|Meat Loaf: Bat Out of Hell
Label: Eagle Vision
Given when it was originally released (1977), there are no doubt quite a few old punks out there who’d argue against declaring Meat Loaf’s Bat out of Hell to be a “Classic Album,” but when you get down to brass tacks, any album that’s sold an estimated 30 million copies and spawned two sequels has gotta be considered a classic by quite a few folks. Eagle Vision has been putting out this ongoing series of DVD releases for a while now, and as you’ve likely seen in various other reviews on Bullz-Eye, they do good work. Utilizing a combination of archival footage and new interviews with the major participants in the recording of the album being spotlighted, the end result is invariably an impressive video document, and their discussion of Bat out of Hell is no exception.
There aren’t many players who aren’t called before the camera to discussing the making of the record. Both Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman are in attendance…Meat Loaf looks good, but Steinman’s clearly not working with a fashion consultant or a hairdresser…and there are also new conversations with producer Todd Rundgren, drummer Max Weinberg (yes, he played on the record as well), backing vocalists Karla DeVito, Ellen Foley, and Rory Dodd, and David Sonenberg, who managed both Meat Loaf and Steinman at the time. Purists will no doubt complain that DeVito didn’t actually appear on the album, but we learn that, frankly, she performed better live than Foley did, which is why she’s in virtually every performance of songs from the album. (Watching the concert footage of Meat Loaf and DeVito, however, reminds me why I could never get into the videos when they’d air on MTV back in the day: I can’t stand to watch the guy!)
The story of how all the pieces of Bat out of Hell came together is an interesting one, but not quite as interesting as the mere fact that both Meat Loaf and Steinman are willing to offer up a significant amount of credit to Rundgren for making the album what it is. Given that Steinman writes such bombastic songs and Meat Loaf has an ego to match his ‘70s-era waistline (at least twice during the hour-long program, our man Meat proudly declares that, 20 years later, he still sounds the same), somehow, you’d expect that, between the pair of them, there wouldn’t be any credit left. But, no, they freely concede that, without Rundgren’s vision and studio wizardry, the album never would’ve been the success that it was. And we see that it’s true; for as overblown a production as the final product was, we hear stories of how much worse it was in its original form.
It’s confirmed that Jim Steinman did indeed tend to write incredibly pretentious titles, then accept the self-issued challenge to create songs to justify those titles. We also find out that the record was rejected by Warner Brothers and several other labels before it was finally released to become a massive worldwide success. The most revelatory thing about the program for me, however, was that Rundgren’s first introduction to the material that would become Bat out of Hell was a collection of piano-and-voice demos…and we get to hear a bit of the one for “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” during the proceedings. Man, why haven’t those been released? (Weirdly, however, when I went online to see if maybe they had been put out and I just missed it, I found a quote from Meat Loaf saying, “Jim and I didn’t demo Bat Out Of Hell, it didn’t exist, you could not demo Bat Of Hell, you either had to do Bat Out Of Hell or not.” Why would you lie like that, Meat?)Another fine work from Eagle Vision. If only VH-1 would do documentaries as in-depth as this, instead of using their patented I’m-drunk-I’m-nobody-I’m-drunk-I’m-famous-I’m-drunk-I’m-fucking-dead format with everything.