Going For The Epic Jugular
International Musician &
Recording World Magazine
August 1981 by Tom Stock
the very height of the New Wave, post sympho-glitter, retrogressive minimalist
nihilism and spiky-haired boom of the later seventies, some magnificent
twenty stones of heaving, quivering and sweating Florida foodstuff stirred
its vocal chords and let rip with one of the fattest, fullest and fieryest
albums ever to be squashed on to two sides of vinyl!
If that introduction seems
somewhat over the top, try lending an ear - or better still both ears
- to the album in question: Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of Hell. Defying all the
trends of the time Bat Out Of Hell cruised the world charts like an elephantine
Giant Haystacks of the airwaves, knocking up some esoteric records en
route: third biggest selling album in Australia (behind Saturday Night
Fever and Grease) and the best selling album in the history of Holland!
And now, four years later, it still makes regular entries into the UK
Meat Loaf toured the UK and
Europe some years ago although the title song "Bat Out Of Hell"
is a perennial favorite of the Old Grey Whistle Test. And, stuffed somewhere
in the background, on keyboards, was Jim Steinman, the author, creator,
arranger and mentor of every single second of the album's incredible content.
Steinman's role was played down, almost to the point of non existence
(we tried, for example, to get a live color shot of him for this issue,
but none were to be found).
Steinman, however, has now
released his own debut album, Bad For Good, and recently came to the UK
on a solely promotional visit, which took in a few minutes inane conversation
on the said OGWT, although no live musical performances were included
due to his lack of a work permit - he skirted the rules and recited some
poetry on The Box instead. His visit also took in a stay at the Atheneum
Hotel in Piccadilly, near Hyde Park Corner - an establishment more suited
to returning colonial colonels' concubines than the perpetrator of the
most over recorded, over dramatized collection of songs since, yes, that
dreaded Bat Out Of Hell.
Bad For Good not only made
the UK charts itself, it revitalized interest in Steinman's original work,
and so, at the time of writing, the man has two possible passages to that
great bank balance in the sky. I turned up one morning at the hotel, and
ended up enjoying myself immensely - for the man turned out not only to
be articulate - a rare enough commodity itself in the rock business -
but also to be totally unrepentant for turning the sounds of the seventies
If one is to believe the biography
sent out by his record company, Jim Steinman didn't exist at all before
writing Bat Out Of Hell, and so my first task seemed to be to fill in
"It's all a vague blur,
really," he began, before wondering whether I was interested in his
primary school experiences! "So you're just interested in the interesting
parts - well, it was all interesting to me, but then I hadn't anything
else to do at the time."
Hell, methinks, another of
the bright ones! It transpires that he majored in drama at some American
college and then moved to New York. "I worked at the New York Shakespeare
Festival, at the time I was more interested in writing, acting and directing.
I was working on something called "More Than You Deserve" which
was kinda like a musical version of M.A.S.H. and South Pacific; a wonderful
musical, romantic comedy set in South Vietnam!"
I guess you could say that
my eyebrow raised slightly both at the idea in itself, and at whatever
possible relevance the tale could have to his current success but the
answer came in the next sentence: "Meat Loaf auditioned for that."
The story turns loose here as Steinman had another project going for a
somewhat audacious rock play to be presented in an open-air theater in
NYC, for which Meat Loaf also auditioned as an actor.
"He was a real primitive,
Southern kind of kid, real innocent, he'd only sung gospel and blues in
his whole life, very shy and never really sung rock and roll (are we talking
about the same man???). It was great for me too because I'd never really
been interested in singing my own stuff, but there wasn't anybody around
I felt could sing it for me. My manager at the time, Robert Stigwood,
kept hassling me to sing, but I couldn't, not then anyway.
"Anyway, I'd got into
a really heavy bar room brawl, the end result of which was I got punched
out by a lady biker, which bust my nose in about eight or nine spots,
and the doc I saw must have been taking a course in speed surgery 'cos
it still hurt like hell after he'd patched it up in about five minutes.
Of course the relevance of this is that I'd got those songs, which turned
into Bat Out Of Hell, but even if I'd wanted to sing them myself, I couldn't,
'cos of this damned nose, see?
