appreciate and applaud honest enthusiasm; people can always tell. I think that Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman will be okay.