Music News

Happy Birthday, Meat Loaf!

Marvin Lee Aday, AKA Meat Loaf, was born 64 years ago today, and though the origin of his nickname remains clouded in legend (it possibly has something to do with the fact that he originally weighed in at more than 300 pounds!), it joins some of the more distinctive monikers in rock 'n' roll -- Lady Gaga, Slash, Bono, and Madonna, among them.

Best-known for his searing style and bellowing vocals, Loaf formulated his brand long before Bat Out of Hell brought him to the masses. His first band, oddly titled Meat Loaf Soul and Popcorn Blizzard, became a reliable opening act for big names like the Who and the Stooges at the tail end of the '60s -- prior to his landing a role in the touring company of Hair. While it might be painful to imagine him as part of the show's famous nude scene, the show did propel him onto other ventures, notably his first solo album, recorded with a fellow cast mate and credited to Stoney & Meat Loaf. A pair of off-Broadway parts led to a part in the cult film Rocky Horror Picture Show and eventually a short stint as the vocalist on Ted Nugent's Free for All album, a move that effectively established his rock credibility.

Still, it was the Bat Out Of Hell album that made Meat Loaf a household name, even among vegetarians. A landmark recording, released in 1977, it's the standard against which he'll always be judged. 

Despite its immense popularity -- it has sold nearly 45 million copies worldwide and continues to move roughly 200,000 copies per year -- there are certain things about the album that have been overshadowed by the hype and largess that have surrounded it. For example,

• The songs on Bat Out of Hell were conceived by composer Jim Steinman for a prospective musical titled Neverland, a sci-fi retelling of the story of Peter Pan. Three songs were salvaged from the original effort: "Bat Out of Hell," "Heaven Can Wait," and "The Formation of the Pack," later retitled "All Revved Up With No Place to Go."

• Steinman originally insisted on being co-billed on the album cover under the marquee "Jim Steinman presents..." or as "Jim and Meat." Instead, he was simply credited as the composer and given a considerably smaller banner. 

• Noted producers Jimmy Iovine and Andy Johns were the first candidates to oversee the recording, but both Meat Loaf and Steinman chose Todd Rundgren instead. Iovine eventually did get involved in the project in the role of remix engineer. 

• The album spawned three hit singles: "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad," "Paradise by the Dashboard Light," and "You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth." Ironically, Meat Loaf had initially rejected "Paradise by the Dashboard Light," saying it was unworthy of inclusion on the album. 

• "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" features play-by-play commentary by New York Yankees announcer Phil Rizzuto. However, Rizzuto later claimed he had no idea of the sexual innuendo that accompanied his contribution and objected to its inclusion. Meat Loaf says that in fact was a ruse and Rizzuto was merely trying to placate a priest. 

• Early reviewers noted certain similarities to music by the Who, composer Richard Wagner, "Wall of Sound" producer Phil Spector and Bruce Springsteen. The latter comparison ought to come as no surprise considering the fact that two members of the E Street Band -- Max Weinberg and Roy Bittan -- played prominent roles in the recording. Others in the backing band included Edgar Winter and members of Rundgren's band Utopia. 

• It took a relatively long time to find a home for the album, especially after it was famously rejected by Columbia Records chief Clive Davis. Davis brutally insulted Steinman's songwriting abilities and mocked Meat Loaf as an actor unfit to be a rock singer. To which Meat Loaf supposedly screamed, "Fuck you, Clive!" Ironically, it was eventually released on Cleveland International, a label distributed by Sony, Columbia's corporate parent. 

Bat Out of Hell spawned a pair of sequels, 1993's Back Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell and 2006's Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose. The former, recorded with Steinman after a series of legal disputes created a schism between the two, proved equally successful, selling 5 million albums and yielding a major hit single in "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)." Bat Out of Hell III was recorded without Steinman -- the two had renewed their legal squabbles by then -- and found producer/songwriter Desmond Child at the helm.

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Lee Zimmerman