Meat Loaf turns 66 today, and let’s all raise a glass of brown gravy in honor of the louder-than-life rocker and movie star who thrilled us on record (Bat Out of Hell and the follow-ups) and film (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Fight Club, and driving the bus for the Spice Girls in Spice World). [Photo: Keystone/Getty]
Meat Loaf, of course, was borne unto this world as Marvin Lee Ada–as the sensitive son of a school teacher and an abusive alcoholic cop. He took solace by singing with his grandmother—a lot. He took on the name Meat Loaf as a growing boy, and went on to front the band Meat Loaf Soul in Los Angeled. He’d also appear naked on stage in the musical Hair, ultimately transferring his huge nudeness to the Broadway production in New York–where he got the call to audition for a bizarre stage musical called “The Rocky Horror Show.”
After that, Eddie took over. Back on the Sunset Strip, Meat Loaf electrically embodied the raucous half-brained bisexual biker who belts out “What Ever Happened to Saturday Night?” in both the original stage production and on the big-screen in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
All the while, Meat worked with mad rock composer Jim Steinman on a song cycle titled Bat Out of Hell. It was finally released in late 1977 and, almost immediately, the album took over popular music completely, generating the smash hits “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”, “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”, “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth”, “All Revved Up With No Place to Go”, and the nearly ten-minute title track. To date, Bat Out of Hell has sold 43 million copies, and it still moves about 200,000 new units every year.
From there, Meat Loaf’s name became mud for quite a while before an amazing comeback in the ’90s. That could’ve happened sooner, though. Meat Loaf had a turbulent ’80s with lots of failed singles. That was partly because of his complicated relationship with Steinman. In honor of Meat’s survival, though, let’s consider ten appropriately massive tunes that Mr. Loaf could’ve bellowed onto the charts–including a few recent tunes that should be keeping him on top of the charts right now…
“Total Eclipse of the Heart” – Bonnie Tyler
Jim Steinman actually wrote this eerie, soaring, somehow religious-seeming epic for his erstwhile partner Meat Loaf, but some kind of nonsense kept them from properly recording it. Raspy-voiced chanteuse Bonnie Tyler turned it into an enduring radio hit that continues to resonate and regularly appear everywhere from movie soundtracks to goofy TV commercials.
“Making Love Out of Nothing at All” – Air Supply
This is yet another Steinman composition intended for Meat that never made it to record. Instead, the song went to the Australian wimp-pop duo Air Supply. That doesn’t keep Steinman’s words and music from seeming like a sprawling and globe-trotting journey that’ll leave you happily exhausted. Just imagine if Meat Loaf was your guide.
“Some Heads Are Gonna Roll” – Judas Priest
Meat Loaf has always sort of been “heavy metal adjacent”, rocking on a cosmic level and hitting opera-glass-shattering notes only approached by the most powerful headbangers in leather. Vocally, Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford is a kindred spirit, so it’s possible to envision Loaf wailing on an array of Priest stompers. “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll” takes the prize, though, because of the climbing, high-scaled build-up followed by suspenseful silence before the chorus crushes everything its path. Rob Halford does that better than almost anybody. Meat Loaf is the “almost.”
“Rock Me Tonite” – Billy Squier
Here, now, is the song that ended Billy Squier’s multiplatinum rock star career. Actually, it wasn’t the song, it was the ludicrous music video, in which Billy dressed like a Flashdance reject an flounced about a fluffy bedroom like…well, like a Flashdance reject. The song itself is a happy powder keg, with a long, rollicking fuse leading up to a joyous explosion. Meat Loaf could not possibly have fit in Billy Squier’s Flashdance gear. Instead, he would’ve rendered “Rock Me Tonite” ballsy, brawny, and brilliant.
“Heaven’s on Fire” – Kiss
Jim Steinman’s only real competition when it comes to pop-opera songwriting sound and fury is Desmond Child, who has composed multiple mega-hits for everyone from Aerosmith to Katy Perry. Child whipped up this wailing, see-sawing monster for Kiss during their make-up run in the mid-’80s. Think about Meat Loaf backed by Paul and Gene and whoever the guys were instead of Ace and Peter at that point. Feel Meat’s heat, taking you higher.
“The Flame” – Cheap Trick
Cheap Trick’s comeback radio smash is actually the least Cheap-Trick-like song those sharp-dressed Chicagoland rockers ever smashed onto the radio. Constructed by outside writers and foisted (without hostility) onto Cheap Trick by their record company, “The Flame” is the exact type of magnificently manipulative, hyper-calculated rock product that Meat Loaf–and pretty much Meat Loaf alone–can breathe fiery life and smoldering soul into, and then let fly.
“November Rain” – Guns N’ Roses
As a guy who scored multiple top ten hits that ran in excess of eight minutes, the Gunners nearly ten-minute orchestral hard rock suite is smack in the coagulated heart of Meat Loaf’s wheelhouse.
“Party Hard” – Andrew WK
The music of Andrew WK, like the man himself, exudes crunching, danceable, near-metal mayhem expressed through intricately conceived and executed musical channels and blasted out with gleeful abandon. Meat Loaf fits that same description—even when he’s singing about something sad. Intensity as intoxication is the name of Andrew WK’s game, and perhaps only Meat Loaf could ever beat him at it—if only because he got on the board first.
“Blow Up the Outside World” – Soundgarden
For all their angst, anger, and attitude-driven lashing out, grunge bands shied away from grand, sweeping sounds and explosive vocals. Soundgarden was the dominant exception. Chris Cornell launched his ripped-muscle voice to stratospheres in which, ironically, only Meat Loaf normally floats freely. “Blow Up”, with its upward flow to its second half that’s essentially a sustained chorus, could easily have made Meat Loaf sage for the Seattle sound set.
“Bad Romance” – Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga repeatedly (and rightly) acknowledges her classic rock inspirations, citing Freddy Mercury, David Bowie, Alice Cooper, and Elton John as her forebears. How can she forget Meat Loaf? She’d completely get it if she could just imagine him inserting “Meat Load, ooh-la-la!” into “Bad Romance.”
“Let It Go” – Idina Menzel
Envision Meat Loaf as the Snow Queen. All you have to do is have Meat in mind when you hear “Let It Go” (which we all have) and it will seem as though the multi-arced, combustive, skyrocketing, vocal-exercise-to-end-all-vocal-exercises theme song from Disney’s Frozen could exist for no other super-sized sonic sorcerer.