Less than a year ago I was going to take some time to write a tribute to Jim Steinman, who was one of those songwriters I never quite go away from. He was a big influence in my teenage years and then his music re-entered my life when I was in my late-twenties and again, more recently.
The tribute for the songwriter (who passed away in the early Spring of 2021) never got finished. I guess my excuse has something to do with the pandemic and the fact that it seemed to be more relevant to be concentrating on the present than considering the past.
And then this month (January 2022), just as I had finished a day thinking about the current touring production of “Bat out of Hell – The Musical”, I heard the news that his sparring partner, Meat Loaf had also died. This time it seemed to be much more pertinent to reflect on the past than think about the present and if I hadn’t have been obliged to submit a report on the musical. I don’t think it would ever have got completed. You can find the part of that report which is for public consumption here:
So, time for the tribute – well, a guide to their essential work really:
Most people (other than the hardcore fans, who will no doubt pick apart my meagre efforts here!) will assume that the combination of Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf began with the Bat Out of Hell album in 1977, but four years before that, Meat Loaf sang lead vocal on a single.
1973 – More Than You Deserve / Presence of the Lord
This is a country-meets-piano version of the song which would eventually feature on the second Meat Loaf / Steinman album “Dead Ringer”. The b-side is the Eric Clapton song that was originally recorded by Blind Faith. Meat Loaf had previously recorded an album with session singer, Stoney but this didn’t include any Steinman material. It was re-released after the success of the “Bat Out of Hell” album.
1977 – Bat Out of Hell
Jim and Meat struggled to find a home for this album. Punk was beginning to happen in the UK and the tide was turning away from progressive rock sounds. This wasn’t progressive in the sense of Yes or early Genesis, but it was operatic and bombastic. So much so that on the vinyl format that then was the only meaningful format, only 7 songs would fit on the two sides of the record. Three of these songs weighed in at over eight minutes. “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)”, “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”, “Two out of Three Ain’t Bad” and the title track became hit singles in different parts of the world, after the album began to sell because of being featured on the UK rock show “Old Grey Whistle Test”.
1981 – Bad for Good
Jim had the material ready for the next album but Meat Loaf wasn’t ready. Exhausted by touring and a party lifestyle, he just wasn’t ready to go and his voice was in bad condition. Eventually Steinman tired of the wait and recorded the album under his own name. He took over the majority of the vocals but surrounded himself with other vocalists and musicians who had been part of the “Bat” project. These included Ellen Foley who had been so key to the earlier album, Karla DeVito who replaced her on the subsequent tour when Ms. Foley didn’t want all the travelling, Todd Rundgren, and E-Streeter, Roy Bittan. Rory Dodd was the other male lead vocal. Many have said that the album wasn’t successful because the vocals weren’t as strong as on “Bat…” but the issue really was more than that. Meat Loaf’s charisma was absent and the springboard that gave when it was encapsulated in the video performances just couldn’t be replaced.
“Lost Boys and Golden Girls” and “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” were amongst the singles but whilst they garnered some interest, there was no major hit to give the album the exposure that a largely unknown name needed. After all the earlier album just said “Meat Loaf” on the cover. I wonder how many arguments would have been saved if “Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman” was the name of the act from day one.
During this period, Meat Loaf appeared in the movie, “Roadie” along with Roy Orbison, Alice Cooper, Debbie Harry and others. It was conspicuous that he wasn’t a featured vocalist on the soundtrack album.
1981 – Dead Ringer
The difference between Meat Loaf’s vocals on Dead Ringer and Bat Out of Hell is also conspicuous. His voice was still powerful but something was missing. Part of the band from the earlier album was brought back together but there were some key people missing. This time the main female lead vocal (on the inevitable duet) was handed to Cher. The first singles released from the album were minor hits but the album shot to number one in the UK charts because of the fan base that had now gathered around the artist. A lift was given to the album when “Dead Ringer for Love” (the aforementioned duet with Cher) became a hit – the video that accompanied the single did its chances no harm.
The overall sales of the album have been hit by the fact that rather than having to buy the album to get the “Dead Ringer for Love” single during the cd era, the single was added to the end of the “Bat out of Hell” disc. This was a marketing ploy which made no sense at all. I prefer to hear the album as the artist intended it (without bonus tracks) and, anyway, the single was probably my least favourite song on the Dead Ringer album.
The next album which Meat Loaf released – Midnight at the Lost and Found – was very much a solo album, with no involvement from Jim Steinman. It has little merit, other than to prove that Meat Loaf was no songwriter.
