For Meat Loaf, going all the way was just a start. The larger-than-life superstar brought passion and power to everything he recorded, fiercely commanding epic songs that would have easily devoured lesser performers. Earlier this morning, it was reported that Meat Loaf passed away at the age of 74.
Born Marvin Lee Aday in Texas in 1947, Meat Loaf would be in his teens before he would come to be known as his famous stage name. Though he gave several accounts over the years as to how he came by the moniker, that is how he would be billed when he moved to Los Angeles in the late 1960s. He fronted a couple of bands in the area, including Meat Loaf Soul and Popcorn Blizzard. While working as a parking attendant, he scored an audition and was cast in the musical Hair. He would eventually move to Detroit to join that city's company of the show. During one of the performances, he was spotted by executives from Motown. Impressed by his remarkable, supple voice, they offered a contract to him and one of his castmates, Shaun Murphy, to join the label as the duo Stoney and Meatloaf. (He was billed on the album as "Meatloaf" but credited in the Hair program as Meat Loaf.) The pair recorded a self-titled album on the Rare Earth label, released in 1971, blending rock, soul, and gospel sounds into a stirring whole. Meat's tenure with Motown was short-lived and he would soon leave the label before working on any more material though Shaun would remain with the label for around another year before joining Bob Seger's organization and establishing herself as a world-class blues singer.
After Motown, Meat Loaf was put into the New York company of Hair. Being in NYC opened up many more acting opportunities for Meat. The most fortuitous of these was when he joined the cast of the Public Theater's production of More Than You Deserve in 1973-1974. The show was written by a young composer-lyricist championed by Public Theater founder Joe Papp. His name was Jim Steinman. Meat performed the title number (and would even record it for a rare single on RSO Records, his solo debut) and Steinman and Meat hit it off. They soon put together a plan to make an album of Steinman's songs. But the material was grandiose and not like anything anyone had ever seen before. It would be a long road, littered with numerous rejections, before the two finally landed at Cleveland International Records where Todd Rundgren agreed to produce their album.
While he and Steinman shopped their theatrical concept album (itself based on a Steinman musical reinvention of Peter Pan) around, Meat Loaf continued to act in several more shows. He was cast in producer Lou Adler's original L.A. Roxy production of The Rocky Horror Show as Eddie and Dr. Scott. He would reprise his role as Eddie in 1975's The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the most famous cult film of all time. It is a part he would be known for the remainder of his life. In 1976, he contributed lead vocals to several songs on Ted Nugent's Free-For-All album.
Finally, the album with Jim Steinman, now called Bat Out of Hell, was ready for release. It hit stores on Cleveland International in October 1977. despite the full-throttle vocals, melodic songwriting, and opera-meets-Wall-of-Sound production, it was met with a decided yawn from the public. It would take months of touring and television appearances before the record began to catch on. And catch on it did. Bat Out of Hell became one of the best-selling albums of all time, selling tens of millions of copies and has spent hundreds of weeks on album charts.
The combination of singer and writer is what made the album so special. Meat Loaf perfectly embodied the deliciously over-the-top sensibilities of Steinman's music. There was nothing else like him in the late 1970s. Among all of the disco and punk music filling the airwaves, here was a 250-pound singer in a ruffled shirt and with a red handkerchief screaming and sweating his way through mini-rock operas about teenage lust and married regret, motorcycle crashes, and the end of relationships. It was captivating and exciting and Meat Loaf gave his all at every concert appearance, sometimes collapsing backstage and having to receive oxygen.
As Bat Out of Hell grew into its massive success, the newfound fame and grueling touring schedule began to take their toll on Meat Loaf. In addition to his medical issues during concerts, he would develop drug and vocal problems. When a follow-up to Bat was planned, Meat Loaf found that he couldn't perform the material which led to Steinman recording and releasing it on his own as 1981's Bad for Good. Meat did recover from his vocal issues and recorded a second album of all-Steinman material (with different songs than Bad for Good): Dead Ringer, released later in 1981. The LP was produced by Meat Loaf and Stephan Galfas, with basic tracks for all but two songs produced by Steinman and Jimmy Iovine. As would become the usual for the rest of his career, Dead Ringer performed better in the U.K. than the U.S., giving Meat his first No. 1 album in Britain and his first top 10 single in that country with the title song, a duet with Cher which hit No. 5 on the charts.
Meat Loaf would record another three studio albums and one live album during the 1980s, but their chart success was limited. He had parted ways with Steinman and sought out a host of other writers to provide songs. Two albums did go to the top 10 in the U.K. (1983's Midnight at the Lost and Found and 1984's Bad Attitude), but single success was even more elusive. Only "Midnight at the Lost and Found" and "Modern Girl" cracked the U.K. Top 20 with no chart appearances on the Hot 100 in the U.S. By the end of the decade, Meat was playing smaller venues and concentrating more on family life.
