Bat Out Of Hell - The Story Behind The Album
"One of the most mind-blowing moments in my life," Meat Loaf, said, "was watching Todd Rundgren play the guitar and do it in one take, and one take only. In 15 minutes he played the lead solo and then went back and did the harmony guitars at the beginning. The whole thing didn't take him more than 45 minutes! Then Todd mixed the record in one night. He started at six o'clock and finished about four o'clock in the morning."
Initially, the tapes interested one of Bob Dylan's first managers, Albert Grossman, who took the record to Warner Bros. head honcho, Mo Austin. Much wrangling ensued, with Steinman and Meat Loaf fearing the record would never be released, when another E Street Band Member 'Miami' Steve Van Zandt (also known as Little Steven and now a star of cult US TV series The Sopranos) got Cleveland International plugger Steve Popovitch to front a deal.
Almost four years in the making "Bat Out Of Hell" was finally released by Cleveland International on October 21, 1977. Cleveland International's parent label was Epic Records, and almost everyone there hated it.
Inevitably, the outrageously overblown "Bat Out Of Hell" inspired extreme reactions.
Jim Steinman: "I describe it as feverous, strong, romantic, violent, rebellious, fun and heroic."
Meat Loaf: "I think "Bat Out Of Hell" is more real than 95 per cent of the records ever made."
Ellen Foley: "There are just some things that touch an emotional core that I think people are going to want to listen to for a long time. This record is one of them."
Max Weinberg: "I think "Bat Out Of Hell" will probably last forever."
The album proved the classic 'sleeper' Six months after its release, the Old Grey Whistle Test took the ambitious step of airing a film clip of the live band performing the nine-minute title track. Response was so overwhelming, they screened it again the following week. As a result, in the UK "Bat..." became and unfashionable, uncool, non-radio record that became a 'must-have' for everyone who heard it, whether they 'got' Steinman's unique perspective or not.
Eventually every track on the album became a hit single and the album became a phenomenon, selling over 34 million copies worldwide and raking in over $125 million for Epic and Sony. It was also the most profitable release in history, beating even Michael Jackson's "Thriller," which had cost ten times as much to make.
But success came with turmoil. Even Meat Loaf's mighty voice was broken by the touring schedule required and the attendant pressures. As a result, he was unable to record Steinman's "Renegade Angel," which Steinman eventually cut himself as "Bad For Good" in 1981. This was the period in his life that Meat Loaf now describes as his "darkest hour". Famously, Steinman had spliced together Meat's vocals from separately recorded phrases and one-liners to complete the wonderful "Dead Ringer" album after the singer had claimed to be experiencing a mental block.
"Yeah, I had a mental block, but not the kind of block you're talking about," Meat told Classic Rock last year. "My block was because "Bad For Good" was trying to be a copy of "Bat Out Of Hell". "Dance In My Pants" was trying to be a copy of "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" and "Lost Boys And Golden Girls" was trying to be a copy of "Heaven Can Wait."
Afterwards, they split, apparently for good. "I was upset at everyone trying to rush the follow-up out," said Meat, recalling their disagreement. "Jimmy and I had spent four years of our lives putting together "Bat Out Of Hell".. Yeah, Jimmy wrote, because he was a better writer than I was. But we worked together on those songs. I said, Jim this is not how we did "Bat Out Of Hell." We need to sit down and work together. And he just, like, shrugs. And I just lost it. I said, that's it. I went back to the house we were staying in, packed the car, took my wife and split."
The differing characters and expectations had ultimately driven a wedge between the two. Steinman draws a line between Meat the man and Meat the character who sung his songs. But the famous court case that ensued over the album's profits left the singer floundering. In 1983, he was sued to the tune of $85 million by Steinman and former manager David Sonenberg and was forced to file for bankruptcy.
While Steinman's vision continued to provide hits throughout the last 20 years for artists as diverse as Bonnie Tyler, Barbra Streisand, Air Supply, the Sisters of Mercy and even Boyzone, Meat Loaf drifted without him through a succession of half-baked efforts like "Midnight At The Lost And Found" ('83), "Bad Attitude" ('84) and "Blind Before I Stop" ('86).
Ultimately, as we now know, they would reunite for the hugely successful sequel "Bat Out Of Hell: Back Into Hell" in 1993. It's lead-off single "I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)" demonstrated that the old magic was still there and the follow-up netted both a genuine fortune as it topped the charts in over 25 countries, but for both, the original would mark a peak of different sorts.
For Meat Loaf, it marked the beginning of his transition from nonentity to huge star. A slimmed down, short haired Meat returned two years later for the patchy "Welcome To The Neighborhood" which featured just two Steinman tunes and the inevitable "Very Best Of" album in '98, but by then he was talking about dropping music altogether and concentrating on successful screen roles in movies like Everything That Rises. During the press tour for the latter, the singer was quietly fuming about having to turn down the chance of starring with Nicolas Cage in a new Martin Scorsese movie in order to be in London to talk to the media.
"Movie critics love me, but rock critics just brutalize me," he told our own Mick Wall. "With Steinman and his manager and lawyer, there's too much baggage. Nobody will let it go and everybody has to have a piece. So it's a shame."
Nevertheless, during the same interview, Meat also told Classic Rock that the possibility of a third "Bat Out Of Hell" album remained, although the long mooted idea of turning it into a movie or a Broadway musical was now never likely to occur.
"It'd never end up as a stage show," he stressed. "It can't. I mean, it just won't. As for the movie, as much as I've tried to help Jimmy put it up and as much as I've tried to make the film go, it's just too much of a struggle. There's people who wanna do it, but..."
When it was suggested that Steinman felt rancor over being less famous than Meat Loaf, the latter clearly felt there was nothing he could do about the situation.
"Why do you think Jimmy still wears all the gear?" he retorted rhetorically. "It's like, you get U2, you get Aerosmith, you get Steinman. You get these guys, they dress the part. They want to get noticed! Whereas me, I cut my hair, I got these suits. People think I'm a friggin' accountant when I walk in the room now."
Nevertheless, the significance of "Bat Out Of Hell" continues to loom spectre-like over Meat Loaf's life.
"These two professors who are head of their departments at these Ivy League university in the States did this psychological test in the US Medical Journal to determine the subject's state of mind," he claimed.
"They've started to use the "Bat..." album as a sort of Rorschard test. Basically the bottom line is this: if you don't like "Bat Out Of Hell", then you have a problem. Now psychologist and psychiatrists all over America are giving it to their patients having them listen to it and then come back. Now they say that if you know anybody and they don't like "Bat Out Of Hell", you'd better be careful - they could snap at any moment. It's a medical fact now, and I see it as my redemption."
For Steinman, "Bat Out Of Hell" was more than just a spectacularly successful album: it was a validation of his inner life, of his imagination.
"I think it is a heroic record ultimately in content and execution," he concludes. There is a sense of heroism which you definitely don't find in most pop music. Even today, every time I finish a record, I always play it back-to-back with "Bat..."