Top of the Pops: Bat Out of Hell

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October 6, 2014 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

Bat Out of Hell is a rock opera in the truest sense of both words; it’s rock n’ roll infused with operatic theatrics and grandiose epics.  Although it doesn’t necessarily tell a linear and (barely) intelligible story, it is a concept album as most of the seven tracks deal with impatient lust or a faded love.  Three tracks are over eight minutes long, and five are over five minutes in length, but for the most part the songs will keep listeners entertained and interested enough that they either won’t realize or won’t mind.

Leading off is the title track which details a bikers last embrace shortly before he’s killed in a crash.  It’s a ballsy move on the part of singer/songwriter duo Meat Loaf/Jim Steinman because unless you know better you might think that you’ve accidently put on a Broadway musical soundtrack.  Along with “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights”, “Bat Out of Hell” is the most theatrical song on the album as it teeters back and forth between hard rocking guitars and being soothingly driven by Steinman’s piano arrangements.  Because they are easily segments into different and digestible parts, song like “Bat Out of Hell” and the album’s magnum opus “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights” are able to function as radio friendly pop tunes despite their unconventional sound and length.

Having sold over 43 million copies worldwide, much of the album’s success can be attributed to “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights”, which along with Don Mclean’s “American Pie” are two of the greatest rock epics in American musical history.  “Paradise” works on so many levels for so many reasons.  It’s a song that never gets old or tiresome because of the constant and unexpected twists and turns that break up any creeping stagnation.  The throwback guitar that characterizes the first act of the song, Phil Rizzuto’s metaphoric baseball play by play, and the natural charisma and chemistry shared by Meat Loaf and Ellen Foley as they bicker back and forth in the song’s final act.  “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights” is the perfect manifestation of Jim Steinman’s melodies, arrangements, and lyrics and Meat Loaf’s bombastic but magnetic vocal dynamism.  It’s also a funny song that everyone can relate to and enjoy without having to think too hard about it.

It’s no question that “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights” is the song’s strongest, best, and most memorable track, but the dark horse favorite has to be “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth”.  Quite simply, it’s a catchy, sappy pop tune that will make anyone’s heart sing and put a smile on the dourest of faces.  Being driven by Steinman’s string arrangements, Meat Loaf’s voice carrying over each word like the tide, and percussions modeled after 50s hit “Leader of the Pack”, “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth” is the perfect throwback pop song, complete with backing vocals comparable to those of the Ronnettes.  The lyrics, and the excitement in Meat Loaf’s voice make you feel as if you, yourself have just fallen in love.  I don’t know, it’s just one of my favorite silly love songs.

Other songs like “All Revved Up with No Place to Go” and “For Crying Out Loud” are enjoyable in their own right although they aren’t as charismatic as other, more memorable songs on Bat Out of Hell.  “All Revved Up” is another song about youthful naivety and sex condensed into a four minute runner, while “For Crying Out Loud” is the most unpalatable of the album’s epic as it doesn’t flow as well as the other two epics.  That’s not to say it isn’t good, it just leans too much on the operatic side of the scale instead of the pop side.

What Bat Out of Hell proves, is that Steinman’s lyrics and song arrangements aren’t suited for anyone else except Meat Loaf, and that Meat Loaf is the only person on the planet who can bring Steinman’s words to life.  Despite the unconventional sound of the album, the lyrics and the music are all extremely relatable and accessible to everyone.  It mixes theater scores with 50s pop and 70s rock to create an experience all its own.  Lyrically, the album deals with youthful, capricious sex, faded romances, and passionate exultations of love.  Steinman writes these lyrics simplistically, but very vividly nonetheless, as they suit the theatrical but accessible nature of the album.

Bat Out of Hell is a strange Frankenstein’s monster of music that works more seamlessly than it has any right to.  It works because even 40 years after its release, it still puts a smile on people’s faces.  It’s simple pop music devised in such a meticulous and layered way that comes to life because it injects operatic grandeur into straight up rock n’ roll in a manner that hadn’t been done before.  Amongst all the great rock albums of the 70s, Bat Out of Hell can stand on its own and is an album that shouldn’t be overlooked.

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