After a stint as Ted Nugent's vocalist, the Texas born, L.A. bred, Meat Loaf (known to his parents as Marvin Lee Aday) set out on a rather unusual solo career.
Meat Loaf made his first major impression with a classic performance in the cult fav Rocky Horror Picture Show. How could anyone ever hope to top that? Enter Jim Steinman. As a songwriter and producer Steinman never had to worry about going over the top. Steinman started over the top and went from there. The two were perfectly matched: a Wagnerian Rock composer and a pseudo-operatic vocalist. The result was '77's "Bat Out Of Hell." The Rocker "You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth" and the tragic-comic ballad "Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad" were prime examples of their work. But the tour de force was "Paradise By The Dashboard Light."
The Doors used extended pieces to create theatre. Meat Loaf and Steinman used them to create reality. "Paradise By The Dashboard Light," which mixed passion (a large dose coming from Ellen Foley's vocals), lust and baseball (announcer Phil Ruzzuto's play-by-play was riveting) into one of those career defining moments. If Meat Loaf never did another thing he would be remembered.
That almost happened. Steinman and Meat Loaf had a falling out. Steinman went to work with Bonnie Tyler ("Total Eclipse of the Heart") and Air Supply (how low will you go). Meat Loaf tried to find a Steinman clone. Failing that, he slipped away only to re-team with Steinman in '93 for "Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell" containing "I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)." Also, "Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through" did manage to come through.
Aside from his Rocky Horror Picture Show credit, Meat Loaf made a cameo appearance in Wayne's World and played the bus driver in Spiceworld. Seen together in one sentence those three movies conjure some disconcerting images.
After a succession of albums failed to garner one-tenth the attention or sales, it looked as though Meat Loaf was ultimately what he appeared to be, a one-shot novelty.
You could almost forgive all the parties involved for "Bat Out Of Hell II." In a business where failure can be terminal, even a creative one, the basic instinct is to milk a proven concept until the diminishing returns are completely diminished.
Only "Bat Out Of Hell II" did a lot better than the norm, selling over 20 million copies, over half as many as the original. Pretty good for a sequel. Actually, the reason was easy to figure out. Steinman's songs still served as outlandish theatrical platforms and Meat Loaf was in his element. It was not as out-of-the-box as the original, closer to a standard Rock album, but it did have a sense of humor and drama.
Once again though, the ride ended. Subsequent Meat Loaf albums did little (for obvious reasons) but he was able to nail an occasional acting gig, including Fight Club (with Brad Pitt) in '99.
If you let Meat Loaf and company slide on "II" then you have to draw the line at "Bat Out Of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose." It's been nearly thirty years since the original. How long can he keep flogging this concept? Then again, maybe Meat Loaf and Steinman needed the money. If that was the case, let's hope they found a good investment planner.
Typical of the "Bat Out Of Hell" series, "III', issued in '06, had just about everything, including the kitchen sink. Rob Zombie guitarist John 5 played on the heavy title track, while Steve Vai blasted into "In The Land Of The Pig, The Butcher Is King." But there's more! "Bad For Good," featured the guitar of Queen's Brian May. Guitar was not the only place where Meat Loaf got a boost. There was an emotional duet with Marion Raven on "It's All Coming Back to Me Now" (a song originally recorded by Celine Dion). Perhaps Liza Minelli was unavailable or working with My Chemical Romance.
Despite the heavy hitting talent, "Bat Out Of Hell III" didn't do much. That didn't stop Meat Loaf from loading up again for his '10 offering, "Hang Cool Teddy Bear." Songs were written by American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi, Bon Jovi and Desmond Child. Guitarists Justin Hawkins (The Darkness), Steve Vai and Brian May (again) added embellishments.
Meat Loaf's 12th studio album, "Hell In A Handbasket," followed the too familiar template - plenty of collaborators (including longtime foil Patti Russo but Jim Steinman was still MIA). The '12 set had appearances by Rappers Chuck D and Lil Jon plus Sugar Ray crooner Mark McGrath and Country singer Trace Adkins.
"Bat Out Of Hell," "Bat Out Of Hell," "BAT OUT OF HELL." Get the message? That's the album. He nails it. It's also a great period piece. The rest of his career doesn't come close. But if there is a continued desire for Meat Loaf's theatrics, pick up "II" and "III."
"Hang Cool Teddy Bear" is an improvement over "Bat Out Of Hell III" but that's not enough. The songs and performances are good but there's precious little support for Meat Loaf's overblown, semi-comic persona.