We lost a legend in the music world with the passing of Meat Loaf. The man’s voice was undeniably powerful, and just like his presence, seemed larger than life. Very few rock vocalists past, present, or future can perform and belt things out the way he did. If you gave Meat Loaf something to sing, you could be assured that he would give it everything he had, even if the material itself was a bit subpar.
Sadly this happened quite a bit through parts of his career. That’s why I wanted to take a moment to honor his legacy by also honoring the memory of his frequent collaborator, Jim Steinman.
I remember when I first really got into listening to “Bat Out of Hell,” I read the liner notes to find out who was performing on the record. The credits include production from recent Rock Hall inductee Todd Rundgren, piano and drums from Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg from the E-Street Band, legendary backing vocalist Rory Dodd, and so many more. Not to mention the album’s songwriter Steinman. Jim took the “wall of sound” that record producer Phil Spector was known for, and turned it into something more operatic or “Wagnerian rock” as Steinman coined it.
Steinman is not subtle in his songwriting; he’s ham-fisted on the subjects of love, lust, passion, and the excitement and drama of youth. All of these things are present on 1977’s Bat Out of Hell. The opening dialogue of “Hot Summer Night” is evidence enough of this as a man’s voice asks, “On a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?” It’s an arrestingly over the top question, but one that defines Steinman’s writing. The setting is sultry, the offering of one’s throat is dangerously passionate, the wolf is wild, and the roses are tender.
In order to bring these songs to life, Steinman needed someone with a voice that could carry all of that, which is where Meat Loaf comes into play. There was a message that needed to be delivered, and he was the person to do it. Similarly, Meat Loaf’s talent as a vocalist was wasted on something that couldn’t take advantage of his abilities. Even though he had worked with other artists, including Ted Nugent, it wasn’t until he connected with Steinman that he truly came into his own.
Unfortunately, between the touring, drug use, and health issues, things became difficult for Meat Loaf and Steinman’s partnership. Meat Loaf had lost his voice but Steinman had another album ready to go, “Bad for Good“. Ultimately, Steinman had to end up releasing the album with himself as the singer, though he carried over much of the same team that helped him create “Bat Out of Hell.” Without Meat Loaf’s voice though, it failed to measure up to the previous album’s success. And when Meat Loaf finally did gain his voice back, Steinman had to write another album for him- “Dead Ringer.”
While the record had some success in the UK, it ultimately flopped in the US. Especially compared with the previous success of “Bat Out of Hell.” The relationship between Steinman and Meat Loaf fell apart. Meat would continue to release albums throughout the 80s, some containing covers of Steinman pieces. Steinman meanwhile would start working with other artists and lending them his signature sound. He produced two albums for Bonnie Tyler, and wrote her signature song “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” So, if you ever thought that sounded like it could’ve been a Meat Loaf song- you’re right. It was originally written with the intent for him to sing it, and once again features most of the players from “Bat Out of Hell” performing it.
Meat would end up working with John Parr and other artists in the UK, having some continued success there but being virtually ignored here in the states. Steinman meanwhile would work with Air Supply giving them their hit, “Making Love Out of Nothing at All,” he produced the album Floodland for The Sisters of Mercy, wrote and produced two songs for the film, “Streets of Fire” and created a side-project and album called Pandora’s Box using some of the female vocalists he’d worked with previously. Some of this work would be recycled when he and Meat Loaf made amends and created “Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell.”
This would ultimately be the last album that Steinman would produce for Meat Loaf, which is arguably why it’s the last truly great record Meat Loaf made. Yes, there’s “Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose” and it features a lot of recycled Steinman material, but production duties were done by Desmond Child and it lacks the same qualities that Steinman had so much of an ear for. To its credit, it does contain possibly the definitive version of, “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” which Steinman originally wrote and produced for his Pandora’s Box band before later producing it for Celine Dion. Meat Loaf sings the living hell out of this version and showed that even as late as 2006 his voice remained incredibly powerful.
This isn’t to say that Meat Loaf couldn’t be successful without Steinman’s songwriting, as evidenced by his string of UK hits in the 80s. Similarly, Steinman didn’t need Meat Loaf to be successful in his own right, as indicated by his success with other artists. But it’s the songs that they made together that truly stand out. Something as ridiculously over the top as “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” would never have hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 if it was sung by anyone else but Meat Loaf. His voice and his presence gave the song just enough gravitas to make you forget the confounding subject of the lyric. Sure you could question what the “that” is in the song after it’s over, but while it’s being performed, Meat Loaf pulled you into it. That’s something that Steinman couldn’t do with just his written word, it had to be performed.
Steinman and Meat Loaf would collaborate one more time on the 2016 album, “Braver Than We Are.” Though he wrote the album, the production of Paul Crook doesn’t live up to the Wagnerian rock heights of previous works and Meat Loaf’s voice is a shell of its former self. As it turns out, it would be the last full album Steinman would ever write, and the last album Meat Loaf would release.
Jim Steinman passed away on April 19th, 2021. We lost Meat Loaf less than a year later on January 20th, 2022. Even though their relationship was fraught with tension and arguments at times, they still wound up coming back to each other again and again, knowing that they had something special together when they could work things out. Meat Loaf gave voice to Jim’s words, and Jim gave Meat Loaf something to sing about that could push its way into people’s hearts and minds. Though they existed apart, their coexistence brought out the best in both of them.