1983 – Faster than the Speed of Night
Jim Steinman contributed two songs and added a lot of his favourite musicians to Welsh singer, Bonnie Tyler’s 5th studio album. He also produced the album. The two songs both became singles: the first of which “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was a huge hit and guaranteed the album’s success all around the world. In many ways it cemented Steinman’s reputation more than Bonnie’s. He became the songwriter who could bring the magic and was not dependent on Meat Loaf. She remained at the higher sales level as long as she had Steinman on board but faded back to a lower level of success afterwards. The second song “Faster than the speed of Night” was also a hit.
All of this established Steinman as a go-to songwriter and led to him working with luminaries like Barbara Streisand and Barry Manilow. Suffice to say those recordings are not to my taste. He also provided Air Supply with the song “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” which was a huge worldwide hit.
1984 – Streets of Fire
Whilst Meat Loaf’s record label was selling his back catalogue by putting out a compilation called “Hits out of Hell” – on which the track listing varies depending on which year you bought it,
Mr Steinman was readying two songs to be recorded by an outfit called Fire Inc. (also known as “Jim Steinman’s Fire Inc”) for the soundtrack of a film called Streets of Fire. Both songs were released as singles and the line-up of Fire Inc (who would never record under that name again) shared a certain similarity with Steinman’s earlier sound featuring many musicians who had features on his previous projects. The songs were “Nowhere Fast” and “Tonight is What it Means to be Young”.
1984 – Bad Attitude
Meat Loaf said that he thought that Jim would be writing all the songs for this album but when they were slow to appear he took the two that were available and fitted them into an album composed by other songwriters and also featuring a duet with Roger Daltrey. The two Steinman songs were “Surf’s Up” (which had appeared on “Bad For Good”) and “Nowhere Fast” (which as mentioned above was recorded earlier the same year by Fire Inc.
1986 – Secret Dreams and Forbidden Fire
After an aborted attempt to work with Def Leppard, Steinman provided four songs and production for the next Bonnie Tyler album. This was less well received than the previous album but the Steinman songs that were released as singles ensured its commercial success. The first of these “Holding out for a Hero” was recorded for a film soundtrack and was followed by “Loving You’s A Dirty Job (but somebody’s gotta do it)” and “Rebel Without a Clue”. The fourth song “Ravishing” was not used to promote the album.
Meat Loaf returned again to the recording studios to record “Blind Before I Stop”. Again, Jim Steinman was noticeable by his absence and the album was notable for a very uneven standard of songs.
1987 – Floodland
British Goth band, Sisters of Mercy released their second album and whilst all tracks were written by bandleader, Andrew Eldritch, two of the tracks involved Jim Steinman in the production. These are great recordings. Steinman co-produced “Dominion / Mother Russia” and was sole producer on the lead single “This Corrosion”.
1989 – Original Sin
This album was recorded by an outfit called “Pandora’s Box” who were a group of female singers put together by Jim Steinman. It features some cover versions but on the whole it was the album which featured most new Steinman compositions for many years. It included:
The Invocation (which would later appear in Bat Out of Hell – The Musical)
Original Sin (which would appear on Meat Loaf’s Welcome to the Neighborhood”)
Good Girls Go to Heaven (which would be on Bat Out of Hell II)
I’ve Been Dreaming Up a Storm Lately (which would later appear in Bat Out of Hell – The Musical)
It’s All Coming Back to Me Now (which later appeared on Bat Out of Hell III – let’s forget about Celine Dion and pretend it never happened)
It Just Won’t Quit (Featured on Bat Out of Hell II and in early performances of Bat Out of Hell – The Musical)
The Future Just Ain’t What it Used to Be (which would later be on Bat out of Hell III)
The album was commercially unsuccessfully and the recordings are really not nearly as good as the ones that Meat Loaf would feature on in later years – but those interested in the history of the songs and completists will surely want to track this one down.
1993 – Bat Out of Hell II – Back Into Hell
Jim Steinman often said that many of the elements of the original Bat Out of Hell songs came from a musical he was trying to develop about Peter Pan – and if you see Bat Out Of Hell – the Musical, this becomes more evident. You will encounter “The Lost” who were the “The Lost Boys” in the original story. They and their leader, Strat will never grow old. And there is Tinc(erbell). Mmm… perhaps better not to go there.
And all good fairy stories should have a happy ending and in 1993 all the signs were there that the Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman story had reached just such a conclusion.
As soon as the single of “I Will Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” and its accompanying video were released on the world, there was proof positive that you could catch lightning in a bottle twice. The vocals, the charisma, the production, the songwriting, the strong female vocal – it was all there. The single went to number one in so many nations I’ve lost count. Whilst the album sales were not quite as strong as the original album, they were massively higher than any of the projects that the two had put together separately.