"So along comes this
big guy, Meat Loaf, like some gargantuan messenger from the Gods who could
actually be my voice. I was so excited that I'd actually found someone
who could sing them, because they're not the easiest songs in the world
to sing - know what I mean? He had (has) one of the most amazing voices
I'd ever heard, real operatic, and that was my favorite music. I grew
up listening to opera and rock and roll together. Like I used to listen
to Wagner and then Little Richard, and somehow the two influences sort
of merged together! I used to get mental images of Jerry Lee Lewis riding
around like a Valkyrie in Germany and Little Richard in the middle of
Valhalla, so I wanted to write these rock 'n roll pieces with that sort
of influence, and Meat Loaf seemed something like a Southern Seigfried
- so I started working with him.
"We did that show More
Than You Deserve, which was the first time that anyone had ever cheered
for him, and he hardly coped with it - so I worked with him for maybe
a year and a half teaching him my songs line by line, and then did the
National Lampoon tour with him, and then in '77 we started recording Bat
Out Of Hell, although we'd sort of been rehearsing it for maybe a couple
of years first."
The Bat Out Of Hell concept
had been rejected by just about every record company in the States, to
say nothing of every producer who wants to be recognized as such; Meat
Loaf and Steinman toured the companies auditioning the songs on the album.
"My trade mark is playing
the piano so hard that we both bleed! He used to stand in these little
offices sweating and swaying, fainting like some bulbous whale, and I'd
sit there screaming, 'look at my hands bleeding,' but everyone said it
was too theatrical and oversized and anyway, how could it be done by a
band? None of the producers could see it either.
"Todd Rundgren was about
the twentieth producer we'd been to and we played the whole album through,
and he just sat there and said, 'I see no problems here, let's get started.'
"A the time we were with
RCA Victor records, and they were just about the biggest company of idiots
I've ever come across. I mean there was not one person in the company
with one half the intelligence of their trademark - that little dog. They
were just total arseholes and refused permission to work with Rundgren
because he was 'uncommercial.' So we bought and fought our way out of
the contract, so by the time we started recording we were heavily in debt
anyway and went over to Rundgren's Label Bearsville.
"We done the whole record,
then right as it was being remixed, and it was basically finished, Warners
stepped in and said it's too expensive for Bearsville and would we like
to go and audition it for the parent company? So we trekked out to California,
played the whole damn thing again and got rejected! By this time, right,
we had the entire record!
"So there we are with
and enormous debt, a record, and nowhere to put it out. So eventually
we get through to some subsidiary of CBS, Cleveland Records...and hence
the world heard Bat Out Of Hell."
Ironically, CBS had already
rejected the record three times in one or more of their various associated
companies. The moral of this story is almost certainly that perseverance
eventually will succeed. As Jim puts it, it turns out that the very reasons
the record was rejected by so many record companies were the self same
reasons it became such a monstrous hit:
"Everyone told me that
it was too dramatic, too theatrical, too bombastic, it goes too far, too
raunchy, too violent, too sexual - all the things, in fact, which I thought
were compliments." Even once it did get itself pressed, it received
the same sort of backdoor ushering out from the radio stations that it
had got from the companies in the first place. Steinman and Meat Loaf
then toured the album across the world, and on returning to the States
he started writing the sequel to Bat Out Of Hell, and sitting with the
Loaf and Rundgren and a piano it turned out that the Loaf's voice had
Steinman elaborated at great
length the vocal treatments that the monster has had to go through to
get his chords working again including some sessions with a strange west
coast practitioner which involved, amongst a myriad of other things, continual
beatings with large implements and injections with his urine! However,
that is indeed another story, and one which may be better suited to a
medical journal than the pages of this esteemed paper! The net result,
of course, is that Steinman felt that if he were to continue a career
in music in the then foreseeable future, it would be necessary for him
to sing his own material, rather than wait for the large man's voice to
"I'd always intended
to do a solo album anyway, although I'd planned to let Meat Loaf do a
follow up to Bat first, before doing my own, but Meat suggested that I
might revise the schedule which would take the pressure off him anyway.
Hell, I'd been sitting around for almost two years by then going crazy.
It turned out then that I ended up singing the sequel to Bat Out Of Hell
because Meat Loaf couldn't sing, when he'd sung the original because I'd
bust my nose and couldn't sing that...such is the irony of existence."
As it turned out, however,
Loaf's voice returned during the writing of Bad For Good, and Steinman
ended up writing another album for him at the same time, which should
be released in the "fall". The trouble was, though, that as
Bad For Good was originally conceived as a sequel, Steinman had deliberately
set out to "make them the most difficult songs to sing in the history
of rock 'n roll" without, at the time, knowing that it was he that
would have to go through the trauma of actually singing them!
I wondered what had taken
him so long to get in the business of singing and playing: after all,
he's no young man, and even in '77 he could hardly have been described
as a youngster.
"I played in school in
a lot of bands, and after that I did theater mostly: I wanted to be a
screen writer, film director or playwright: the reason I got in to music
was that a: playing's a lot of fun, and b: I got to thinking that no one
would want to see the sorts of plays I was into unless they had some musical
interest as well. It seemed to me that every play should have a good beat,
so to speak, so I tried to combine the two.
"But when I started writing,
I wanted to do musicals - it was all theater oriented. I guess I got frustrated
with the theater really, for the audiences were somewhat staid for the
sort of material I wanted to get across. I mean I'm no young man but we're
talking about the theater audiences that can sleep in formaldehyde (n.
a colorless poisonous irritating gas with a pungent characteristic odor
etc...), so I decided to get out of that and concentrate on rock 'n roll.
"It's this combination
of theater and music that makes me write the way I do. When people say
my songs are too long I tell them I spent my life listening to six hour
long German operas for Christ's sake. I mean six minutes to me is just
an idea, right, it's nothing, no time at all, to get across what you're
really trying to do."
It's no surprise, bearing
in mind the structure of his songs, to learn that the lyrics invariably
come first, seeming, in many instances, to start life with a cliché,
and then building layer upon layer of music and words on top of the original
"The first album, that
was very much like that," he replied. "With the second album
I tried to actually create the phrase in the first place, to try and create
a cliché if you like: Bad For Good is an example, and Stark Raving
Love is a play on a clichés: they're more playful, and more clever
variations. I love those phrases. Clichés are ultimately like magic
spells of language, they have a universal effect. I mean the one straight
cliché I used on Bad For Good was Out Of The Frying Pan And Into
The Fire - it amazes me this power of language. Like some two year old
kid growing up now, you somehow know that by the age of sixteen he's gonna
know that phrase, he's gonna have heard it maybe a hundred times, like
it's there, in his memory, unconscious, if you like, but there all the
same. He's going to recognize my song - it doesn't matter if he likes
it or not but there must be something familiar about it from the very
first moment he hears it: even if he only says, 'Oh shit, that's a cliché!'
"I always start with
two things: a title and a visual image. I've never written a song which
I couldn't visualize on the screen in some cinematic context. I write
for the title, and finish all the words, and not until I've finished the
lyrics completely do I even think about the music to go with them. I mean
the lyrics will sometimes take weeks or months to complete, and the music
just a couple of hours."
Those familiar with his style
of songwriting will have noticed that while he applies a somewhat cliché
approach to his lyrical content, there's little clichéd about the
actual song structure. He's most certainly not in the hit single camp
of verse, verse, chorus, middle eight, verse, chorus, fade. Very far from
"I write cinematically.
I visualize it as a film, and see how it would develop in a visual narrative
form. I don't care at all how it fits together, technically. I mean the
first time I was rejected by a record company was by Clive Davis at Arista
in New York: he said, 'Don't you realize that people want a certain structure:
they want verse, a, b, the second verse, c is the bridge, and d the chorus/fade.
No-one cares about abc, they all want dddddd! Just get to D real fast.
But your songs,' he said, 'they go all the way up to W!' I said, 'Well,
that's the way I write.!'"
In some instances Steinman
repeats the whole song - viz, Crying Out Loud on Bat Out Of Hell - "Yeah,
but with variations" he relies smugly, "I just let the music
go wherever the story goes. Somebody asked me once who my greatest influence
is, and I reckon that far greater than any songwriter or musician, the
one man who I reckon has influenced my work in all forms more than anyone
else is Alfred Hitchcock! He's my favorite film maker, and I've seen every
one of his movies at least fifteen times, and I still watch Psycho at
least once a month now. I'm really influenced by the way Hitchcock structured
his films. He directs like a voyeur, coming in slowly, setting his scenes,
giving all the peripheral information that most other directors just refuse
to let you have. I like to start my songs with a kind of broad landscape,
and then focus in closer and closer."
He finds extraordinary the
criticism that Bad For Good sounds exactly like Bat Out Of Hell, for that
is exactly what he wished. "Hell, I wanted it to be Part 2. I like
writing like this. I mean people used to ask Hitchcock why he always directed
thrillers and horror movies, and didn't he want to do something like great
art? He always replied, 'Bullshit, it is art anyway.' That's the way I
feel about it myself: it's creating passion, fear, tension. I like writing
real visceral stuff!" Steinman seems able to continue to create his
images without remorse or repetition, as he consistently shys away from
anything which could remotely be construed as being autobiographical.
