34 years after it began its almost infinite stint on the charts, a look back at Meat Loaf’s baffling and astonishingly successful ‘Bat Out Of Hell’.
The music press loves an anniversary. This year alone, I’m braced for a slew of dewy-eyed cover lines, collectors issues and commemorative tea-towels, marking everything from ‘35 years of Never Mind The Bollocks!’ to ‘12 years since DJ Ötzi’s Hey Baby (Uhh, Ahh)!’ But in 2012, there’s one milestone that’s been swept under the carpet. It’s 35 years since Marvin Lee Aday renamed himself after an offal housebrick and unleashed ‘Bat Out Of Hell’: the debut album that was rejected by every label in town before shifting 43 million units and humping the UK chart for 474 consecutive weeks.
To recap: 474 fucking weeks (a run, second only to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’, which kicked off this very week in 1978). It’s a belief-buggering statistic to rank alongside the fact that 13 people each year are killed by vending machines, or that Chris Moyles is only 38 years old. From ’77 onwards, people started buying Bat and just never stopped, as if it was an essential weekly grocery, like cat food or cling film – and it still sells 200,000 a year to this day.
The media, though, has never taken to Meat Loaf. To the cultural cognoscenti and tastemaker twats, the ringing tills are a death knell for ‘serious music’. What sort of world are we living in, they’ll bleat, when a porcine opera-lite bellower shifts more than Paul Westerberg, XTC and The Slits?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. For me, Meat Loaf’s mammoth chart tenure is cause for celebration. There’s nobody quite like him. Closing my eyes now, I see him in his ’77 pomp: a gone-to-seed Prince Charming in ruffled shirt and velvet jacket, belting it out in a voice so melodramatic you feared he might literally burst into tears and have to be taken home by his parents, puffing on a brown paper bag.
Mad-eyed, mane-haired and generally found pawing at a wet-permed female singer, Meat Loaf was admittedly not-cool-in-a-traditional-sense. Back then, next to the safety-pin sneer of Strummer and Lydon, the disparity was as marked as Junior Senior jamming with Hendrix. That didn’t matter. Meat Loaf was the ultimate geek-done-good: a man who had somehow avoided his logical calling of the comic-book store to conquer the world. From the sleeve art onwards, his vibe was pure adolescent escapism – a world of bats, back-seat coitus, one-night stands and motorbikes bursting out of crypts – while the songs handed to him by Bat svengali Jim Steinman were epic, bombastic, histrionic marathons that rammed instrumentation into every orifice and ended with a call-and-response duet that bordered on sexual harassment. Meat didn’t write the material, but you sensed he was wringing his heart into every lyric; that in the words of his 1993 comeback hit, he really would do anything for love (albeit with certain stipulations).
I love it all. The ridiculous tongue-twister song titles – ‘Objects In The Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are’, say – that would be proclaimed genius if Morrissey had penned them. The roaring duet with Cher on ‘Dead Ringer For Love’. The clammy-handed ode to popped cherries on ‘Paradise By The Dashboard Light’. I’d love to pretend it’s a Kraftwerk b-sides album I’m nodding my head to when you sit opposite me on the train, but it’s more likely to be the hammering ivories that launch ‘Modern Girl’.
I say: let’s not judge our rock stars on their cardiovascular fitness. Let’s stop beating the Meat. But what do you think? Did I take the words right out of your mouth, or does Meat Loaf leave a nasty taste…?