Two more singles were to follow – “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” (which had previously been on Jim’s Bad for Good record) and “Objects in the Rear View Mirror (May Appear Closer Than They Are)”
1995 – Free Spirit
This 1995 Bonnie Tyler album featured two Jim Steinman songs which had been previously recorded by other artists and here again were produced by Steinman. They were “Making Love Out of Nothing At All” and “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”. At least the first one was an improvement on the Air Supply version.
1995 – Welcome to the Neighborhood
Meat Loaf was alone again on this record but he picked up two Steinman songs to cover – “Original Sin” and “Left in the Dark”. This album benefits from the fact that songwriter, Diane Warren is a bonafide genius. When Al Green called her and asked for a song that sounded like his classic soul singles, she delivered a song which sounded like Al Green’s classic soul singles. When Meat Loaf wanted something which sounded like it had come out of Jim Steinman’s back pocket, she gave him “Not A Dry Eye in the House” and “I’d Lie For You (And That’s the Truth)… Ooh, that Diane Warren! Right down to the play on words in the latter song’s brackets.
1996-1998 – Whistle Down the Wind
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman anyone? No, I didn’t think so… This musical wasn’t a great success but it did provide a huge hit for Boyzone when an album of some of the songs were released. I’m not going to say a lot more, other than Meat Loaf provided a version of “A Kiss is a Terrible Thing to Waste” on the accompanying album.
1998 – The Very Best of Meat Loaf
Meat Loaf found a slot for “A Kiss…” on his own album with this double-cd set. It also added “Home by Now / No Matter What” and “Is Nothing Sacred” from the Whistle Down the Wind project.
And then the disagreements broke out again…
2006 – Bat Out of Hell III – The Monster is Loose
Meat said that the disagreements were never between him and Jim but between self-interested managers and lawyers, but this album, which was the arguments at their height, saw seven Steinman compositions on an album which Jim was not otherwise involved in and a battle over the rights to the phrase Bat Out of Hell…
Eventually, it came out. Eventually Meat Loaf said he should have never recorded it.
I have to say I like it. Other songs include the talents of Desmond Child (who had worked with Steinman-alumni, Bonnie Tyler) and again, the genius who is Diane Warren. All of the Steinman songs had appeared on other projects he had released with “Seize the Night” being the one you were least likely to know. “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” was a big hit in the UK and Diane Warren’s “Cry Over Me” made a suitable follow-up (especially since one of the Steinman songs here was “Cry to Heaven”).
The album wasn’t a huge commercial success and everybody settled down to lick their wounds.
In 2010 and 2011, Meat Loaf released “Hang Cool, Teddy Bear” and “Hell in a Handbasket” respectively. Both had their moments and neither had any involvement from Mr Steinman.
Bat out of Hell – The Musical
This musical came to the theatres and is still running after the guy who wrote the book and the singer who inspired it are no longer around. There is a Original Cast Soundtrack album. This writer got a little work out of it and a conference call with Mr Steinman and a little instruction from Mr Meat Loaf.
2016 – Braver Than We Are
The last thing anybody would have expected next was a Meat Loaf album where all the songs were all written or co-written by Jim Steinman. In fact, earlier Meat Loaf had said it would feature only three Steinman songs.
However, it still managed to be controversial. Rumour had it that Jim wasn’t well enough to do the production work. Critics commented that some of the songs were old songs or redeveloped songs. Has anyone heard the line “Turn Around, Bright Eyes” in a song before… And then there was Meat Loaf’s voice. He sounded old. He sounded broken.
I read an interview where Jim Steinman said he liked it that way and it showed the way the two of them and their work had aged together.
I think that might be stretching but it is a Meat Loaf album like no other Meat Loaf album …and I like it. After all the vocal quality is always something that is held up for examination when these two are around… they said that Jim couldn’t match Meat when he did Bad for Good, they said that Meat sounded punchy on Dead Ringer, they said that Meat sometimes sounded awful when he toured too long. “Braver Than We Are” is just something else not to look at too closely under the microscope. Enjoy it for what it is.
It wasn’t a big seller but it is an interesting record and it is a profoundly Jim Steinman record – although the last song “Train of Love” is less like “Bat Out of Hell” than any song you’re likely to hear from the pair. After all it is a different kind of vehicle.
When Steinman passed, it didn’t get as much attention as Meat’s passing. The best tribute came from Meat Loaf himself:
“We didn’t know each other, we were each other”
Meat Loaf’s death got more headlines but better than the headlines was that the songs were being listened to again and hanging round the top of the charts.
God bless them both for the music.