Bat Out of Hell is the 1977 smash hit album created by songwriter Jim Steinman, singer Meat Loaf, and producer Todd Rundgren. In 2007, Steve Popovich estimated total record sales at around 43 million copies. This makes it one of the top-ten worldwide best-selling albums of all time, continuing to sell approximately 200,000 per year. Rolling Stone magazine ranked it at number 343 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Its musical style is influenced by Steinman's appreciation of Richard Wagner, Phil Spector and Bruce Springsteen.
The album developed from a musical, Neverland, a sci-fi update of Peter Pan, which Steinman wrote for a workshop performed at the Kennedy Centre in 1977. Steinman and Meat Loaf, who were touring with the National Lampoon show, felt that three songs were "exceptional" and Steinman began to develop them as part of a seven-song set they wanted to record as an album. The three songs were "Bat Out of Hell", "Heaven Can Wait" and "The Formation of the Pack", which was retitled "All Revved Up With No Place to Go".
Bat Out of Hell is often compared to the music of Bruce Springsteen, particularly the Born to Run album. Steinman says that he finds that "puzzling, musically", although they share influences; "Springsteen was more an inspiration than an influence." A BBC article added, "That Max Weinberg and Roy Bittan from Springsteen's E Street Band played on the album only helped reinforce the comparison."
Todd Rundgren acknowledges that Steinman was highly influenced by the "rural urban teenage angst" of Bruce Springsteen. According to manager David Sonenberg, "Jim would always come up with these great titles and then he would write a song that would try to justify the greatness of the title."
The album opens with its title track, "Bat Out of Hell", taken from Steinman's Neverland musical. It is the result of Steinman's desire to write the "most extreme crash song of all time". It features a boy who is riding so fast and ecstatically that he is unable to see an obstruction until it is "way too late". The phrase that inspired the song's title, "bat out of hell," can be traced back to the Greek playwright Aristophanes' 414 BC work entitled The Birds. In it is what is believed to be the first reference to a bat out of Hell:
Near by the land of the Sciapodes there is a marsh, from the borders whereof the unwashed Socrates evokes the souls of men. Pisander came one day to see his soul, which he had left there when still alive. He offered a little victim, a camel, slit his throat and, following the example of Odysseus, stepped one pace backwards. Then that bat of a Chaerephon came up from hell to drink the camel's blood.
The next track, "You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)", opens with spoken word, performed by Steinman and Off-Broadway actress Marcia McClain, that was also taken from the Neverland musical, as were the next two tracks.
"All Revved Up With No Place to Go" describes the beginning of a relationship and also the taking of the girl's virginity:
You and me 'round about midnight
Someone's got to draw first blood [...]
Oooh I got to draw first blood.
Side two opens with "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad", which was written near the end of the album's production. The song documents the break-up of two relationships: first where the singer says he is not in love with his partner, and the second where he recalls when the "only girl... [he'd] ever love" left him. In the Classic Albums documentary, Rundgren identifies how the song was influenced by the Eagles, who were successful at the time. The producer also highlights the "underlying humor in the lyrics", citing the line "There ain't no Coupe de Ville hiding at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box." He says you could only "get away" with that lyric "in a Meat Loaf song".
The sixth track, "Paradise by the Dashboard Light", is an epic story about teen romance and sex. A duet between Meat Loaf and Ellen Foley, the couple reminisce driving to a secluded spot, at which he plans to have sex. They "make out" heavily in the middle instrumental section, described in metaphor in a baseball commentary by New York Yankees announcer Phil Rizzuto. However, she stops him just before they have sex, insisting that he first proclaim that he will "love her forever". He swears to love her to the end of time. The final part of the song displays the couple in an acrimonious relationship, in which they are "praying for the end of time" because "if I got to spend another minute with you I don't think that I can really survive." Whereas the title track is the "ultimate car crash song", this, according to the writer, is the "ultimate car sex song". It epitomizes the album's, as Ellen Foley describes, "pre-pubescent sexual mentality".
The final track of the album, "For Crying Out Loud", is a more sedate love song. It recounts the positive changes that a girl has made to the singer's life, which had "reached the bottom". The song also incorporates some sexual innuendo with the line "And can't you see my faded Levi's bursting apart."
Comparing the album to Steinman's late-60s musical The Dream Engine, Classic Rock magazine says that Steinman's imagery is "revved up and testosterone-fueled. Songs like "Paradise by the Dashboard Light," "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad" and "For Crying Out Loud" echoed the textbook teenage view of sex and life: irrepressible physical urges and unrealistic romantic longing."
Steinman's songs for Bat Out of Hell are personal but not autobiographical:
I never thought of them as personal songs in terms of my own life but they were personality songs. They were all about my obsessions and images. None of them takes place in a normal world. They all take place in extreme worlds. Very operatic... they were all heightened. They don't take place in normal reality.
