Some folks say they dubbed Marvin Lee Aday “Meat Loaf” after he stepped on the foot of his high school football coach in 1961 in his home town of Dallas, Texas. Others say the big guy had already won the Meat Loaf moniker by the time he was in seventh grade and weighed over 240 pounds.
Perhaps the uncertainty stems from Meat’s own hazy memory of his youth—for which he blames family circumstances. His mother died of cancer when Meat was only 15. Following the funeral, Meat Loaf’s dad, an alcoholic, “flipped out” and came at his oversized offspring with a butcher knife. After this incident, Meat Loaf swapped Dallas for Los Angeles. Unlike the character Meat Loaf played in the 1980 movie Roadie —a roadie who hated to leave Texas—Meat never looked back.
By 1967 Meat had formed the L.A. band Meat Loaf Soul, later changed to Popcorn Blizzard. Despite opening for the likes of The Who, Iggy Pop, and the brothers Winter, two years later Meat was working as a parking lot attendant. On the job, he met an actor who encouraged him to try out for Hair, a musical that has provided many a talent with their first role in music showbiz. Meat landed the role of Ulysses S. Grant. This was the first of many “big” roles for the massive musician—for example, the 1972 casting of Meat as Buddha in a musical called Rainbow.
Thus it was as a musical actor, not a band vocalist, that Meat Loaf came to the attention of Jim Steinman, a man who would make Meat Loaf as popular as the dish he was named after. Steinman had written More Than You Deserve, a 1974 off-Broadway musical featuring Meat Loaf and had also worked extensively with New York theater producer Joseph Papp. In the next couple of years, Meat Loaf continued his Broadway work playing Eddie and Dr. Scott in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, later appearing in the cult film as well.
Meat and Steinman hit it off and toured together with the National Lampoon Road Show in 1975. Joining up again a year later, the pair settled down in New York’s Ansonia Hotel. There the duo began a year-long rehearsal of songs, some of which Steinman had written for the musical Never Land, a futuristic version of Peter Pan. Meat, surely an unlikely Pan, bellowed Steinman’s grandiose lyrics on his first solo album, the 1977 phenomenon Bat Out of Hell. After various deals had fallen through, Todd Rundgren had produced the album for Epic.
For the Record…
Born Marvin Lee Aday, September 27,1947, Dallas, TX.
Formed group Meat Loaf Soul (name later changed to Popcorn Blizzard), 1967; began collaboration with Jim Steinman on Stoney and Meat Loaf, Rare Earth, 1971; released debut solo album, Bat Out of Hell, 1977; rejoined Jim Steinman and released Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell, 1993. Appeared in musicals on stage and screen, late 1970s—; film appearances include The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Roadie, and Wayne’s World.
Addresses: Record company —MCA Records, 70 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608.
To drum up interest in Bat, Meat toured the country with a seven-piece band and feisty Karla De Vito singing the female parts of what was essentially a teen opera. The song “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” typified Bat’s theme of teenage sexuality. America loved it; the bulging bard’s album sat on the charts for over a year and a half, though it never broke into the Top Ten. And in the U.K. the album hit Number Nine and sold over two million copies during an eye-popping 395-week chart stay.
The only major U.S. city failing to fall under Meat Loaf’s spell was Los Angeles—ironically the city where Meat began his rock and roll career after seeking refuge from his grief-crazed, cleaver-wielding pop. L.A.’stop radio stations declared the bulky balladeer wasn’t right for their audiences. According to a 1978 article in Rolling Stone, that left Steinman “pissed off,” for he’d written Bat as a righteous rock and roll attack on “L.A. music” poseurs like Rod Stewart, Fleetwood Mac, and the Eagles.
By the early nineties Bat had sold over 30 million copies world wide. But according to Steinman, since 1980 neither of its creators had seen one penny in royalties apparently due to legal squabbles. Meat lost his voice following the Bat tour, or at least claimed he’d lost it. He did manage to croak out a second album, also Steinman written, Dead Ringer, but this 1981 effort fell flat except for a couple of weeks at the top of the U.K. charts. The song from which the album took its name was a duet with Cher.
Impatient with the fame-troubled Meat, Steinman turned to other artists, drafting the lyrics and producing Bonnie Tyler’s Number One Total Eclipse of the Heart. Meanwhile, