Not often does a play spark the idea for a hit album, but that is exactly where Bat Out of Hell got it’s start. The play – a futuristic take on the classic story of Peter Pan – was written by Jim Steinman in 1974, and three of the songs in that little rock opera caught the attention of Steinman’s friend Michael Lee Aday – a musician better known by his stage name: Meat Loaf. The three songs were “Bat Out of Hell”, “Heaven Can Wait” and “The Formation of the Pack”, re-titled “All Revved Up with No Place to Go”.
Bat Out of Hell is a conceptual album; its theme being one of frustration, mostly frustrated love and danger. “Conceptually, I’d describe it as a combination of romantic violence and violent romance,” Steinman said in a 1978 interview with Gallery magazine. “When I was growing up, the greatest rock’n’roll sort of existed at that cross-roads, where romance became violent and violence became romantic.” Steinman’s songs are visual and operatic in nature, much like the songs of fellow musician Bruce Springsteen. Though there are parallels between the two, Steinman asserts there are differences. “…his songs are much more realistic and street-oriented, whereas mine are much more mythic and fantastic,” he said in the same interview.
The album was a long time coming. In his autobiography, Meat Loaf claims the album was rejected many times over a period of more than two years. Manager David Sonenberg looked at it sarcastically. “They actually opened up some record companies for the sole purpose of rejecting us,” he joked in 1999. Then musician Todd Rundgren stepped into the picture. “I’ve got to do this album. It’s just so out there,” Rundgren is quoted as saying. Recording began in 1975. On board were members of Todd Rundgren’s band Utopia, as well as Springsteen’s bandmates keyboardist Roy Bittan and drummer Max Weinberg. Rundgren took it upon himself to play guitar.
The title track is the first track on the album. Meat Loaf’s voice brings a frustrated urgency to the song: “Like a bat out of hell / I’ll be gone when the morning comes. / When the night is over / Like a bat out of hell I’ll be gone, gone, gone!” The song ends tragically, with a motorcycle crash and the death of the rider. According to the documentary “Classic Albums: Bat Out of Hell”, Jim Steinman claims he wanted to write the “”most extreme crash song of all time”
The second track is also the albums first single. “You Took the Words Right out of My Mouth” paints a vivid picture of youthful love/lust. “You hold me so close that my knees grow weak / But my soul is flying high above the ground. / I’m trying to speak but no matter what I do / I just can’t seem to make any sound.” The single climbed to number 39 on U.S.Billboard Hot 100.
The ballad “Two Out of Three (Ain’t Bad)” is the album’s second single, peaking at number 11 in the U.S. It was also the final song written for the album. The lyrics are both haunting and heartbreaking, and Meat Loaf’s emotional delivery makes them all the more poignant. “I can’t lie, / I can’t tell you that I’m something I’m not. / No matter how I try, / I’ll never be able to give you something / Something that I just haven’t got…” In a 2003 VH1 interview – talking about “Two Out of Three (Ain’t Bad)” – Jim Steinman said “…it was my closest to a simple song, and one Elvis could have done.”
Bat Out of Hell was released on October 21, 1977, to a slow start. Initially, it did better in Australia and England. But – according to a 2008 survey – it has sold 14 million copies in the United States alone. It remains one of the most iconic albums in rock’n’roll history. Meat Loaf has released many albums, acted on stage, screen and television and continues to tour to this day. His current tour will take him to Pittsburgh, PA on July 28th and to Columbus, OH on July 30th. Details can be found here.