Remembering Meat Loaf: “I figured if the album sucked I could always hang the cover on my bedroom wall”

Guest columnist Rick Morin pays tribute to Meat Loaf who has died at the age of 74 of complications due to Covid.

I was 17 when I bought Bat Out of Hell back in 1978. I’d never heard of Meat Loaf and assumed it was some kind of punk band. I suppose I was initially drawn to the album’s cover art: a Chopper, ridden by a scary looking dude, blasting out of a Halloween graveyard with bats and other creepy shit all around. I figured if the album sucked I could always hang the cover on my bedroom wall along with all the Yes posters and OMNI magazine illustrations.

As it turned out, the album did not suck. I was completely blown away. I’d never heard anything quite like it, and besides, these were songs about motorcycles, baseball, unrequited love and SEX…how could a 17 year old kid resist!?

Meat Loaf wasn’t an especially good singer in the traditional sense, but he was an exceptional operatic actor/vocalist, and Bat Out of Hell was an album of Wagner-like intensity. Sure, it’s difficult to go wrong when craftsmen like Jim Steinman and Todd Rundgren are sailing the ship, but without Meat Loaf blowing wind in the sails, the album could have easily foundered.

It didn’t. Meat Loaf somehow transformed Steinman’s sometimes cheesy, maudlin lyrics into verses of raw, bleeding emotion, while Rundgren’s in-your-face production kept ripping the bandages off and poking the wounds.

Jim Steinman (who died only last year) would ultimately go on to write hit songs for many other artists, but not everyone could perform them with the same arresting passion and theatrical flair as Meat Loaf. Admittedly, Celine Dion nailed it with It’s All Coming Back to Me Now (1996), while Sisters of Mercy’s This Corrosion (1987) is both outrageous and brilliant. As for those otherwise softest of soft-rockers, Air Supply, and their 1983 take on Making Love Out of Nothing at All? Hell yes!

But then there’s Boyzone and No Matter What (1996). Oh well, they can’t all be gems. Imagine if those nice Dublin lads had recorded I’d Do Anything For Love (1993) instead of Meat Loaf. Yikes!

But what if Meat Loaf had performed one of the biggest hits of 1983, Total Eclipse of the Heart, and not Bonnie Tyler? That’s a much tougher call to make. Meat Loaf claimed (via an enormous lawsuit) that Steinman had written that song for him to record and that Tyler had stolen it. It’s a claim that both Tyler and Steinman have denied, but who knows?

The point being, Steinman and Meat Loaf will forever be as intrinsically linked as Elton John and Bernie Taupin. They needed each other, as 50-million copies of the original Bat Out Of Hell attest. Rest well Marvin Lee Aday, I guess Heaven couldn’t wait any longer.

Rick Morin hosts the 7pm-11pm radio show on the Gold radio station, networked nationwide across New Zealand.

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