In 1990, he reunited with Steinman and they began work on a proper sequel to Bat Out of Hell. The resulting Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell hit shelves in 1993 and propelled Meat Loaf into the stratosphere again. The album sold millions of copies and went to No. 1 all over the world, as did the lead single "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)." The same formula that worked the first time on the original Bat was recreated here, this time standing against all of the alternative music of the era. The songs were supported by the grandiose Michael Bay-directed music videos from the album, including "Anything for Love," "Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through," and "Objects In The Rearview Mirror (May Appear Closer Than They Are)". "Anything For Love" would also earn Meat a Grammy Award for "Best Rock Vocal Performance."
While he did part ways with Steinman once again, his follow-ups garnered more success than before. Meat's 1995 album, Welcome to the Neighborhood, hit No. 3 in the U.K. and spawned the single "I'd Lie for You (And That's The Truth)." With songwriter Diane Warren doing her best Steinman pastiche, the song hit No. 13 in the U.S. and No. 2 in the U.K. Never a prolific artist, Meat would only record two more albums in the next eleven years. The first, 2003's Couldn't Have Said It Better, hit No. 4 in Britain. Next was another sequel to Bat Out of Hell, 2006's Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose. However, this was done without Steinman's involvement as the pair's management had been involved in lawsuits over the Bat Out of Hell name. Eventually, Meat Loaf's Bat III album and Steinman's eventual Bat Out of Hell musical would both proceed. But Bat III, produced by Desmond Child, couldn't match the grandeur and spirit of its predecessors. Still, largely on the strength of its title and Meat Loaf's ever-sincere, gutsy vocals, the album climbed to No. 8 in the U.S. and No. 3 in the Britain. It also gave Meat Loaf his last top 10 U.K. hit: a cover of Steinman's Celine Dion smash "It's All Coming Back to Me Now" which peaked at No. 6.
After Bat III, Meat Loaf would record another three studio albums in his lifetime: 2010's Hang Cool Teddy Bear, 2011's Hell in a Handbasket, and 2016's Braver Than We Are. That final LP, appropriately, reunited Meat with Jim Steinman and saw him performing an album of all-Steinman material from the beginning of the songwriter's career to the then-present. Braver Than We Are introduced a husky "new" voice from Meat Loaf who embraced the toll of time to deliver some of his most vulnerable vocals on Steinman's most thrillingly theatrical songs. It would peak at No. 31 in the U.S. and No. 4 in Britain.
During all of this time and before, Meat Loaf also made numerous film and television appearances. Always considering himself an actor first, Meat had followed up his role in The Rocky Horror Picture Show with a slew of roles over the years, mostly in character parts. (One exception was the little-seen tie-in film to the Dead Ringer album where he was the lead, playing an exaggerated version of himself.) He had memorable parts in films such as Roadie, Wayne's World, Leap of Faith, Spice World, Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny, and Fight Club, among numerous others. In addition to his musical performances on TV, he also had several guest spots on dramas and comedies and participated in a couple of reality shows. His last film appearance was 2014's Lifetime movie Wishin' and Hopin' and his last dramatic TV appearance was as a recurring character on the short-lived series Ghost Wars, which ended in 2018.
Health issues plagued Meat Loaf for the last several years of his life. He had always had a robust touring schedule, but back problems and other issues kept him off the road since 2016. But Meat reported that he was recovering from those issues and made an appearance on the Huckabee show in September where he performed three songs. He even reunited with Stoney, a.k.a. Shaun Murphy, at one of her concerts towards the end of last year. And in December, he announced on Facebook that he was going into the studio in early January to record seven songs for a new album and also participate in a new reality show based around "I'd Do Anything for Love." It is unknown at this time if any sessions for the proposed album happened, although it was reportedly also to include demos and/or vintage, unreleased concert tracks. Also at the time of his passing, Second Disc Records and Real Gone Music were continuing work on an expanded edition of Motown's Stoney and Meatloaf which has been in development for the past four years. It's hoped that the release will come to fruition in 2022 as a tribute to Meat Loaf's enduring legacy.
When Jim Steinman passed away in April of last year, Meat Loaf told Rolling Stone: "I don't want to die, but I may die this year because of Jim. I'm always with him and he's right here with me now." Tragically, those words have proven to be eerily prophetic. The pair had a symbiosis between them that produced some of the most bombastic, singular, and heartfelt music in rock. It is a combination that is unlikely to be seen again. At the end of his concerts, Meat Loaf would tell the audience to "never, ever, stop rockin'." Thanks for the advice, Meat. For crying out loud, you know we love you.
Peter Huitson says
The death of a legend. He hopped onto his Harley and headed off for his last ride. Thankfully we have his music and videos to constantly remind us of what a consummate artist he was. RIP big man..
I have been a Meat Loaf fan since 1977, even through the lean years of the ‘80s. That just set him up for the greatest comeback in music history!
Michael Grabowski says
Thanks to the staff of The Second Disc for always writing such fine and detailed appreciations of the performers who pass on. Meat Loaf was never an artisi I paid much attention to, but as with so many other musicians you have written about, I come away from this article with a sense that I should do something about that. Thank you for shining so much light on their musical histories and legacies.
Greg T. says
Great tribute, Randy.
I rank the Couldn’t Have Said It Better album up there with some of Meat Loaf’s best. Definitely worth a listen for anyone unfamiliar with it.
RIP, Meat. It was a helluva ride.