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Bat out of Hell

Bat out of Hell is a 1977 album by singer Meat Loaf, songwriter Jim Steinman, and producer Todd Rundgren that became one of the best-selling albums worldwide. As of 2007, it has sold an estimated 37 million copies, and continues to sell approximately 200,000 per year. Rolling Stone magazine ranked it at number 343 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Its musical style is influenced by Steinman's appreciation of Richard Wagner, Phil Spector and Bruce Springsteen.

Steinman produced a 1993 sequel, Bat out of Hell II: Back into Hell, which includes the hit single "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)". A second sequel, Bat out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose, released in October 2006, featured seven songs written by Steinman.

Pre-production

The album developed from a musical, Neverland, a sci-fi update of Peter Pan, which Steinman wrote for a workshop performed at the Kennedy Centre in 1977. Steinman and Meat Loaf, who were touring with the National Lampoon show, felt that three songs were "exceptional" and Steinman began to develop them as part of a seven-song set they wanted to record as an album. The three songs were "Bat out of Hell", "Heaven Can Wait" and "The Formation of the Pack", which was retitled "All Revved Up with No Place to Go".

Bat out of Hell is often compared to the music of Bruce Springsteen, particularly the Born to Run album. Steinman says that he finds that "puzzling, musically", although they share influences; "Springsteen was more an inspiration than an influence." A BBC article added, "that Max Weinberg and Roy Bittan from Springsteen's E Street Band played on the album only helped reinforce the comparison.

Steinman and Meat Loaf had immense difficulty finding a record company willing to sign them. According to Meat Loaf's autobiography, the band spent most of 1975, and two and a half years, auditioning the record and being rejected. Sonenberg jokes that they were creating record companies just so they could be rejected. They performed the album live, with Steinman on piano, Meat Loaf singing, and sometimes Ellen Foley joining them for "Paradise". Steinman says that it was a "medley of the most brutal rejections you could imagine." Meat Loaf "almost cracked" when CBS executive Clive Davis rejected the project. The singer recounts the incident in his autobiography. Not only did Davis, according to Meat Loaf, say that "actors don't make records", the executive challenged Steinman's writing abilities and knowledge of rock music:

Do you know how to write a song? Do you know anything about writing? If you're going to write for records, it goes like this: A, B, C, B, C, C. I don't know what you're doing. You're doing A, D, F, G, B, D, C. You don't know how to write a song... Have you ever listened to pop music? Have you ever heard any rock-and-roll music... You should go downstairs when you leave here... and buy some rock-and-roll records.

Meat Loaf asserts "Jim, at the time, knew every record ever made. [He] is a walking rock encyclopedia." Although Steinman laughed off the insults, the singer screamed "Fuck you, Clive!" from the street up to his building.

Todd Rundgren, however, found the album hilarious. The singer quotes him as saying: "I've got to do this album. It's just so out there." They told the producer that they had been signed to RCA. In an 1989 interview with Classic Rock magazine, Steinman labeled the musician "the only genuine genius I've ever worked with."

Production

Recording started in late 1975 in Bearsville Studios, Woodstock, NY. Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg, the pianist and drummer from Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band played on the album, in addition to members of Rundgren's group Utopia: Kasim Sultan, Roger Powell and Willie Wilcox. Edgar Winter played the saxophone on "All Revved Up". Rundgren himself played guitar, including the "motorcycle solo" on "Bat out of Hell". Both Steinman and Rundgren were influenced by Phil Spector and his "wall of sound". According to Meat Loaf, Rundgren put all the arrangements together because although "Jim could hear all the instruments" in his head, Steinman hummed rather than orchestrating. In a 1989 interview with Redbeard for the In the Studio with Redbeard episode on the making of the album, Meat Loaf revealed that Jimmy Iovine and Andy Johns were potential candidates for producing Bat out of Hell before being rejected by Meat and Steinman in favor of Rundgren, whom Meat initially found cocky but grew to like.

When Rundgren discovered that the deal with RCA did not actually exist, Albert Grossman, who had been Bob Dylan's manager, offered to put it on his Bearsville label but needed more money. Rundgren had essentially paid for the album himself. Mo Ostin at Warner Bros. was impressed, but other senior people rejected them after they performed live. Steinman had offended them a few years earlier by auditioning with a song named "Who Needs the Young", which contains the lyric "Is there anyone left who can fuck? Screw 'em!"

Another E Street Band member, Steve Van Zandt, and manager David Sonenberg arranged to contact Cleveland International Records, a subsidiary of Epic Records. After listening to the spoken word intro to "You Took the Words Right out of My Mouth" ("Hot Summer Night"), founder Steve Popovich accepted the album for Cleveland.

