Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Today's blue plate special: Meat Loaf

Meat Loaf turns 58 today.

No, not the dish. The singer. (Although I've eaten some meat loaf in my time that could have passed for 58.)

Though he has become a familiar face as a character actor — appearing in such films as The Rocky Horror Picture Show (in which his initial appearance onscreen inspires this exchange from the audience: "What's for dinner?" "Meat Loaf!"), Fight Club, and one of my personal guilty pleasures, Leap of Faith — those who hit adolescence in the 1970s still revere the man called Loaf for recording one of the seminal albums of the decade, and, indeed, of all time: Bat Out of Hell.

Although this will sound blasphemous to partisans of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, Bat Out of Hell may well be the most perfectly developed concept album in the rock era — the most complete synthesis of performer (the Loaf himself, pouring out his soul in every anguished note), producer (Todd Rundgren would never generate anything this consequential on his solo albums), songwriter (Jim Steinman at his bombastic best — did anyone else ever cram as much of the dictionary into a rock lyric as Steinman?), even packaging (who, having once seen it, can forget that incredible cover painting by comic artist Richard Corben?).

And the songs...oh, my goodness, the songs...
  • Bat Out of Hell: A biker, a babe, a breakup, and flaming death in a heap of twisted metal.
    Nothing ever grows in this rotten old hole
    And everything is stunted and lost
    And nothing really rocks
    And nothing really rolls
    And nothing's ever worth the cost
    And I know that I'm damned if I never get out
    And maybe I'm damned if I do
    But with every other beat I got left in my heart
    You know I’d rather be damned with you
    Wasn't everyone's adolescent experience fraught with angst like this? Well, maybe not, except maybe those goth kids with the dyed-black hair and chrome handlebars through their noses. And that's probably a good thing.

  • You Took The Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night): Probably the weakest track on the album, but even the one clinker is a diamond in the rough.
    While you were lickin' your lips
    And your lipstick shinin'
    I was dyin' just to ask for a taste
    Oh, we were lyin' together in a silver linin'
    By the light of the moon
    You know there's not another moment
    Not another moment
    Not another moment to waste
    Then again, I've never been partial to lipstick. And what was that wacked-out spoken-word intro all about?

  • Heaven Can Wait: One of the truly transcendent rock and roll love ballads. Simply orchestrated with a piano and Meat Loaf's matchless voice wringing every drop of pathos out of the lyrics.
    Give me all of your dreams and
    Let me go along on your way
    Give me all of your prayers to sing and I'll
    Turn the night into the skylight of day
    I got a taste of paradise
    I'm never gonna let it slip away
    I got a taste of paradise
    It's all I really need to make me stay —
    Just like a child again

    Heaven can wait
    And all I got is time until the end of time
    I won't look back
    I won't look back
    Let the altars shine
    I'm not the most sentimental cuss on God's green earth, and especially not about the misbegotten poetry of rock song lyrics, but this one chokes me up just a little every time. If there were a barbershop arrangement of "Heaven Can Wait," I'd make the quartet learn it.

  • All Revved Up With No Place to Go: Right up there with Elton John's "Saturday Night's All Right For Fighting" and Sam Cooke's "Another Saturday Night" among the quintessential weekend anthems.
    I was nothing but a lonely all-American boy
    Looking out for something to do
    And you were nothing but a lonely all-American girl
    But you were something like a dream come true
    I was a varsity tackle and a hell of a block
    And when I played my guitar, I made the canyons rock
    But every Saturday night
    I felt the fever grow
    All revved up with no place to go
    Brings back memories of midnight movies at the United Artists theater in downtown Santa Rosa, and vanilla Cokes at the Swenson's ice cream parlor next door.

  • Two Out of Three Ain't Bad: Perhaps the most cynically honest song a guy ever sang to a girl.
    I want you
    I need you
    But there ain't no way I'm ever gonna love you
    Now don't be sad
    'Cause two out of three ain't bad
    Truer words were never sung. Except maybe in this next number...

  • Paradise By the Dashboard Light: The soundtrack of high school summer in America. A boy, a girl, the front seat of a car, and the push-pull of raging hormones, complete with play-by-play carefully constructed out of baseball metaphor and delivered by the Scooter himself, Phil Rizzuto. Heard on the soundtrack of about a gazillion motion pictures.
    Ain't no doubt about it
    We were doubly blessed
    'Cause we were barely seventeen
    And we were barely dressed
    Don't get all goody-two-shoes on me. You know you've lived that song. Or got slapped trying.

  • For Crying Out Loud:
    For taking in the rain when I'm feeling so dry
    For giving me the answers when I'm asking you why
    And my, oh my
    For that, I thank you

    For taking in the sun when I'm feeling so cold
    For giving me a child when my body is old
    And don't you know
    For that, I need you

    For coming to my room when you know I'm alone
    For finding me a highway and driving me home
    And you gotta know
    For that, I serve you

    For pulling me away when I'm starting to fall
    For revving me up when I'm starting to stall
    And all in all
    For that, I want you

    For taking and for giving and for playing the game
    For praying for my future in the days that remain
    Oh Lord
    For that, I hold you

    Ah, but most of all
    For cryin' out loud
    For that, I love you
    Pretty much says it all, doesn't it?
As the legend goes, Meat Loaf destroyed his voice touring to promote Bat Out of Hell and took years to recover. If you're curious to know what the sequel to Bat would have been like, Jim Steinman recorded the set of songs he wrote for the followup as a solo project entitled Bad For Good. Steinman couldn't sing worth a Fig Newton, but he managed to eke out a minor hit ("Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through") before moving on to write and produce for other artists (notably Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out for a Hero" from the Footloose soundtrack).

The Loaf eventually crawled back into the studio in the early '80s with a dreadful collection of Steinman castoff numbers (Dead Ringer), followed by a string of increasingly tedious records that resulted in little chart or critical success until Loaf and Steinman rejoined for Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell in 1993. These days, Loaf (whose real name, by the way, is Marvin Lee Aday — the nickname was allegedly bestowed by a high school football coach) mostly appears in films and tours on occasion.

But for crying out loud, Meat, you know we love you.

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