For example, citing the narrative of "Paradise", Rundgren jokes that he can't imagine Steinman being at a lakeside with the most beautiful girl in school, but he can imagine Steinman imagining it.
Steinman and Meat Loaf had immense difficulty finding a record company willing to sign them. According to Meat Loaf's autobiography, the band spent most of 1975, and two and a half years, auditioning the record and being rejected. Manager David Sonenberg jokes that they were creating record companies just so they could be rejected. They performed the album live, with Steinman on piano, Meat Loaf singing, occasionally Rory Dodd on backup vocals, and sometimes Ellen Foley joining them for "Paradise". Steinman says that it was a "medley of the most brutal rejections you could imagine." Meat Loaf "almost cracked" when CBS executive Clive Davis rejected the project. The singer recounts the incident in his autobiography. Not only did Davis, according to Meat Loaf, say that "actors don't make records", the executive challenged Steinman's writing abilities and knowledge of rock music:
Do you know how to write a song? Do you know anything about writing? If you're going to write for records, it goes like this: A, B, C, B, C, C. I don't know what you're doing. You're doing A, D, F, G, B, D, C. You don't know how to write a song... Have you ever listened to pop music? Have you ever heard any rock-and-roll music... You should go downstairs when you leave here... and buy some rock-and-roll records.
Meat Loaf asserts "Jim, at the time, knew every record ever made. He is a walking rock encyclopedia." Although Steinman laughed off the insults, the singer screamed "Fuck you, Clive!" from the street up to his building.
In a 1989 interview with Redbeard for the In the Studio with Redbeard episode on the making of the album, Meat Loaf revealed that Jimmy Iovine and Andy Johns were potential candidates for producing Bat Out of Hell before being rejected by Meat and Steinman. Todd Rundgren, however, whom Meat initially found cocky but grew to like and whom Steinman labeled "the only genuine genius I've ever worked with" in a 1989 interview with Classic Rock magazine, found the album hilarious. The singer quotes him as saying: "I've got to do this album. It's just so out there." Finding themselves without a record contract, but needing one to work with Rundgren, they told the producer that they had been signed to RCA, who had actually rejected them on the basis of their desire to use Rundgren as producer.
Recording started in late 1975 in Bearsville Studios, Woodstock, NY. Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg, the pianist and drummer from Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band played on the album, in addition to members of Rundgren's group Utopia: Kasim Sulton, Roger Powell and Willie Wilcox. Edgar Winter played the saxophone on "All Revved Up". Rundgren himself played guitar, including the "motorcycle solo" on "Bat out of Hell". Both Steinman and Rundgren were influenced by Phil Spector and his "wall of sound". According to Meat Loaf, Rundgren put all the arrangements together because although "Jim could hear all the instruments" in his head, Steinman hummed rather than orchestrating. String arrangements on two tracks were provided by noted New York session musician Ken Ascher, and frequent Steinman collaborator Steve Margoshes arranged the orchestral segment of "For Crying Out Loud". All orchestrations and arrangements that were non-rhythm in nature were performed by members of the New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestras, under concertmaster Gene Orloff.
Rundgren mixed the record in one night. However, the mixes were not suitable, to the extent that Meat Loaf did not want "Paradise" on the album. Jimmy Iovine, who had mixed Springsteen's Born to Run and was initially a producer candidate for Bat, remixed some of the tracks, and most of them (with the exception of his version of "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad," currently on the final album), in particular his mix of the title track, were rejected due to sounding too much like a "power trio," with more emphasis on the piano, bass and drums, and little to no guitar work reflected. After several attempts by several people, John Jansen mixed the versions of "All Revved Up", and more importantly "Paradise", that are on the album. According to Meat Loaf, he, Jansen and Steinman mixed the title track, although only Jansen received credit in the album's eventual liner notes.
When Rundgren discovered that the deal with RCA did not actually exist (and on top of this that he had essentially paid for the album himself), he turned to Albert Grossman, who had been Bob Dylan's manager, for help. Grossman offered to put it on his Bearsville label, but there was one catch: he needed more money. Mo Ostin at Warner Bros., the parent label of Bearsville, was impressed, but other senior people rejected them after they performed live. Steinman had offended them a few years earlier by auditioning with a song named "Who Needs the Young?", which contains the lyric "Is there anyone left who can fuck? Screw 'em!" and several sources imply that Steinman's re-appearance was the real reason for the album's rejection. The official excuse, however, is that they were repulsed by the performance of "Paradise", which even at this stage featured much simulated making-out by Meat Loaf and Ellen Foley during the 'play-by-play' section, feeling that Loaf got "too carried away" in his performance.
Out of desperation, another E Street Band member, Steve Van Zandt, and Sonenberg arranged to contact Cleveland International Records, a subsidiary of Epic Records. After listening to the spoken word intro to "You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)", founder Steve Popovich accepted the album for Cleveland.