Rundgren mixed the record in one night. However, the mixes were not suitable to the extent that Meat Loaf did not want "Paradise" on the album. Jimmy Iovine, who had mixed Springsteen's Born to Run, remixed some of the tracks. After several attempts by several people, John Jansen mixed the version of "Paradise" that is on the album. According to Meat Loaf, he, Jansen and Steinman mixed the title track.

Compositions

Todd Rundgren acknowledges that Steinman was highly influenced by the "rural urban teenage angst" of Bruce Springsteen. According to manager David Sonenberg, "Jim would always come up with these great titles and then he would write a song that would try to justify the greatness of the title."

The album opens with its title track, "Bat out of Hell", taken from Steinman's Neverland musical. It is the result of Steinman's desire to write the "most extreme crash song of all time". It features a boy who is riding so fast and ecstatically that he is unable to see an obstruction until it is "way too late". The next track, "You Took the Words Right out of My Mouth", opens with spoken word, performed by Steinman and Marcia McClain, that was also taken from the Neverland musical, as were the next two tracks.

"All Revved Up with No Place to Go" describes the beginning of a relationship and also the taking of the girl's virginity:

You and me 'round about midnight
Someone's got to draw first blood [...]
Oooh I got to draw first blood.

Side two opens with "Two out of Three Ain't Bad", which was written near the end of the album's production. The song documents the break-up of two relationships: first where the singer says he is not in love with his partner, and the second where he recalls when the "only girl... [he'd] ever love" left him. In the Classic Albums documentary, Rundgren identifies how the song was influenced by the Eagles, who were successful at the time. The producer also highlights the "underlying humor in the lyrics", citing the line "There ain't no Coupe de Ville hiding at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box." He says you could only "get away" with that lyric "in a Meat Loaf song".

The sixth track, "Paradise by the Dashboard Light", is an epic story about teen romance and sex. A duet between Meat Loaf and Ellen Foley, the couple reminisce driving to a secluded spot, at which he plans to have sex. They "make out" heavily in the middle instrumental section, described in metaphor in a baseball commentary by New York Yankees announcer Phil Rizzuto. However, she stops him just before they have sex, insisting that he first proclaimed his love for her. The final part of the song displays the couple in an acrimonious relationship, in which they are "praying for the end of time" because "if I got to spend another minute with you I don't think that I can really survive." Whereas the title track is the "ultimate car crash song", this, according to the writer, is the "ultimate car sex song". It epitomizes the album's, as Ellen Foley describes, "pre-pubescent sexual mentality".

The final track of the album, "For Crying Out Loud", is a more sedate love song. It recounts the positive changes that a girl has made to the singer's life, which had "reached the bottom". The song also incorporates some sexual innuendo with the line "And can't you see my faded Levi's bursting apart."

Comparing the album to Steinman's late-60s musical The Dream Engine, Classic Rock magazine says that Steinman's imagery is "revved up and testosterone-fueled. Songs like "Paradise by the Dashboard Light," "Two out of Three Ain't Bad" and "For Crying Out Loud" echoed the textbook teenage view of sex and life: irrepressible physical urges and unrealistic romantic longing."

Steinman's songs for Bat out of Hell are personal but not autobiographical:

I never thought of them as personal songs in terms of my own life but they were personality songs. They were all about my obsessions and images. None of them takes place in a normal world. They all take play in extreme world. Very operatic... they were all heightened. They don't take place in normal reality.

For example, citing the narrative of "Paradise", Rundgren jokes than he can't imagine Steinman being at a lakeside with the most beautiful girl in school, but he can imagine Steinman imagining it.

Cover

Steinman is credited with the album cover concept, which was illustrated by Richard Corben. The cover depicts a motorcycle, ridden by a long-haired male, bursting out of the ground in a graveyard. In the background, a large bat perches atop a mausoleum that towers above the rest of the tombstones. In 2001, Q magazine listed the cover as number 71 in its list of "The Hundred Best Record Covers of All Time.

Steinman had wanted equal billing with Meat Loaf on the album's title. He wanted it to be called "Jim Steinman presents..." or "Jim and Meat," or vice versa. For marketing reasons, the record company wished to make 'Meat Loaf' the recognizable name. As a compromise, the words "Songs by Jim Steinman" appear relatively prominently on the cover. The singer believes that this was probably the beginning of their "ambivalent relationship.

The album was dedicated to Wesley and Wilma Aday (Meat Loaf's parents) and Louis Steinman.

Title

The phrase "Bat out of Hell" can be traced back to the Greek playwright Aristophanes' 414 BC work entitled The Birds. In it is what is believed to be the first reference to a bat out of Hell:
Near by the land of the Sciapodes there is a marsh, from the borders whereof the unwashed Socrates evokes the souls of men. Pisander came one day to see his soul, which he had left there when still alive. He offered a little victim, a camel, slit his throat and, following the example of Odysseus, stepped one pace backwards. Then that bat of a Chaerephon came up from hell to drink the camel's blood.

Steinman registered "Bat out of Hell" as a trademark in 1995, and sought to prevent Meat Loaf from using the title. In 2006, however, the singer sought to cancel Steinman's trademark and use the title for Bat out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose.

Reception

Bat out of Hell was released by Cleveland International on October 21 1977. Cleveland International's parent label was Epic Records, where almost everyone hated it. In 1993, Steinman reflected that the album is "timeless in that it didn't fit into any trend. It's never been a part of what's going on. You could release that record at any time and it would be out of place."

Response to the album was slow. Steinman asserts that it was "underpromoted", having a reputation of being "damaged goods because it had been walked around so many places." Australia and England were the first to develop interest. The BBC television programme Old Grey Whistle Test aired a clip of the live band performing the nine-minute title track. According to Classic Rock, response was so overwhelming, that they screened it again the following week. They later invited to band to perform "Paradise" live. "As a result, in the UK Bat became an unfashionable, uncool, non-radio record that became a 'must-have' for everyone who heard it, whether they 'got' Steinman's unique perspective or not."

The album was not an immediate hit; it was more of a growing one. Bat out of Hell still sells about 200,000 copies per year and has sold an estimated 34 million copies worldwide, 14 million in the United States alone, over 1.5 million (22 times platinum) albums in Australia (even re-entering charts on June 2007, at number 43 on the ARIAs) becoming one of the biggest selling albums of all time. It stayed on the United Kingdom charts for 474 weeks, a feat surpassed only by the 477 weeks of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours. In 2003, the album was ranked number 343 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. In 2006 it was voted number nine in a poll conducted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to discover Australia's most popular album. In November 2007, Meat Loaf was awarded the Classic Album award in Classic Rock's Classic Rock Roll Of Honour.

Reviews were initially mixed. Rolling Stone calls the songs "swell, but... entirely mannered and derivative." The arrangements "aren't bad", although the musicians are commended. The review ends with the assertion that the "principals have some growing to do. Contemporary reviews are more positive, however. Allmusic declares "this is Grand Guignol pop -- epic, gothic, operatic, and silly, and it's appealing because of all of this." They acknowledge that Steinman is "a composer without peer, simply because nobody else wanted to make mini-epics like this." Rundgren's production is applauded, as is the wit in the music and lyrics. "It may elevate adolescent passion to operatic dimensions, and that's certainly silly, but it's hard not to marvel at the skill behind this grandly silly, irresistible album.

Also, Meat Loaf revealed on In the Studio that he was not well received early on in the tour when he was opening for Cheap Trick. In the same interview, Meat Loaf revealed that when he played at a CBS Records convention in 1978, record executives and superstar Billy Joel (who was in the audience) gave Meat Loaf a standing ovation for his performance after a haunting performance of the closing track "For Crying Out Loud" was the turning point in the album's success in the US.

Dispute between Cleveland International and Sony Records

In 1995, Cleveland International sued Sony for unpaid royalties from sales of the album. Under the terms of the 1998 settlement agreement ending the suit, Sony agreed to include the Cleveland International logo on all future releases of the album. In 2002, Stephen Popovich, founder of Cleveland International and the owner of the rights to its name, sued Sony, alleging that Sony had failed to include the Cleveland International logo on some copies of the album and on some compilations Sony released that included songs from the album. On May 31, 2005, the federal district court in Cleveland, Ohio entered judgment against Sony pursuant to a jury verdict in favor of Popovich and awarded Popovich more than US$5,000,000 in damages for Sony's breach of the 1998 settlement agreement. On November 21, 2007, the federal appellate court in Cincinnati, Ohio affirmed the judgment of the trial court.

Track listing

All songs written by Jim Steinman.

Side one

  1. "Bat out of Hell" – 9:48
  2. "You Took the Words Right out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)" – 5:04
  3. "Heaven Can Wait" – 4:38
  4. "All Revved Up with No Place to Go" – 4:19

Side two

  1. "Two out of Three Ain't Bad" – 5:23
  2. "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" – 8:28
  3. "For Crying Out Loud" – 8:45

The album also exists in numerous other formats and rereleases, including a twenty-fifth anniversary edition with three bonus tracks ("Great Boléros of Fire (live intro)", "Bat out of Hell (live)", and "Dead Ringer for Love") and the Hits out of Hell DVD, and a "Bat out of Hell: Revamped" release featuring the song "Dead Ringer for Love".

Personnel

See also

References

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