Meat Loaf. Is he cool? Who knows? But he’s sold over 65 million records worldwide – 20 of which, at least, belong to his debut, Bat Out of Hell – one of the best-selling albums of all time. He’s appeared in numerous films, is known the world over and to this day packs a vocal range unlike any other. His friendship with the late Jim Steinman culminated in a trilogy of groundbreaking albums and produced some of the most iconic rock songs ever made.
And so, in celebration of the man – and the songwriter by his side – we’re having a look at the ten best Meat Loaf songs. Whether he wrote them, Steinman, or someone else altogether, they’ve got his unmistakable voice, and the Wagnerian power that only Meat could muster.
10. Surf’s Up (Bad Attitude, 1984) – After the rip-roaring success of 1977’s Bat Out of Hell, the pressure was on Steinman and Loaf to record a sequel. Loaf lost his voice in the years that followed, so Steinman went his own way – releasing a debut, Bad for Good (his only solo release)because he couldn’t bear people not to hear the songs he wrote for a Bat II.
‘Surf’s Up’ appeared on the album and popped up three years later on Meat Loaf’s fourth studio album, Bad Attitude. Bad Attitude was a minor success, with ‘Surf’s Up’ not even owed the single treatment. But it’s one of the best Steinman compositions under five minutes in length – a rarity for the man. With impressive, poetic lyrics – ‘And now the sky is trembling/ And the moon is pale/ We’re on the edge of forever/ And we’re never gonna fail’, it’s the perfect ballad for Meat Loaf. With added oomph. And it’s a beauty.
9. Dead Ringer for Love (Dead Ringer, 1981) – How could this song not appear on the list? A duet with the powerhouse Cher, ‘Dead Ringer’ saved an otherwise mediocre album and bent it into a must-have for any Meat Loaf fan. The doo-wop background vocals and laddish lyrics (‘A man, he doesn’t live by only rock and roll and brew’) fuse into a sonic beast that’s let loose for four minutes. It’s a shame the two never performed the track together live, but this recording is all you need. One of Meat Loaf’s best, with tongue firmly in cheek. Just listen to that opening riff. Phwoar.
8. Everything Louder Than Everything Else (Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell, 1993) – By the time Steinman and Loaf got back together for the sequel to 1977’s colossus, a fair few years had passed. Though Steinman assures that he always felt the record was a continuation, Meat Loaf takes on a more literal approach – insisting he knew it would help the sequel sell ‘shitloads’. Thus, Bat Out of Hell II… was unleashed – with no shortage of tracks clocking over six minutes. One of them, however, probably the deepest cut on this list, is an ode to rock music, ‘armies of the night’ and everything Steinman.
Though the entire track feels like one of the most underrated songs in the Loaf/Steinman canon – and fires on all cylinders relentlessly – it’s one line that sticks with me above all else. ‘A wasted youth is better by far than a wise and productive old age’. Hardly a new take in the genre of rock ‘n roll, but a damn good one, nonetheless.
7. Modern Girl (Bad Attitude, 1984) – The biggest hit from Bad Attitude, ‘Modern Girl’ is one of Meat Loaf’s more well-known songs (featured on all of his greatest hits compilations). Its use of string arrangements – packed against raw guitar and thunderous drums – makes for one of the man’s best hard rock releases. It’s a motorcycle ride from start to finish. Though, unlike that of his 1977 debut, one that ends in a Hollywood climax. ‘Gimme the future with a modern girl!’. Just when you think his voice can’t get any higher, it starts soaring higher than the angels. Badass.
6. Out of the Frying Pan (And Into the Fire) (Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell, 1993) – If there’s one thing for sure in this world, it’s that Jim Steinman’s titles got longer as time went on. And Bat II is a testament to that. Like ‘Surf’s Up’, ‘Out of the Frying Pan…’ appeared first on his 1981 debut. But once more, Meat Loaf’s asbestos chords harness the flames of this track, tackling it masterfully, letting his lover know he’s going to make everything alright. It packs one of the most powerful choruses of his discography and solidifies its parent album as perhaps Loaf’s best.
5. Original Sin (Welcome to the Neighbourhood, 1995) – Another pre-released track from the Steinman vaults. This time, from a side project he put together way back in 1989 – an all-female group called Pandora’s Box, who would release one ill-fated album, Original Sin. Though it was a commercial flop, it remains one of Steinman’s most guarded works, and serves as the framework for many of his later collaborations with Meat Loaf, as well as the hugely successful Bat out of the Hell musical.
