Saturday, January 28, 2017

Meat Loaf - Everything Louder Than Everything Else

1977 was a good year for Meat Loaf and the gang, “Bat Out of Hell” was a super hit and the world tours that followed were smash hits. But things were turning ugly. Meat Loaf partied and toured himself to exhaustion and began to lose his voice, also he made numerous enemies in the music industry that poisoned his and Jim Steinman’s ability to get a proper record production going. Slowly but surely Meat Loaf sank into obscurity.

Most stories like this one would end here. A huge flash in the pan and then some casual world tours with a loyal but fleeting fan base, luckily for Meat Loaf and his fans, his fate would be very different from this.

After four albums that flopped, though one is an arguable exception, Meat Loaf was gaining an impressive amount of traction touring Europe and growing his cult following. Someone advised Meat Loaf do the obvious thing and regroup with Jim Steinman, the mastermind songwriter behind “Bat Out of Hell” and see if they could once again reignite the fire of that first album.

Again, normally, the story would end with a flat dud, but this is not one of those stories.

Steinman decide they should create “Bat Out of Hell 2: Back Into Hell.” In some ways, the second installment of Bat Out of Hell was very much an attempt to return to form of the original. In some ways “Bat Out of Hell 2” was a unique and special experiment. In most ways, the album was showcase of Jim Steinman songs that had previous been recorded by other artist and lost to the sands of time. For this last reason critics panned the album, believing no one could enjoy a rehashing of Steinman’s mostly failed endeavours; but what do they know? The general public strongly disagreed, and they loved the hit single “I Would Do Anything for Love.”

“I Would Do Anything for Love” is a wholly original song, and while inspiring the same sort of over the top drama for stark raving love that we had seen before, there had never been anything in the Meat Loaf or Jim Steinman playlist quite like it, there had never really been anything ever like “I Would Do Anything for Love.” Logically it became a number one hit song and the album was a huge success, and Meat Loaf became a legend.

I guess one could argue that “I Would Do Anything for Love” is a touch on the sappy side, what with it being so direct in proclamation of extreme love, and while that is part of it’s charm I am not going to dwell any longer on this song, because unbeknownst to most the best song off of “Bat Out of Hell 2” is “Everything Louder Than Everything Else.”

“Everything Louder Than Everything Else” is another completely original song from Steinman and it is very different than the passionate love songs, and is perhaps I a little more akin to the original “Bat Out of Hell” song itself, only instead of focusing on a street gang fighter’s motor bike crash, this song is an ode to the joy of life, lust and rock and roll.

On the album before “Everything Louder Than Everything Else” begins, a poem read by Steinman plays titled “Wasted Youth,” which is interesting because the turn of phrase “a wasted youth is better by far, than a wise and productive old age,” is present in “Everything Louder Than Everything Else.”

“I remember everything!
I remember everything little thing, as if it happened yesterday.
I was barely seventeen, and I once killed a boy with a Fender Guitar.
I don't remember if it was a Telecaster or a Stratocaster,
But I do remember that it had a heart of chrome, and a voice like a horny angel.
I don't remember if it was a Telecaster or a Stratocaster,
But I do remember that it wasn't at all easy.
It required the perfect combination of the right power chords,
And the precise angel from which to strike!

The guitar bled for about a week afterwords,
And the blood was zoot, dark and rich, like wild berry's.
The blood of the guitar was Chuck Berry red.
The guitar bled for about a week afterwords,
But it rung out beautifully,
And I was able to play notes that I had never even heard before.

So I took my guitar,
And I smashed it against the wall,
I smashed it against the floor,
I smashed it against the body of a varsity cheerleader,
Smashed it against the hood of a car,
Smashed it against a 1981 Harley-Davidson,
The Harley howled in pain,
The guitar howled in heat.

And I ran up the stairs to my parents bedroom.
Mommy and Daddy were sleeping in the moonlight.
Slowly I opened the door,
Creeping in the shadows right up to the foot of their bed,
I raised the guitar high above my head,
And just as I was about to bring the guitar crashing down upon the center of the bed,
My father woke up, screaming ‘Stop!’
‘Wait a minute. Stop it boy. What do you think your doing?’
‘That's no way to treat an expensive musical instrument.’
And I said, ‘God Damn It daddy,’
‘You know I love you, but you've got a hell of a lot to learn about Rock n' Roll.’”

This poem/intro was original recorded on Jim Steinman’s solo album “Bad For Good” only titled as “Love, Hate and American Guitar.” It’s presence on the second Bat Out of Hell is highly appropriate given the contents of the song that follows it. The dialogue between father and son fits very well with the whole “wasted youth” theme, and the desire to never fully grow up. Rock and Roll was always in theory a young man’s game, but by the nineties, and even more so now, since even more time has passed, we have seen great rock legends age and mellow, but for the most part they never lost that youthful joy of sex, drug and rock and roll, or at the very least they never lost a love for life.

We, the listener are hits with a barrage of witty phrases exemplifying an arrested development and the contrast of joy of partying and enjoying life compared with the dryness of being responsible and pursuing society’s mature goals; and a final thought on all of this is put in the intro to what a bridge:

“But it seems to me to the contrary, of all the crap they're going to put on the page,
That a wasted youth is better by far than a wise and productive old age.”

In a literal sense, we could probably debate the merits of a wasted youth versus a productive one, and as someone who has invested an extraordinary amount of time and energy into being productive I got to say there are regrets. All in all, we have a classic rock song about rebellion and defying expectations and being true to one’s self, the very essence of rock and roll. “Everything Louder Than Everything Else” is a very upbeat song, and is one of the tunes I often turn to get some positive energy into my mind. There is this focus on what really matters and it is not all about power, health, glory, or wealth.

