Triumphantly, Unrepentantly Ridiculous
Q Magazine Special Edition - The 100 Best
Ian Gittins March 2001
Its probable that the terminal unhipness of Meat Loafs Bat
Out Of Hell among the music intelligentsia initially owed as much to its
sleeve as to the pantomime heavy rock that constituted the music. As punk
seized the UK music world in 1977, Bat Out Of Hell crash-landed from the
States like a monstrous anachronism. Packed with eight-minute songs of
staggering, grandiloquent verbosity and larynx-straining rock opera, its
impossible to conceive of an album that was more indifferent to the late
The cover was a case in point. Where the Jamie Reid inspired fashion
in UK sleeves was for harsh, stenciled graphics, urban graffiti-style
lettering and abrasive street simplicity, Bat Out Of Hell lurched into
view wrapped in a baroque, elaborate design that a 14-year old Dungeon
& Dragons aficionado might have rejected as far too lurid and gaudy.
It is triumphantly, unrepentantly ridiculous.
The image was the work of Richard Corben, an icon of the underground
US comic world. Corbens work has always been very apocalyptic
and horror-based, explains comic professor Jan Wiacek of London
superstore Forbidden Planet. Hes always tended toward fantasy
and science fiction, and has illustrated a lot of short stories by people
like Edgar Allan Poe.
Given the chequered history of Bat Out Of Hell, its amazing that
Meat Loaf and his writer Jim Steinman ever got as far as commissioning
artwork from Corben.
Commencing work in 1972 the pair began touting the record in 1975. We
basically spent two-and-a half years being rejected, says Meat Loaf
in his autobiography, To Hell And Back. People at record companies
hated it. They didnt just dislike it, they were incensed by it.
It was like we were aliens.
meanwhile, had made a name for himself by 1977 on ghoulish mags like Fantagor,
Slow Death, Skull, Eerie, Creepy, Vampirella and Bloodstar, although its
likely that Meat Loaf and his partner Jim Steinman became aware of him
via his seminal magazine Heavy Metal. Steinman, who single handedly conceptualized
and wrote all the songs for Bat Out Of Hell, briefed the artist closely
for the sleeve.
Corbens visual interpretation of the music was both faithfully
literal and undeniably spectacular. Its easy to snipe that he merely
drew the lyrics of the title track, Im gonna hit
the highway like a battering ram on a silver black phantom bike / I gotta
break it out now before the final crack of dawn - like a bat out of hell
Ill be gone when the morning comes. Corben clearly obeyed
Steinmans commands to the letter.
Nevertheless, the gothic imagery is unforgettable. Under a blood-red
sky, a naked wildman of impressively sculpted musculature screams as he
rises above a dark, bleak graveyard on a steel machine that is adorned
with a flowing mane and tail. A solitary bat perched on a crypt tower
howls encouragement to this lonely horseman of the apocalypse. Spiral
Scratch it wasnt.
Corben was the perfect choice for this cover, reflects Wiacek.
His very stylized, airbrushed, exaggerated style was ideal. His
linework has always been more like a graphic artist than a cartoonist,
the opposite to the flat photographic style of your run-of -the-mill superhero
Bat Out Of Hells grotesque vision was perfectly realized by Corben
by oddly subverted by the photograph on the albums back sleeve,
which showed a shapely woman with her back to the camera wrapped around
an inscrutable Steinman, while a frilly shirted, sunglasses wearing Meat
Loaf pinches her behind.
Inevitably, the juggernaut that was Bat Out Of Hell crushed the punk
rivals like a fly and went on to become the third best selling album of
all time. Richard Corben, now 60 years old, is still living in his native
Kansas City and illustrating dark comics as well as making
odd animated films such as Gateway To Terror, Labours Of Hercules and
Corben has never put his pen down, says Wiacek. Hes
a one off like Robert Crumb. Normally his work nowadays is full of bald
men with enormous muscles and naked women with enormous breasts.
Its an aesthetic Steinman and Meat Loaf would surely have endorsed.