‘Original Sin’ is one of Steinman’s most ambitious and, well, theatrical in nature – opening with chillingly beautiful piano before plummeting into the realm of the unholy and blasphemous. All the while accompanied with some of the men catchiest. The original version isn’t bad but feels laughably dated – closer to Bonnie Tyler than Meat Loaf. The latter version, however, is just timeless, and among the strongest on that album. It’s a shame it’s so unknown – ‘I’ve been looking for an original sin… And since I’ve done all the old ones ‘til they’ve all been done in/ Now I’m just looking, then I’m gone with the wind’ are hauntingly rendered by Loaf.
4. Paradise by the Dashboard Light (Bat Out of Hell, 1977) – For many, number 4 is simply too unthinkable a position to put ‘Paradise’ – a song that trumps the title track of Bat Out of Hell in multiple polls (it has nearly twice the Spotify streams, too). It’s a classic rock radio staple. And there’s a reason. From Loaf and Ellen Foley’s devilish ode to teenage pleasure, to New York Yankees’ announcer Phil Rizzuto’s minute-long double entendre and the ensuing conflict, it’s a pretty perfect song. So good, in fact, that many mistake it as the marital behemoth of Bat Out of Hell (that title goes to ‘For Crying Out Loud’).
The tension rises and the guitars build and build – Foley’s persistent probing rivalled only by Loaf’s downright explosive temperament (‘I couldn’t take it any longer/ Lord, I was crazed!/ And when the feeling came upon me like a tidal wave’), before we transition into reflections on what life used to be like then. Accompanied by dazzling piano. It’s a whole play, nay, an opera condensed into eight minutes.
3. Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through (Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell, 1993) – ‘You’ve been through the fires of Hell/ And I know you got the ashes to prove it’. Sure, only Steinman could write a lyric that good, but it’s how Meat Loaf sings it that makes it what it is. Someone pouring their heart out to their loved one; telling them it’s okay to be imperfect. They’ll stand by them regardless. ‘Rock and Roll Dreams…’ is tender, but also one hell of a mean mule when it wants to kick. Meat Loaf really got it right with this album – it’s a record worthy of bearing a Bat’s name. And though his penmanship isn’t the reason why, his vocals certainly are. He plays the heroic, heartbreak veteran impeccably.
2. I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That) (Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell, 1993) – At this point, the list seems biased because I must obviously have a clear favourite album. And I do. In my opinion, it’s the seminal magnum opus of both Loaf and Steinman. It’s not my fault they packed it with ballads Keats could only dream of, darkness even Poe couldn’t capture and Hollywood-level thrills. It’s a rollercoaster, and if the list were any longer, I’m sure the entire track listing would make it in.
But also, it’s ‘I’d Do Anything For Love…’. Come on. It’s a bit cheesy, a touch overplayed, but otherwise a pretty flawless track. I mean, how do you open a sequel to Bat Out of Hell? Easy, you write possibly the longest song of your career and let Meat Loaf sing it – who comes through on every verse, every wavering note. You feel every inch of his emotion and for twelve minutes, you are sucked into it like nothing before. Loaf leaves you crying in the aisles and then uplifted all at once. It’s one of the best tracks to come out of the 1990s, and that’s nothing to smirk at. Hell, to this day, people still question what exactly ‘that’ is (despite the fact it’s mentioned in the song).
1. Bat Out Of Hell (Bat Out of Hell, 1977) – It had to be. The title is synonymous with the ’70s, motorcycles, switchblades and everything cool. It’s one of rock’s best-loved masterpieces and Steinman’s attempt to capture the ‘ultimate car/motorcycle crash song’. Well, he did it. And who better to sing it than Meat Loaf? Who shines on every verse, every bridge and especially that tearaway chorus. Who can forget as he screeches to the audience, ‘Like a bat out of hell/ I’ll be gone when the morning comes!’? And as the would-be runaway hits the kerb and lies torn and twisted at the foot of a burning bike, it’s Loaf’s vocals which constantly bewilder.
We feel the pain, and the bleeding anguish as Loaf’s heart bursts out of his body and flies forth. It’s a poetic image, and one of the best verses in musical history. I couldn’t imagine anyone else singing it, and yet this was the man’s introduction to the world. ‘Bat Out of Hell’ made Meat Loaf. But Meat Loaf made ‘Bat Out of Hell’.