"Yeah - I'd rather be
shot than write something 'from the road', you know? I hate those songs
where you know the guy's writing from his own life which is really boring,
and who gives a shit? I think it's far more important to create a life
that is much more heroic and mythical and then write about that. It's
still totally real because every one of them's a fantasy, which to me,
like a dream, is totally real. I've always found that I trust people's
dreams a lot more than their lives, because people can do a lot of faking
in their lives and be real boring, but even boring people's dreams are
pretty exciting to me. I'm more interested in concentrating on the dream
He writes all his music from
a start on the piano: "It either comes or it doesn't. It's terrifying
at first, but it usually takes just an hour or so: I mean a song as complicated
as For Crying Out Loud took just about half an hour to get the music sown
up. I don't have any formal musical training, and I don't know much about
Given the raw ingredients - the song and the words - the next step to
producing that enormous sound on record lies in the hands of Todd Rundgren.
"His contribution is
enormous - I'm in awe of the guy. It's a privilege working with him, even
though he does have the shortest attention span in the history of the
world! Basically all he's interested in doing is, well, he loves playing
the guitar - although a lot of the guitar parts are actually written on
the piano first as I'm something of a frustrated guitarist - and he's
also an outstanding rhythm guitarist as well. He integrates guitar right
into the song, makes it a part of the orchestral arrangements, and he
does all the beautiful background vocals and arranges the harmonies.
"I also don't think I
could get that huge sound without him, as he's such a brilliant engineer.
I was going for an even bigger sound than on Bat Out Of Hell - like this
record has just about more music on it than any other album I know, and
the more music you have the harder it is to get the highs on the sound.
Like there's a lot of records that come out with fifteen minutes per side,
but this one's like around the twenty-seven minute mark.
"We used forty-eight
tracks - it was a very complicated technical job - but we tried to make
sure there wasn't an inch of tape to spare anywhere."
Jim has an idea that it was
just about the most expensive record ever made: "It's not actually
a money making project for me at the moment," he commented wryly,
adding that it would have to sell something like two million copies before
he ever even saw his first dollar from it. Part of the deal on the album
involved Steinman having to take on Meat Loaf's debts before he could
release his first, and so he reckons something like $200,000 was down
the proverbial drain before a note was sung! With the longer songs, more
rehearsal and demo time was required than is normal, and then some of
the musicians weren't cheap; like the New York Philharmonic Orchestra
- all one hundred and two of them! "They cost a lot of money: I mean,
they don't do a lot of sessions!"
In keeping with his theatrical
background, much of this new album is connected with a project entitled
Neverland and the theme is, again in keeping with his outrageous character,
somewhat over the top!
"Well. I started getting
the idea when I was writing Bat Out Of Hell, and it really is a rock 'n
roll science fiction version of Peter Pan!!! If you look at the story
for a certain angle, I see it as being basically about a gang, or a band,
that never really grow up (like Status Quo???). All Revved Up With No
Place To Go on the first album was also part of the Peter Pan trip. Like
think about being sixteen years old for about thirty five years, hell
you'd be totally out of your mind: stuck every day trying to think of
something new again, every day.
"On this album the title
song is the song that Peter sings to Wendy when he's trying to seduce
her (can you hear Barrie turning in his grave yet?...Ast. Ed.). Captain
Hook is the military commander of this fortress in the city of the future
who protects all his children from dreaming and music. Several of the
songs are from this project."
He hopes that eventually it
will be made as a film by CBS films, while another project he's involved
in, a poetic history of a Fender guitar from the time it was originally
purchased through its various owners to some as yet untold eventual ending
some time in the future. Take a listen to the extract on Bad For Good
- after all, amongst all the heaviness, a little humor is welcome relief.
Plans for the future then
are pretty clear cut - finish writing Neverland, and the guitar story,
and then get back to "going for the epic jugular" with a tour
later in the autumn with the bulbous Loaf back to full singing strength.
Breaths of fresh air in the
business don't come often, and they certainly don't come more outrageously
packaged than the Steinman/Meat Loaf combination. Steinman's individual
style, his view from the stance of a theatrical character caught in music
instead of on the stage or cinema screen, and his determination to see
projects through while the entire record corporation of the world stands
back in sheer amazement and disbelief should guarantee him eventually,
a financial return on his endeavors. And while he continues to plunder
the Oxford book of clichés, pile track upon track of vocals, guitars,
orchestras, and just about anything else that can make a noise, there's
bound to be an individual niche for him in the annals of rock music.