My Rouses Everyday, September & October 2018
In the annals of rock ‘n’ roll, there are some strange songs that, somehow, we all just know. Do we learn them by osmosis? There are the big chart smashes, the perennially popular classic-rock radio staples, the Western world-shaping catalogs of the Beatles and the Stones that are, fundamentally, part of our collective DNA — and then there are the weird ones. They’re unlikely hits, often extra-long and unusually structured sui generis cuts that, despite their quirks — or maybe because of them — become culturally ubiquitous across generations. “Stairway to Heaven,” for example. “Bohemian Rhapsody.” And, of course, Meat Loaf’s epic, eccentric, three-part, eight-minute 1977 tale of teenage heavy petting and regret, “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.”
And “Paradise” is just one of several indelible songs to appear on the Bat Out of Hell trilogy (the trademarked phrase was actually the subject of a contentious legal battle between Meat Loaf and his longtime collaborator Jim Steinman) which was released over a span of almost 30 years and, varyingly, featured the work of Todd Rundgren, multiple members of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and the Oscar-nominated co-writer of Kermit the Frog’s signature song, “The Rainbow Connection.” To name a few of the others, there’s also the million-selling “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad,” the Grammy-winning Billboard No. 1 hit “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” and the fist-pumping, hard-rocking single “Bat Out of Hell” itself, all of which live in the special, mysterious part of the brain reserved for earworms.
Meat Loaf, like his blue-plate-special namesake, is a dependable treat, solid and comforting — yet also surprisingly versatile. Both are appreciated internationally: When it comes to the dish, most cultures have a version of seasoned, shaped ground meat. When it comes to the singer, his recordings have charted in at least 10 countries. And both, when done (or heard) right, are earthy pleasures that can actually approach the sublime. Here’s a few facts about the man born Marvin Lee Aday in Dallas, Texas 71 years ago this September:
About that name:
Young Marvin was beefy, and in grade school, he was taunted by classmates with the refrain from a popular jeans commercial that went, “Poor fat Marvin can’t wear Levi’s.” In 1984, he legally changed his first name to Michael.
He’s an accomplished actor.
Most fans know about his showstopping turn as Eddie, the raucous saxophone-playing, motorcycle-riding character who meets a gruesome end in the cult classic Rocky Horror Picture Show. But (and perhaps the high drama of complex, cinematic songs like “Paradise” hint at it) the theater was his first love. “I don’t read about anything but acting,” he told The Guardian in 2003. “I read about Brando. I read about De Niro. I read about Olivier.” Before becoming a recording artist, he performed in the musical Hair in Los Angeles and on Broadway, and over the years he went on to appear in dozens of movies and TV shows, including, notably, Fight Club, Monk, Glee and House, and as the Spice Girls’ bus driver in 1997’s Spice World.
His voice is a force of nature.
Meat Loaf is able to infuse his rock-operatic songs with such urgent melodrama, in part, because his voice is built for it. According to a Rolling Stone profile from earlier this year, his vocal range still covers three-and-a-half octaves. That’s about the same span, though between different notes, as Canadian belter Celine Dion — who, weirdly, had a major hit with a song Meat Loaf wanted to (and ultimately did) record. Jim Steinman thought that the big power ballad he titled “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” should be sung by a woman, not the beefy male singer he’d worked with for so many years.
He’s one of the best-selling artists of all time.
The original Bat Out of Hellhas sold more than 43 million copies to date, placing it behind (as Billboard reports) only Michael Jackson’s Thriller,Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon and AC/DC’s Back in Black.
And finally — he’s taking a break, but the music’s not stopping.
Debilitating back problems and multiple associated surgeries have kept Meat Loaf off the stage, but he’s given his blessing to two celebrations of his work: A jukebox musical with book and songs by Jim Steinman and a tribute show featuring American Idol 2014 winner Caleb Johnson, backed by Meat Loaf’s official band, are both on tour. And if fans are disappointed that they can hear the songs and the backing band, but not the man himself, well… two out of three ain’t bad.