Meat Loaf’s music morphs into musical
LONDON – Nineteen seventy-seven’s “Bat Out of Hell” is one of the best-selling albums of all time. The singer who made the disc famous, however, insists that it did not debut like, well, a bat out of hell.
“Everybody hated it at first,” says Meat Loaf.
Meat, as he likes to be called (his real name is Michael Lee Aday now that he has legally changed his first name from Marvin), made the comment recently in London. He was there to announce plans for a stage musical based on that album and other works composed by Jim Steinman.
“Bat Out of Hell – The Musical” will premiere in England early in 2017, previewing in Manchester before opening in London’s West End. There are eventual plans to take the show, co-produced by Bell Media as well as Toronto impresario Michael Cohl, to Toronto.
At 69 and after several health scares (including collapsing from dehydration on stage in Edmonton in June of 2016), Meat Loaf is no longer the brash rebel who crashed the set of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” astride a motorcycle. He won’t be in this stage musical based on “Bat Out of Hell” (newcomer Andrew Polec stars), but there’s no one better to promote it. Injuries over the years have forced him to walk with a cane, but he’s no less bellicose in his views.
“Rolling Stone gave it minus one star,” he says of when “Bat Out of Hell” premiered in 1977. “I don’t think it got any stars in the UK. I don’t think it got a good review anywhere. There was one woman in Cleveland who gave it a good review.”
Meat Loaf’s soaring, almost operatic vocals, the length of the songs and Steinman’s melodramatic and self-deprecating lyrics were not the stuff of Top-40 radio back in the ‘70s. Produced by famed rocker Todd Rundgren, Steinman and Meat Loaf spent two years schlepping “Bat Out of Hell” from record company to record company just to try and get it released.
“They were starting record companies just to turn us down,” famously quipped Steinman’s music manager David Sonenberg.
Finally, a minor label in Cleveland took a chance on it. Eventually, songs such as “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” and “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” became hits. The album has gone on to sell more than 40 million copies worldwide.
Steinman and Loaf continued on a musical journey that has lasted over 40 years, although there have been plenty of bumps along the way. Back in the late ‘70s, while doing a concert to promote the album in Ottawa, Meat Loaf broke his leg and wound up doing subsequent concerts in a wheelchair.
Hard living took such a toll on Meat Loaf’s voice he lost it completely during the recording of a follow-up album. Steinman abandoned that album and started writing songs for other artists, including “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” a hit for Bonnie Tyler.
During the ‘80s, Steinman and Loaf took turns suing each other; a situation the rocker blames more on managers and agents. They patched things up long enough to record “Bat Out of Hell II: Return to Hell” in the early ‘90s, featuring the Grammy-winning single, “I Would Do anything for Love (But I Won’t do That).” The duo just recorded their latest album, “Braver Than We Are.”
“As personalities we’re night and day,” Meat Loaf explains. “Artistically, we’re one. For some reason, the universe put us together. I would say there’s been 100 times we’ve been in the studio and nobody’s saying anything and we look at each other and say the same thing at the same time.”
It probably helps that both laugh at the same things. “Jimmy writes everything with a sense of humour,” says Meat Loaf. “On the whole ‘Bat Out of Hell’ was hysterical. If we’d played it in a comedy club and played the album as a comedy, it would have worked that way.”
Steinman began writing songs when he was still in high school. He always envisioned the album as a musical. When you listen to the entire album front to back, as Genesis manager and “Bat Out of Hell – The Musical” co-producer Tony Smith did, you realize that “the songs carry the narrative of the story – which you don’t hear when you listen to them individually.”
Meat Loaf does not plan to do any more stage work. After his fainting spell on stage in Edmonton he seems resigned to the studio. He does not rule out doing some sort of cameo or guest shot during the run of the musical and points out he’s worked on movie sets all across Canada, “from Halifax and St. John’s right to Vancouver.”
So if you’re keeping score, Meat Loaf a) broke a leg in Ottawa b) fainted during a concert in Edmonton and c) his wife is also from Edmonton. As far as Canada goes then, one out of three ain’t bad.