Steinman is credited with the album cover concept, which was illustrated by Richard Corben. The cover depicts a motorcycle, ridden by a long-haired male, bursting out of the ground in a graveyard. In the background, a large bat perches atop a mausoleum that towers above the rest of the tombstones. In 2001, Q magazine listed the cover as number 71 in its list of "The Hundred Best Record Covers of All Time."
Steinman had wanted equal billing with Meat Loaf on the album's title. He wanted it to be called Jim Steinman Presents..., or Jim and Meat, or vice versa. For marketing reasons (though Steinman claims it was because they condemned his name as "too Jewish"), the record company wished to make 'Meat Loaf' the recognizable name. As a compromise, the credit "Songs by Jim Steinman" appears relatively prominently on the cover. The singer believes that this was probably the beginning of their "ambivalent relationship."
The album was dedicated to Wesley and Wilma Aday (Meat Loaf's parents) and Louis Steinman.
Release and Reception
Bat Out of Hell was released by Cleveland International on October 21 1977. Cleveland International's parent label was Epic Records, where almost everyone hated it. In 1993, Steinman reflected that the album is "timeless in that it didn't fit into any trend. It's never been a part of what's going on. You could release that record at any time and it would be out of place." Meat Loaf revealed on In the Studio with Redbeard that he was not well received early on in the tour when he was opening for Cheap Trick. In the same interview, Meat Loaf revealed that when he played at a CBS Records convention in 1978, record executives and superstar Billy Joel (who was in the audience) gave Meat Loaf a standing ovation after a haunting performance of the closing track "For Crying Out Loud," which he felt was the turning point in the album's success in the US.
Response to the album was slow. Steinman asserts that it was "underpromoted", having a reputation of being "damaged goods because it had been walked around so many places." Australia and England were the first to develop interest. The BBC television programme Old Grey Whistle Test aired a clip of the live band performing the nine-minute title track. According to Classic Rock, response was so overwhelming, that they screened it again the following week. They later invited to band to perform "Paradise" live. "As a result, in the UK Bat became an unfashionable, uncool, non-radio record that became a 'must-have' for everyone who heard it, whether they 'got' Steinman's unique perspective or not."
The album was not an immediate hit; it was more of a growing one. Bat Out of Hell still sells about 200,000 copies per year and has sold an estimated 43 million copies worldwide, 14 million in the United States alone, over 1.5 million (22 times platinum) albums in Australia (even re-entering the charts in June 2007, at number 43 on the ARIAs) becoming one of the biggest selling albums of all time.. It stayed on the United Kingdom charts for 474 weeks, a feat surpassed only by the 478 weeks of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours. In 2003, the album was ranked number 343 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. In 2006 it was voted number nine in a poll conducted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to discover Australia's most popular album. In November 2007, Meat Loaf was awarded the Classic Album award in Classic Rock's Classic Rock Roll Of Honour.
Reviews were initially mixed, but have since become much more positive. Rolling Stone calls the songs "swell, but... entirely mannered and derivative." The arrangements "aren't bad", although the musicians are commended. The review ends with the assertion that the "principals have some growing to do." Contemporary reviews are more positive, however. Allmusic declares "this is Grand Guignol pop—epic, gothic, operatic, and silly, and it's appealing because of all of this." They acknowledge that Steinman is "a composer without peer, simply because nobody else wanted to make mini-epics like this." Rundgren's production is applauded, as is the wit in the music and lyrics. "It may elevate adolescent passion to operatic dimensions, and that's certainly silly, but it's hard not to marvel at the skill behind this grandly silly, irresistible album."
- Bat Out of Hell
- You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)
- Heaven Can Wait
- All Revved Up With No Place to Go
- Two Out of Three Ain't Bad
- Paradise by the Dashboard Light
- For Crying Out Loud
- Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals (Tracks 2, 6), Percussion (Track 2) - Meat Loaf
- Guitar, Percussion (Tracks 1, 2), Keyboards (Track 1), Backing Vocals - Todd Rundgren
- Bass, Backing Vocals (Track 1) - Kasim Sulton
- Piano, Keyboards (Tracks 1, 2, 6) - Roy Bittan
- Piano (Track 7) - Steve Margoshes, Cheryl Hardwick
- Keyboards (Tracks 1, 2, 6), Percussion (Tracks 1, 2), "Lascivious Effects" (Track 6), Dialogue Intro (Track 2) - Jim Steinman
- Synthesizer - Roger Powell
- Saxophone (Tracks 2, 4, 6) - Edgar Winter
- Drums - Max Weinberg
- Drums (Tracks 4, 5, 7) - John "Willie" Wilcox
- Dialogue Intro (Track 2) - Marcia McClain
- Play-by-Play (Track 6) - Phil "Scooter" Rizzuto
- Female Lead and Backing Vocals - Ellen Foley
- Backing Vocals - Rory Dodd
- Orchestra - Members of New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestras (concertmaster: Gene Orloff)