Bat Out Of Hell - The Story Behind The Album
To Hell And Back
Classic Rock Magazine
by Jon Hotten
It launched Meat Loaf onto an unsuspecting world. It stayed in
the UK charts for eight years and became the biggest selling debut
album of all time. It also nearly finished off the singer for good.
Now CLASSIC ROCK brings you the astonishing story of "Bat Out
Meeting Jim Steinman, the creator of Bat Out Of Hell, was a
memorable experience. After enjoying years of vicarious thrills from
his widescreen, Technicolor songs - songs that accompanied me and a
million others through teenage fumblings and sweatily unpleasant
hormonal surges - the real thing was no disappointment. He shook
hands with a soft, pudgy mitt that had never see a day's work; long,
tapered fingernails and girlishly manicured nails. He had a huge
rush of totally grey hair, a slobby unexercised body, a rounded
moon-face that had rarely seen the daylight and voice like that of
the cartoon character, The Hooded Claw. He wore and expensive
leather biker's jacket on which naked women had been wonkily
We were at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, where he was
supervising a video for the track "It's All Coming Back To Me
Now", the first single from his Pandora's Box project. The
director was perhaps the only man in the world who could match
Steinman in the scope of his creative vision, Ken Russell. And even
Russell, by now a ruddy-faced, well-lived sixty-something with
Tommy, The Devils and Whore on his CV and years of working with Alan
Bates and Ollie Reed under his expansive belt, seemed to be feeding
off the kinetic blast of Steinman's particular madness.
The video script, such as it was, called for singer Elaine
Caswell to be sexually aroused by a large python and writhing on a
bed that lit up in time with the music, while surrounded by a group
of bemused, semi-naked dancers on a day-trip for their regular gig
in Cats. The two day shoot was over running badly, and the cost of
continuing was 35,000 Pounds an hour.
Steinman casually offer to pay himself, and Russell nodded back
and grinned. They were having a fun time, and over lunch they were
plotting an unscripted climax to the video, one that would come as a
shock to Virgin Records, who were nominally the clients. Steinman
demanded - and Russell wholeheartedly agreed - that the only fitting
end to the cut was for a man to ride a motorcycle up the steps of a
local church-tower known to Russell, jump it out of the turrets at
the top, and then explode. To the surprise of only two men - Jim and
Ken - the wardens of the 500-year-old church refused. But that was
Jim captured perfectly in his moment: you start off by thinking big,
and then you take it from there.
We met twice more over the next few days, and he proved a
fascinating and complex man. He was obsessed with motorcycles, and
yet he hadn't passed his driving test. The characters in his songs
were heroic figures, beautiful, fragile and doomed, but he was a
bachelor who lived a solitary life on a remote farm. When we went to
dinner, he ordered everything - literally everything - on the menu
and then ate a bit of each. Aside from music, his great love was
fine wine, and one of his managers told me that he wrote about every
wine that he tasted in the same way he wrote his songs. "If it
was published," he said, "it would be the greatest book on
wine ever written..."
Above all, spending a little time with Jim Steinman proffered an
insight into how someone could write a record as unique, as mad, as
special, as crazy and as dumb and overblown as "Bat Out Of
Hell", still the biggest selling debut album ever released, and
as of now, the third biggest-selling record of all-time.
As the saying goes, it's always the quiet ones that you've got to
watch. A classmate of Jim Steinman's once said: "Jim knew what
it meant to be cool and he knew that he wasn't."
Instead, the odd-looking kid who spent much of his time
"imagining I had a bat perched on my shoulder" created in
his head a place for the kind of man he knew he'd never be: a land
for the heroic. Now he just had to convince the rest of the world.
Elsewhere in the country, under the endless skies of Texas, a
class fat-kid, a big, big boy with a big personality felt a stirring
too. In a scene straight from a Steinman song, he became so
distraught at his mother's funeral that he grabbed her body and
screamed at the undertakers, "You can't have her!" Shortly
afterwards, his alcoholic father tried to kill him.
Of course, this left its mark on Marvin Lee Aday, who had, since
Junior High, been known as Meat Loaf, and merely Meat to his
friends. Meat Loaf was the kind of guy you notice, the kind of guy
stuff happens to, and his path from Texas to New York was a colorful
one. Aside from a walk-on part at the assassination of JFK and a job
on a turkey farm, he was in and out of bands and drawn to the stage.
His first success of note came when he nailed a role in the
quintessential 60s wig-out nudie musical, Hair.
Jim Steinman, miniature bat-man, saw his future on the stage too.
What made and continues to make him unique - among rock music
writers is that his writing was and is not influenced by blues or
jazz, or even rock 'n' roll.
Instead, its roots are in classical composition based at the
piano rather than the guitar. All Jim Steinman drew from rock music
was its sense of wildness, of rebellion and its vast scale. He was
quick to meld those values onto his regressive obsessions with
teenage longings and lust, and his desire not to just write songs,
but to create a parallel universe in which he could live.
"I never really saw classical music and rock 'n' roll as
different. I still don't," he told me. "I grew up liking
extremes in music - big gothic textures. I never have much regard
for more subtle stuff. Dire Straits may be good, but it just doesn't
do it for me. I was attracted to William Blake, Hieronymus Bosch, I
couldn't see the point in writing songs about ordinary, real-life
He wrote several lengthy stage pieces: The Dream Engine, More
Than You Deserve and Neverland. The first of these, completed while
Steinman attended an exclusive New York State college, the private
and secretive Amherst. While his academic results were suitably
atrocious, Steinman was 'discovered' by the entrepreneur Robert
Stigwood, who signed him to a deal with RSO (and for whom Steinman
contributed the song "Happy Ending" for Yvonne Elimann),
and then 'rediscovered' by the legendary Joseph Papp, who became so
excited by The Dream Engine that he bought the rights to the show
during the intermission of the college performance.
Papp hoped to launch Steinman on Broadway with the show, but was
stymied by its explicit sexual content. Instead it had a brief run
in Washington DC with Richard Gere in the lead role. "Gere has
one of the great rock 'n' roll voices, which he won't use, because
he feels people won't accept him as an actor if he sings."
Papp kept faith with Steinman, engaging him in a number of
projects, including the 1971 Shakespeare in the Park Festival in New
York's Central Park. Steinman had began work on More Than You
Deserve with the off-Broadway lyricist Michael Weller. By happy
chance, the big guy from Texas had just hit New York, too, hot from
a run in The Rocky Horror Show and looking for work.