Until next month keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Meat Loaf - Bat Out of Hell

Approximately forty years ago, Jim Steinman and Michael Lee Aday, better known as Meat Loaf, set out to create the ultimate motor cycle crash song. They succeeded.

When I was a child my parents owned a copy of “Bat Out of Hell” on vinyl, and I remember looking at the cover art and being fascinated by what I saw. Some muscular biker dude was bursting out of the ground of a graveyard on a motor cycle ready to confront a giant bat. I remember my older brother and I wanting to hear this record and learn how this biker was going to fight the giant bat. Despite that story not existing in any context on the actual content of the music, when we finally did listen to it the narrative stories therein did not leave my young mind disappointed. The music was so epic that it satisfied my youthful wild imagination, even though I was too young to fully appreciate the social dynamics of a song like “Paradise by The Dashboard Light.”

“Bat out of Hell” is a one of kind album, even though there are now three albums by that name by Meat Loaf. Despite reasonably revisiting the general and vague album concept of bat out of hell twice more there could not be a real recreation of the original. A perfect storm of creativity was unleashed when “Bat Out of Hell” was produced. The two men involved Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman were both extremely eager to explode onto the music scene and their combination of talents was exactly what the world needed.

Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf.
Jim Steinman was a marginally successful screen writing for a handful of musicals, and Meat Loaf was a virtual unknow who’s primary body of work consisted of playing a supporting role in the musical “Hair.” Both men were eager to break into the mainstream, Steinman was a methodical thinker and had a masterplan all sorted out, meanwhile Meat Loaf was a force of nature, a powerful singer who presumed he would charge his way to success with sheer force of will. Their chance meeting came when Steinman was looking for a unique singer with an unique presence, someone possessing something special, an edge, a certain grit. Steinman was hoping for a handsome young man, who would sound and look the part of a Hollywood star, what he got instead was a powerful fat man who sang perfectly for his ambitions but looked nothing like what was expected. While uncertain at first if Meat Loaf was the right choice for this project, Meat Loaf successfully charged his way into Steinman’s life.

It should not have worked. From a business perspective, the concept album of “Bat Out of Hell” should not have been a commercial hit. The forty-five-minute album had only seven songs on it, making the average song length six and half minutes in length, typically far too long to be pop music radio friendly. Grandiose epics about motor cycle crashes and trying to hook up with the head cheerleader were in theory too aggressive and uncouth for the late seventies and arguably still now. Also instead of a young pretty boy as the front they had this berserking fat man singing his heart out. In theory that should not appeal to the simple-minded masses, but magically this is one of the those times when something totally awesome was deservedly well received by everyone.

Effectively “Bat Out of Hell” is one of those rare perfect albums, and a persistent candidate for my list of ten albums to include on a deserted island.

My favorite song on this album has change about six times in my life but I have found in recent years the title track has persistently stood out to me the most.

As stated in the opening sentence of this review, “Bat Out of Hell” is the greatest motor cycle crash song ever recorded. The opening is over two minutes of instrumental, which is one of the many reasons this album should not have had much success with pop radio. However, this serves multiple purposes, beyond simply being fantastic. Steinman having trained himself to write full musicals is presenting his overture in this opening two minutes. The pace and tension is set for high drama without a word being uttered.

With out first verse the scene described in the beginning of “Bat Out of Hell” is one of violence and danger:

“The sirens are screaming, and the fires are howling
Way down in the valley tonight.
There's a man in the shadows with a gun in his eye
And a blade shining oh so bright.
There's evil in the air and there's thunder in the sky,
And a killer's on the bloodshot streets.
And down in the tunnels where the deadly are rising
Oh, I swear I saw a young boy down in the gutter
He was starting to foam in the heat.”

Street and gang violence is what is present here. This fits perfectly with the motor cycle theme but also with Steinman’s interests, the man always seemed fascinated with gang warfare, leather jackets, and guitars, this because all too obvious when we discover “Street of Fire” a Jim Steinman musical movie about exactly all these things described just now.

Our rock and roll hero, has come to town for one reason, some babe he is in love with, for she is “the only thing in this whole world, that’s pure, and good, and right.” But like a bat out of hell he’ll be gone when the morning come. Taking off “faster than any boy has ever gone” he with blaze our out of town on his motor cycle.

Steinman had wanted to include the sound of an actual motor cycle in the song, and at the six-and-a-half-minute mark you can hear it, only it is not a real motor cycle but rather guitarist Todd Rundgren mimicking the sound of motor cycle with his guitar. This is made all the more impressive when you discover he had to improvise the sound after the studio disallowed Steinman to use the real thing.

Then it happens, the crash:

“Then I'm down in the bottom of a pit in the blazing sun,
Torn and twisted at the foot of a burning bike,
And I think somebody somewhere must be tolling a bell.
And the last thing I see is my heart, still beating,
Breaking out of my body and flying away
Like a bat out of hell.”

I have never been entirely sure how to take the part about his heart breaking of his body and flying away. I thought it might have been about ascending to heaven after death, a final redemption, where our rock and roll hero’s soul breaks free from hell in the after life. Or perhaps it is meant to simple declare the intensity of his passion and love for the women he is presumably singing this song to.

Epic might an inaccurate description for “Bat Out of Hell,” perhaps over the top would be more appropriate. Everything about Meat Loaf, Jim Steinman, and “Bat Out of Hell” is dramatic. What could be a straight forward song about crashing your motor bike and dying becomes this nearly ten-minute rock opera about gang violence, true love, and possibly salvation. We all seek these things, we want things to be dramatic, and that is probably why the zealous melodrama of “Bat Out of Hell” appealed to so many people, myself included.

In conclusion, “Bat Out of Hell” is a great song. Most of you already knew that, but it bears repeating.

- King of Braves.