If you’re anywhere north of 30 years old and can’t sing along with at least part of “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” then it’s quite likely you’re a spy, space alien or had Amish parents.
Most everyone has at some point in their lives has privately nodded, smiled or even teared up alongside Bat Out Of Hell’s pitch-perfect rendering of suburban teen angst. These same people have probably also publicly mocked, parodied or cringed at the album’s overwrought singing, sentimentality and lyrics. There is a bit of Meat Loaf in all of us as we make mountains out of the molehills of our private lives, and there are only a handful of albums in all of rock and roll that have ever captured that sense of earnest sincerity and egocentric absurdity as well as this one.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
For this DVD, you do get the top three people who made this album what it was – songwriter Jim Steinman, uber-producer Todd Rundgren and a fairly svelte, prepped-up Marvin Lee Aday (Meat Loaf). You also get the two ladies in the drama, blonde vocalist Ellen Foley, who appears on the record (and whose relationship with Mick Jones was reportedly the inspiration for the Clash’s “Should I Stay, Or Should I Go?”), and brunette Karla de Vito (now married to 70’s teen heartthrob Robby Benson), who sang on the Bat Out of Hell tour, not the album, but appears in all the performance footage from that era. You also get a few other participants from the business and band side to round things out.
Steinman has his moments, like where he reveals how his fascination with car crash songs led to the title track, and the two ladies have a very minor dust-up through the magic of juxtaposed interview segments on their roles in and importance to the album,
But disappointingly, whether it’s the questions asked or the subjects themselves, it seems everyone is a bit in their own world and looking to fulfill their own needs rather than the viewer’s. Steinman needs to talk a little too much about how he proved everyone wrong, Meat Loaf needs to remind us repeatedly that he still has his vocal skills and Rundgren needs to show us all that it’s all not that big a deal to him, even though Bat Out of Hell is surely the largest-selling record he’s ever been a part of (unless he has another 20-30 million seller out there?). Though some parts are worth the wait, the whole video suffers from the feeling of having to navigate slightly self-absorbed personalities at a cocktail party as you wait to get more involved in the conversation.
MOST SURPRISING THINGS I LEARNED
Basically, without Todd Rundgren, there is no record. He made this album happen, from record deal to production to playing the epic guitar solos on the equally epic 10-minute “Bat Out of Hell.” And while the story of artists shopping around for record deals is nothing new, it was surprising to learn that even after this album was completely
finished and ready to be pressed, almost no one in 1976 and 1977 wanted any part of it, even though Queen’s over-the-top production and songwriting from the same era was proving quite lucrative.
It also was good to hear more of the story behind “Paradise,” which involved an actual gal with whom Mr. Loaf could never seem to get the “play at the plate” despite numerous parking sessions. If only she had known he’d become so famous!
Finally, I appreciated more background on Foley and de Vito. As a teen watching MTV, I was always confused as to why the lady in the live Meat Loaf “Paradise” performance sounded different than the record, and so that did get cleared up, though a quick trip to Wikipedia might have also done the trick, but glad they addressed it.