I was somewhere around my 38th Blatz one night last week, tooling around the Netflix queue, when I came upon the Classic Albums series that had dropped into the instant watch section. Staring me right in the face-- in all its sexually charged, prepubescent, operatic glory – was a short documentary on the making of Meatloaf's Bat Out of Hell.
I cannot begin to tell you, dear readers, the importance that this album had on this author's sanity as an angst-ridden teen in the late '70s, suffice to say that without it I'd probably still be awaiting (with bated, nerdy breath) the latest technological musical noodlings of Robert Fripp or Rick Wakeman. Okay, maybe that's too harsh. I had always prided myself on staying atop the Euterpean food chain even back then and segued easily into the developing new wave and punk movements of the time. But it was a trying era in popular music.
Which leads me to another one of my crackpot theories. No, not the usual half-baked conjecture with holes wider than a crazy woman's quilt. A very real hypothesis that states, with unflinching assuredness, that the release of Meatloaf's Bat Out of Hell singlehandedly saved rock and roll; or, at least, delayed its demise for approximately fifteen to twenty years.
It was long ago and it was far away
And it was so much better than it is today
In 1978, disco was still strong. Metal was making a vicious surge. The Grease soundtrack was being pawned off as real rock 'n roll. Prog rock had overtaken the concert arenas from the bands who had fused blues and rock in the earlier part of the decade (and the late '60s). And emasculating, gutless foam like Air Supply and Barry Manilow were dominating the airwaves. Something or someone needed to stand up in Howard Bealean protest and say "Enough!"
It was a man named Jim Steinman. And it was his encyclopedic music knowledge, adolescent preoccupation with teenage sexual frustration and fantasy, ability to turn a phrase, and love a big fat man with a decent set of pipes that became savior not only to music's most energetic genre, but to this poor, virginal, acne-ridden mess of a fourteen-year-old as well. Karla DeVito's nipples also helped.
As a matter of fact, maybe it was Karl DeVito's nipples that singlehandedly saved rock and roll.
Every Saturday Night
I felt the fever grow
Do you know what it's like
All revved up with no place to go
Having no car, no fake I.D., no girlfriends and no freedom, my friends and I used to hang out in our buddy's basement rec room every weekend. We'd play ping pong, pool, shoot the shit about who we just fucking hated at our school and, of course, rated our female classmates on "bangability". We did all these activities while the stereo was playing either our newly purchased albums, bootlegged cassettes, or the local AOR radio station ("Friday Night – Party Night!" it mocked). We lamented the current state of music, movies and television (Oh Lord! We couldn't know how worse it would get!), speaking often of turning 18, going to college and getting out from under the thumb of our domineering, hideous parents whom we were sure secretly hated us, yet would ultimately regret the unspeakable way they treated us throughout our youth before sending us off to university on their dime (Oh Lord! We couldn't know how worse it would get!).
Nothing ever grows in this rotten old hole
And everything is stunted and lost
And nothing really rocks
And nothing really rolls
And nothing's ever worth the cost
Then, sometime in the winter of 1978, the opening rockabilly boogie guitar chords of Paradise By the Dashboard Light twanged through the shitty, crackling speakers in the basement and we all knew, precisely and as one at that moment, that it was all going to be okay. We would get laid. We would drive a car. We would get to college. We would have girlfriends. And, when we saw Meatloaf perform the tune on Saturday Night Live later that year, we also got to see Karla DeVito's nipples.
It was the Phil Spector wall of sound, mixed with the sexual angst of a generation that didn't get to experience the free love or radical political thrill of the '60s. It was ball-busting musical theater for guys who hated fucking musical theater. It knocked the dicks of performance art rock dandies right into the dirt. It put a bulge in your pants and a riff in your heart. It was an anthem for the seeds of Gen-X, although those aging hipsters would deny it now. The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, The Clash, The Talking Heads and Elvis Costello were the newfound darlings, and rightfully so, but the revolt came with Steinman's operatic nostalgia which, like a cleansing rain, helped wash off the stink of Yes, Genesis, ELP, and the goddamn, fucking Eagles. At least, from this boy's playlist.
Most of this argument, while true on a personal level, is a bit disingenuous. The talents which brought you this phenomenal work of art have never achieved anything remotely close to it in the remainder of their careers. The two sequel albums are horrifically bad and Meatloaf's Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer than They Are is as silly as its title. His apparent follow up, Any Rebroadcast, Retransmission, or Account of this Game, without the Express Written Consent of Major League Baseball, is Strictly Prohibited was sadly never made.
Admittedly, Jim Steinman is a bit of a hack. Meatloaf lost weight and never did anything near as good. Producer Todd Rundgren, however, wondered how anyone could take the album seriously and said the humor of it was what got him through the drudgery of making it. This from the hermit of the pretentiously hollow who has never done anything near as interesting or listenable as this record. Put it this way; if they staged a revival concert of Bat Out of Hell at any venue in the United States of America, I would gouge someone's eyes out for a ticket. If Todd Rundgren and his band agreed to perform a free block party concert on an adjacent street where I live, I would call the cops and complain about the noise.
The question is not whether Bat Out of Hell saved rock and roll, but, without Bat Out of Hell, was rock and roll ever really worth saving?
Oh. And one more thing:
Would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?