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Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of Hell: Story Of An Unlikely Rock Monster

Music | October 21, 2020

American singers Karla Devito and Meat Loaf performing on the Bat Out Of Hell Tour, USA, March 1978. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of Hell album is among the top selling LPs of all time, with an unusual history. Boasting top-40 singles "You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)," "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad," and "Paradise by the Dashboard Light," Bat Out Of Hell is a good '70s album, maybe even a great one -- but would you believe it's sold 43 million copies worldwide? The numbers are somewhat speculative but Bat Out Of Hell is estimated to have outsold such '70s classics as Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon, The Eagles' Greatest Hits, and Fleetwood Mac's Rumours. How is this possible -- and how did it happen?

Meat Loaf And Jim Steinman Were A Team

Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman. Source: Spotify

Most groundbreaking albums stem from artists who have already established somewhat of substantial fame. This was not the case with Meat Loaf’s 1977 debut album Meat Loaf, one of the most surprising success stories in rock ‘n’ roll history. In collaboration with legendary songwriter/producer Jim Steinman, the unknown singer’s operatic record became one of the top-selling albums of all time, still as popular as ever in the present day. 

Meat Loaf Started As A Performer On Broadway

Michael Lee Aday (Meat Loaf) began his entertainment career as an actor in film and television, but primarily in theater. He starred in Broadway musicals such as Hair, More Than You Deserve, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show while recording some music along the way in various bands. Eventually he toured with Steinman during the National Lampoon’s show Lemmings where he worked as an understudy for his close friend John Belushi. When this tour finished, Meat Loaf and Steinman decided to continue working together and to record an album based on Steinman’s Neverland, a sci-fi musical based on Peter Pan’s adventures in the future. Neverland did not succeed further than a week of shows in 1977 at the John F. Kennedy Center for The Performing Arts in Washington D.C., but Steinman felt a Neverland record would redeem the musical’s failure. Both Meat Loaf and Steinman agreed that Neverland produced a few amazing songs that were worthy of being heard on an album, which would soon be titled Bat Out Of Hell.

Todd Rundgren Produced 'Bat Out Of Hell'

Sessions for Bat Out Of Hell began in 1974 at Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, New York. Famous singer/songwriter Todd Rudngren was recruited to produce the album, although Steinman and Meat Loaf had to lie about being signed by RCA Records to convince Rundgren to work with them. Steinman said about his production efforts, "Watching Todd Rundgren create background vocals has got to be one of the most thrilling experiences you can ever have in music. He did complex melodies that intertwined with counterpoints. Everyone was terrified to admit they didn't have a clue what to sing. I think he made it that complicated for perverse fun." Also featured in the album was Kasim Sulton, Roger Powell, John “Wille” Wilcox, Edgar Winter, and Ellen Foley (who starred in Neverland and would be the female voice in the album’s duet Paradise By The Dashboard Light). 

Is 'Bat Out Of Hell' A Springsteen Parody?

Bat Out Of Hell has often been compared to the works of Bruce Springsteen, especially Springsteen’s album Born To Run with its poetic, lengthy, and energetic songs. It definitely helped prove the comparison that Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band provided piano and drums on the album. In fact, Rundgren was actually so amused by what he thought was a Bruce Sprinsteen parody, that he felt he had to produce this “hilarious” album. He was convinced the album was a spoof on The Boss because of its use of similar Bruce Springsteen themes that bring a sense of nostalgia pointing back to the ‘50s with motorcycles and leather jackets. Rundgren was bothered that the media considered Sprinsteen a rock ‘n’ roll hero, so he felt the singer deserved a fun spoof. However, Steinman considered Springsteen more of an influence instead of an inspiration and was not exactly trying to spoof the New Jersey singer. Steinman has called The Who and Richard Wagner other inspirations for the album along with Phil Spector as Spector’s production technique, the wall of sound, was utilized throughout the album.

Clive Davis Said 'Actors Don't Make Records'

Source: telegraph.co.uk

When Bat Out Of Hell was finished and ready for release, it was not an easy album to promote. Record labels were not fond of this theatrical, silly album and thought it was absolutely ridiculous. CBS executive Clive Davis famously told Steinman he had no idea how to write songs and asked him to, “Go downstairs, buy some rock records, and learn how to write music,” and told Meat Loaf, “Actors don’t make records.” Today, Davis calls this denial his greatest regret of his life for this missed opportunity. Steinman and Meat Loaf spent two and a half years auditioning and being rejected for Bat Out Of Hell until they finally signed in 1977 with the small record label Cleveland International, who were parented by Epic Records.

The Album Got A Boost On British TV

Source: I Love Classic Rock

When Bat Out Of Hell was first released, it still was not an immediate hit until Meat Loaf performed Paradise By The Dashboard Light with Karla DeVito on the BBC’s television program “The Old Grey Whistle Test” in 1978. This iconic performance blew UK audiences away and everyone set out to their local record stores to buy the album. Soon, the album’s popularity spread throughout the world despite it being a musical record in a time when punk and hard rock had taken over the airwaves. The album accomplished some incredible feats and up until today has sold over 43 million copies and still sells around 200,000 every year. Bat Out Of Hell has spent 522 weeks in the UK charts, making it the third-longest charting studio album in the UK and is the best-selling album in Australia. All of these accomplishments came from an unknown performer who became a world sensation in the span of one night. 

Tags: Bat Out Of Hell | Meat Loaf

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Emily Morenz

Author

Despite her younger age, Emily Morenz (Emo) is a serious 1960s/1970s enthusiast who is pretty much the Austin Powers of this decade. Through her all-vintage wardrobe, obsession with old time rock 'n' roll, and her mid century bedroom and 1,200+ vinyl collection you might think she just stepped out of a time machine. Emo plays the rare gems of the ‘60s and ‘70s on her radio show on OC’s 101.5 KOCI and teaches rock ‘n’ roll history on her podcast “The Rock & Roll Sweetheart.” When there's not a pandemic, she's rockin’ out with all the middle aged-men at every single classic rock concert happening around the town, and she will battle her away to front row and dance hard. Paul McCartney even once brought her up on stage to dance...while she was in a walrus costume. You also might find Emo surfing waves, skateboarding through a neighborhood, groovin' '60s gogo style, and pretending like she can play bass. And she's obsessed with peanut butter and corgis.