One of the least mysterious enduring mysteries of modern rock music is the lyrical teaser set up by Meat Loaf’s 1993 monster smash I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That). What precisely it is that he won’t do has been a source of playful speculation for almost 30 years, even though the artist himself pointed out that the answer(s) are there for anyone who cares to make a grammatical study of the lyrics.
What is not mysterious is the level of affection poured out for Meat Loaf, who has died aged 74. Never knowingly understated, he was the consummate rock entertainer with a powerhouse voice (when he wasn’t losing it through over-exertion) which found its best expression in the overblown songs written by Jim Steinman. Together, they created Bat Out of Hell, a melodramatic song suite of teenage lust and frustration, aspiration and alienation, which became one of the best selling albums of all time, spent a cumulative ten years in the UK album charts and spawned two sequels and a stage musical.
This unlikely supporter of Hartlepool United F.C. started his performing career in stage musicals, joining the original LA casts of Hair and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, then reprised his role as the motorcycle riding Eddie busting out of deep freeze in the enduring cult film version of the latter. He went on to make memorable acting cameos in the films Wayne’s World, Fight Club and as The Spice Girls’ tour bus driver in their Spiceworld movie, and easily held his own next to Cher belting out their hit duet Dead Ringer for Love.
His stage shows were high camp affairs as he threw himself into the role of Meat Loaf with utter commitment and a side order of ham. He had the broken bones, vocal problems, heart attacks and nosebleeds to show for it – the latter on hitting the high note of Bat Out of Hell at the Edinburgh Playhouse in 1982. Over the years he was dogged by poor health, addiction issues and financial troubles so even though the show must go on – to allay bankruptcy – it often didn’t, with tours cancelled as he wrangled with asthma and a heart condition.
Although he often lamented that he was not taken seriously and regarded as a “circus clown”, he did not share his fellow rock stars’ quest for credibility. "The day that I ever become hip," he once said, "please put me outta my misery."
Meat Loaf was born Marvin Lee Aday, later changing his name to Michael. The roots of his stage moniker date back to birth when his father Orvis compared his ruddy newborn to “nine pounds of ground chuck” and suggested to hospital staff that his nametag should read “Meat”. Riffing on his initials as much as his girth, his school football coach referred to the hefty defender as “Meat Loaf”. Aday owned that slur and used it as the name of his first band Meat Loaf Soul, which he formed shortly after fleeing Texas (like a bat out of hell) after a violent argument with his drunk father and arriving in amenable Los Angeles.
Here, he joined the cast of hippy musical Hair, later performing in the show on Broadway, and played the dual roles of Eddie and his uncle Dr Everett Scott in the original LA production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. He recorded for Motown Records with his Hair co-star Stoney Murphy, singing on one album, Stoney & Meatloaf, before moving on.
His fortunes changed in 1973 when he crossed paths with the songwriter Jim Steinman at an audition for Steinman’s musical More Than You Deserve. Together they began work on the project that became Bat Out of Hell, a concept album of love, lust and longing which was simultaneously relatable and escapist for its subsequent legions of adolescent fans.
Cutting Wagnerian pomp with Phil Spector melodrama and the teenage angst of The Who’s rock operas, Bat Out of Hell was its own beast, misunderstood and rejected by many record companies before its release in autumn 1977 on Cleveland International Records. Success, when it came, was a slowburn, which continues to this day with an estimated 200,000 copies still sold worldwide every year.
However, a broken leg and vocal problems left Meat Loaf unable to tour and spiralling into depression and addiction. He recorded another hit album, Dead Ringer, with Steinman but their relationship was volatile and marred by royalty disputes and seemingly perpetual litigation. When his 1983 non-Steinman album Midnight at the Lost and Found flopped, Meat Loaf spent years touring his way out of bankruptcy.
Career revival came in the Nineties with the Steinman partnership back on. Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell sold a not too shabby 15 million copies worldwide, propelled by the overwrought 12-minute blockbuster I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That), for which Meat won a Best Solo Rock Vocal Grammy. Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose followed in 2006. To date, the trilogy has racked up combined sales of 65 million.
The pair reunited one last time on the 2016 album Braver Than We Are, with Meat Loaf winning the Q Hero Award the same year. Steinman died last year but Meat Loaf intended to truck on with plans to head back into the studio before his death on 20 January.
He is survived by second wife Deborah Gillespie, their daughter Amanda and step-daughter Pearl, who marked his passing with the tender message: “from his heart to your souls... don’t ever stop rocking!”
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