from Retromania, a little section on Meatloaf and Jim Steinman, in the chapter of the 1970s rock'n'roll revival and its long tail
LET'S DO THE TIMEWARP AGAIN
"Innocence" is not the only thing that Seventies musicians sought and found in the 1950s. As Fifties revivalism continued and diversified in the second half of the Seventies, two other "essences" of rock 'n' roll came to the fore. Some bands, like The Cramps, focused on rockabilly's febrile sexuality and "real gone" frenzy, making a fetish of obscure artists, those who'd never made it out of the Deep South. Others homed in on the histrionic excess of rock 'n' roll's more poptastic and produced side, figures like Phil Spector, Roy Orbison, and Del Shannon.
Far and away the most successful version of the latter was Meatloaf. He was stupendously successful: the multiplatinum Bat Out of Hell was one of 1978's biggest records, especially in the U.K. where it had the same kind of over-the-top appeal as Queen. Meatloaf had first come to public attention in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (the 1975 movie version of Richard O'Brien's cult musical) in which he played a rock'n'roller called Eddie whose brain has partially been removed. While working on the movie in 1974, Meatloaf also began his Bat Out of Hell collaboration with songwriter and "walking rock encyclopedia" Jim Steinman.
Steinman's approach to rock'n'roll resurrection was completely opposed to the reductionism of Creedence, Lennon, and Glitter-Leander. Phil Spector's "wall of sound" and densely layered "teenage symphonies" were the model. Something of a rock'n'roll philosopher as well as a songwriter-arranger, Steinman talked eloquently about how the music's core was violence and hysteria. Meatloaf, the Pavarotti of rock, had the only voice majestic enough to do his songs justice, he said. Swollen both in width and length (several Bat Out of Hell numbers reached nine or ten minutes), Steinman's music grew as corpulent as Meatloaf's physique. But the result wasn't so much rock opera as rock'n'roll opera: beneath the gassy bloat, the roots of the sound were clearly Chuck Berry and The Ronettes, while the songs deal with Fifties-type scenarios such as a Harley Davidson death-ride or making out in a Chevy and struggling to get the girl to go all the way.
Steinman's manager David Sonenberg described him as having " the intellect of an Orson Welles… yet he's kind of frozen in the emotional body of a 17-year-old." That nails Bat Out of Hell precisely: corny yet grotesque, arrested but overblown, as if rock's artistic and emotional development had stopped circa 1957 but its sonic form kept growing. Bat Out Of Hell actually came out of an earlier Steinman project called Neverland that was primarily based around Peter Pan. The songwriter hailed J. M. Barrie's story as "the ultimate rock-and-roll myth--lost boys who don't grow up." Rock'n'roll, Steinman argued , "has to do with being a teenager, the energy of adolescence. When it starts to get too adult, I think it begins to lose a little of the power." He complained that in the early Seventies, music "got real bland, tranquilizing". It lost touch with the epic quality of songs like Del Shannon's "Runaway", "that cross-roads, where romance became violent and violence became romantic. " Singer-songwriters like "Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Jackson Browne" were "the exact opposite of my world", he continued, because they wrote about grown-up stuff like " meaningful relationships".
Steinman also makes a cameo in this piece: