Meat Loaf, 1947 – 2022: a unique performer with big, bold odes to the dreamers and believers

The man also known as Michael Lee Aday has died, less than a year after his collaborator and musical soulmate Jim Steinman, at the age of 74. RIP

Few monikers have suited the musicians that have adopted them quite like Meat Loaf did Michael Lee Aday. Born in Dallas, Texas on September 27th, 1947 to a gospel singing mother and a police officer with a side-line in selling his own blend of cough medicine, there remains some confusion as to who was responsible for the name. Some reports claim it was anointed him by his high school football coach. Others by his father, Orvis.

“I was born bright red, so the doctor suggested that they should keep me in the hospital for a few days,” he told Oprah Winfrey in 2016. He continued with an anecdote about his father’s instructions to the hospital staff: “’I want you to name my son there – because he looks like nine-and-a-half pounds of ground chuck – I want you to put a name tag on the front of that plastic crib and it say ‘Meat’ on it.’ They stuck that printed card on my crib and that was it…”

It was the perfect name for a life lived loud, large, succulent and raw.

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Meat Loaf – who has passed away, aged 74 from complications due to COVID – would need his bulk to break down the obstacles that piled up in his way. Despite showing a flair for performance while at high school, appearing in theatre productions of Where’s Charley? and The Music Man, he once described his early days in the music industry as being defined by being treated like “a circus clown”. Upon relocating to Los Angeles, his first band Meat Loaf Soul opened for such rock‘n’roll luminaries as Van Morrison’s Them, Janis Joplin, The Who, and – get this! – The Stooges and MC5. And yet – big boned, even bigger voice, once asked by a sound engineer: “Where did you learn to sing, son?” Step back a few feet and try it again?” – he felt his unique talents weren’t being taken seriously, so retreated to his first love, joining the LA cast of Hair.

His performance in the hit hippie musical led to Motown inviting both himself and fellow cast member Shaun ‘Stoney’ Murphy to make a record. ‘Stoney & Meatloaf’ – and that is an album sleeve – arrived in late 1971. The lack of respect awarded to him continued. Not only did the label misspell his name, but they later replaced his vocals on the song ‘Who Is The Leader of The People’ with those of rising soul great Edwin Starr. He left the label. Again he returned to the theatre, appearing in the original off-Broadway production of Rainbow at the Orpheum Theatre in New York City.

He hired an agent, then re-joined the cast of Hair – this time on Broadway. And then came the meeting that would change the trajectory of two names now as immortal as any that popular music has produced. Auditioning for a part in More Than You Deserve, a production written by Michael Weller (who in 1979 would write the screenplay for the cinematic adaptation of Hair) and a New York native named Jim Steinman, Meat Loaf impressed. A working relationship would ensue between he and the composer, lyricist and producer that would bring bombast to names as varied as Bonnie Tyler, Air Supply, the Sisters of Mercy and Celine Dion, until Steinman passed aged 73 last April.

Meat Loaf said upon his collaborator’s death: “We didn’t just know each other; we were each other.”

After a scene-stealing performance as zombie biker Eddie in the 1975 film adaptation of ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ (bizarrely, he would claim his appearance made the movie inferior to the stage show), Meat Loaf and Steinman would begin work on their debut album, ‘Bat Out of Hell’, the same year. Fusing the cinematic pomp of Bruce Springsteen (fittingly, The E Street Band’s Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg, pianist and drummer from said group, play on the record), recruiting multi-instrumentalist musical genius Todd Rundgren to produce and heavily inspired by Phil Spector’s revered ‘Wall of Sound’, the record was far from an instant success. Steinman’s manager David Sonenberg has joked that they were “creating record labels just so it could be rejected by them”.

In his 1999 autobiography, To Hell and Back, Meat Loaf would recall being “almost broken” by the rejection of CBS executive Clive Davis. “’Do you know how to write a song?’, Davis said. “‘Do you know anything about writing? If you’re going to write for records, it goes like this: A, B, C, B, C, C. I don’t know what you’re doing. You’re doing A, D, F, G, B, D, C. You don’t know how to write a song. Have you ever listened to pop music? Have you ever heard any rock’n’roll music? You should go downstairs when you leave here… and buy some rock’n’roll records…’”

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Legend has it that Meat Loaf did go downstairs, having a minor meltdown on the street and screaming “fuck you Clive!” up at the building. He was still looking for respect, and about to prove them wrong. Eventually released on October 21st, 1977 on Cleveland International Records, a subsidiary of Epic (whose staff universally loathed it), the record has, to date, sold over 43 million copies worldwide. The record holds the record for the second longest run by a studio album in the UK charts.

Like so many bound by creativity, Steinman and Meat Loaf’s relationship ebbed and flowed. 2006 saw the latter table a $50 million lawsuit at Steinman, claiming that he’d wrongfully registered the ‘Bat Out of Hell’ trademark as his own in 1995. Meat would soon drop the suit, saying he had “too much history” with his collaborator to pursue it. The ’80s, too, saw the relationship frayed, again over disputes concerning money. Steinman told Q magazine that the pair reunited on Christmas Day in 1989 and sang ‘Bat Out of Hell’ together on the piano.

“Speaking about collaborator Jim Steinman’s death last year, Meat Loaf said, ‘Coming here soon, my brother Jimmy…'”

They stayed together for the follow up to ‘Bat Out of Hell’, the brilliantly titled ‘Bat Out of Hell II: Bat into Hell’, in 1993. The record sold over 14 million copies, while the single ‘I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)’ topped the charts in 28 countries. We never did find out what ‘that’ was, despite the single being the UK’s best-selling the year of its release…

Meat Loaf continued to make acting appearances throughout his career – highlights include appearances in 1992’s Wayne’s World, 1997’s Spice World and 1999’s Fight Club. Though his music remained as ecstatic and as brilliantly enthusiastic as it had always been – as his typically bombastic 12th, final album ‘Braver Than We Are’ proved in 2016 – recent times saw the singer suffering with poor health; he collapsed onstage in 2011 and 2016. While appearing at a horror convention in his native Texas in 2019, he fell off the interview stage and broke his collarbone. Speaking about the death of Steinman last year, he said, “Coming here soon, my brother Jimmy…”

Meat Loaf onstage in 2021. Credit: Getty

We’ll never know exactly how Michael Lee Aday came to be known as Meat Loaf. What we do know is that name and music – his big, bold, sweat-drenched odes to dreamers and believers – will live on in the hearts of rock ‘n roll fans forever. Finally: the respect this unique performer has always deserved.

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