"Extreme, operatic, feverish, romantic, rebellious, gothic, powerful, heroic" - just some of the words used by music titan Jim Steinman to describe the music on Bat Out of Hell. They're all equally applicable to that album's chief protagonist, Meat Loaf, who has died at the age of 74.
Meat Loaf performing at the 2011 AFL Grand Final, credit Jake Robinson
"Our hearts are broken to announce that the incomparable Meat Loaf passed away tonight with his wife Deborah by his side" his family confirmed on his Facebook page.
"Daughters Pearl and Amanda and close friends have been with him throughout the last 24 hours," his family continued.
"We know how much he meant to so many of you and we truly appreciate all of the love and support as we move through this time of grief in losing such an inspiring artist and beautiful man."
"From his heart to your souls…don't ever stop rocking!"
Born in Texas as the only child of a teacher and ex-police officer, Marvin Lee Aday later moved to Los Angeles to pursue his love of music. He initially found a degree of success, with his band Meat Loaf Soul supporting the likes of Janis Joplin, The Who, Grateful Dead, Taj Mahal, and the Stooges. Despite this, Meat Loaf struggled to get the recognition that he and his massive voice deserved, later saying he felt treated "like a circus clown".
Meat Loaf took the opportunity to join the touring cast of the musical Hair, first touring, then in a theatre on Broadway. But, it was an audition among eight hundred hopefuls for the cast of Steinman's More Than You Deserve that was to open the door to a partnership and career unlike any other in rock music.
A classically trained pianist, Steinman, who passed away in 2021, was himself a devout theatre fan with a deep love of dramatic performance. Recognising a kindred spirit, he soon began writing for Meat Loaf, and the album that became Bat Out of Hell was born. It was a difficult birth - repeatedly rejected by record companies through 1974 and 1975, producers uniformly hated it.
How could you capture the theatrical nature of the songs in a recording, they asked. Most believed it impossible, until the pair met Todd Rundgren. Rundgren, a multi-instrumentalist and producer with a number of his own concept albums under his belt, immediately got what Meat Loaf and Steinman were aiming for. As drummer Max Weinberg put it, the songs were "mini-plays... that make you feel like you're watching a show."
Rundgren set about recording and producing the album under the Bearsville Records label (part of Warner Bros), to which he was himself signed. But, with the recording in the can, Warner Bros rejected it. Another difficult year of rejection followed, before Steve Popovich picked it up for publication on his Cleveland International Records label following a single listen. After that intervention, Bat Out of Hell was finally released in 1977. The album would go on to sell more than 43 million copies globally.
"Bat Out of Hell set the fiery train that was Meat Loaf moving down the track at speed"
Bat Out of Hell set the fiery train that was Meat Loaf moving down the track at speed, with characteristically high-octane performances on the Old Grey Whistle Test in the UK and Saturday Night Live in the US catching the public eye. An intense and attention-grabbing character on stage - often dripping with sweat, hair flying, Meat Loaf occasionally went to the point of collapse such was his drive to give everything to the performance. As Meat Loaf explained in 1999, he had loaded the train that was Bat with wood and coal to ensure its success, but by the end of the tour, he was burned out and suffering exhaustion.
Difficulties with addiction, depression, royalty issues, and a falling out with Steinman followed, culminating in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in 1983. The following year he legally changed his first name to Michael, apparently out of sensitivity to a Levi's advert using the name Marvin and targetting the larger man. Following a difficult decade during which he struggled to find a dedicated following, particularly in the USA, his career was rekindled when he once again teamed up with Steinman, for Bat Out of Hell II, Meat Loaf's sixth studio album. Released in 1993, the album was a massive commercial success, selling more than 14 million copies, and Meat Loaf won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Vocal Performance for I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That).
A further six studio albums followed, culminating with 2016's Braver Than We Are. His records racked up more than 80 million sales globally, making Meat Loaf one of the best-selling music artists of all time. As well as his stage roles, he also has more than 50 film and TV credits to his name, including parts in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Spiceworld, Fightclub, Southpark, and Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny - for which he recorded vocals for the song Kickapoo.
"It was that rarest of things - music that no one in the house objected to, but all could enjoy in their own way"
For me as a child of the seventies and eighties, growing up in a house filled with the songs of the musicals and the best of British rock, blues, disco and pop (with a heavy sprinkling of the worst of the latter for good measure), Meat Loaf's music represented an invaluable cross-genre and cross-generational bridge, while simultaneously being something all of its own. There was enough passion, enough pain, and enough romance, for it to mean something to everyone. The hormone-charged sentiment (and not-quite--there-ness) of tracks like Paradise by the Dashboard Lights chimed perfectly with my hormonally-charged teenage self, as much as the screaming guitar and inevitable crash of Bat Out of Hell rang true to my dad's own teenage biker experiences. It was that rarest of things - music that no one in the house objected to, but all could enjoy in their own way.
Meat Loaf's music has always been more than a guilty pleasure, and while perhaps it was never truly 'fashionable', it's hard to argue that the man himself was anything other than extremely cool. Not only does he leave a body of work that stands apart from anything else, but a strong lesson that while it might take time, if you've talent, then belief in what you do and real commitment to put everything into it can bring both rewards and recognition.