Posts Tagged ‘Heaven Can Wait’

The Freedom of Music: Somebody Somewhere Must Be Tolling a Bell

June 15th, 2015
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One likes to believe in the freedom of music.
Rush – Spirit of Radio.

There’s something I’ve always wondered about Meatloaf’s phenomenal debut album, Bat out of Hell: what did the session guys (and what session guys!) think when they first heard the complete album? In my minds eye, when Roy Bitten or Max Weinberg recorded their part, they showed up, laid down the basic track, took their cheque and went on their way. sidebar-4Meanwhile, Jim Steinman, Meatlaof and producer Todd Rundgeren went to work adding overdubs, layering vocals and building what would become the final album. One day a few months later a record company courier shows up at the door with the finished product. You put the record on, sit down to hear what you’ve created and… holy crap!

The album opens with rockin’ piano song, but a guitar that rumbles like a motorcycle has been added, and this guy is singing about dying in a spectacular crash, and there’s a virtual choir of background vocals, and so much going on. This is sophisticated, and smart and dark, and this flat out rocks. And you wonder if Roy Bitten, sitting in his living room with his wife, stared at her in disbelief as she said, “what is this?”

Or maybe he hates the album and always has, what do I know?

The thing is, though, it is all those things I mentioned. When it was released in 1976 it hit like a bomb dropping on the scene. I was in grade 9 when Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad was atop the CHUM Chart , and I can tell you, we were blown away. It was so intense, and so different than anything we had heard before. This wasn’t just good, it was mesmerizing. It was also, that summer and for too many after, inescapable. It was everywhere. I have danced/acted out Paradise by the Dashboard Light at too many weddings, with too many rye and gingers flooding my bloodstream. And so, due to overexposure, Bat out of Hell stopped getting played. I own the CD, but I wonder if I’ve listened to it half a dozen times – it certainly never got transferred to my iPod until recently.

So not having listened to the entire album in years, possibly as much as 20, I was once again blown away by how good it is. How strong the songwriting, how good the vocals, how dramatic the performances?

During the early days of Bat out of Hell, before it was a successful album – before anyone thought it might be a successful album, Meatloaf played the CBS convention (his record company) in New Orleans. The hall filled with record company employees, he played the entire album, finishing, as the album does with For Crying Out Loud. For Crying Out Loud is a beautiful ballad, that builds and grows and conjures up so many emotions in eight-minutes. It wonderfully showcases both Meatloaf’s powerful voice and Steinman’s knack for dynamics and lyrics. It is incredibly dramatic and dynamic, and I can’t imagine being in a smallish room hearing it done right. Just after the six-minute mark, the piano drops off and Meatloaf sings a series of statements and responses. Piano and voice builds under the words:

For taking in the rain when I’m feeling dry
For giving me answers when I’m asking you why
And my ohh my
For that I thank you

For taking in the sun when I’m feeling I’m so cold
For giving me a child when my body is old
And don’t you know
for that I need you

For coming to my room when you know I’m alone
For finding me a highway and driving me home
And you gotta know
for that I serve you

For pulling me away when I’m starting to fall
For revving me up when I’m starting to stall
And all in all
For that I want you

For taking and for giving and for playing the game
For praying for my future in the days that remain
Oh Lord
for that I hold you

Ah but most of all
For cryin’ out loud
For that I love you

Ah but most of all
For cryin’ out loud
For that I love you

When you’re crying out loud
You know I love you

Singing it, Meatloaf closes his eyes and lets his voice, the words do their magic. By the time he’s done, there’s dead silence in the audience. “I had time enough to think this one thought: ‘They’ve all left.’” he writes in his autobiography.

They didn’t. Rather, their breath had been taken away, and the massive applause the performance deserved came about five seconds later. It was the night everything changed: Meatloaf went from being a minor act on the record company roster to a priority within the company: “Whether they hated Bat out of Hell with a passion or not, they finally got behind it,” he writes.

As an aside, notice two things about the words above lyrics. The “Oh Lord” after the line about praying. And how the focus changes in the last two lines from what she can does for him to what he can do for her: “When you’re crying out loud, you know I love you.” Two subtle touches that explain why Jim Steinman is a world famous songwriter, and I write blog posts about him.

From the opening growl to the final astounding vocal performance, Bat out of Hell is compelling and brilliant. You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth, Heaven Can Wait, All Revved Up With No Place to Go, passionate, beautiful, rock’n. Then there’s the mega-hits, the stunning romantic (sort of) ballad Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad, and the rock and roll story of teenage lust Paradise By the Dashboard Light.

It’s an album without a weakness, although Paradise’s familiarity sometimes feels like weakness. But from that opening piano to Meatloaf’s eyes-closed finale, that image of Roy Bittan getting his white label copy, dropping the needle for the first time, lingers.

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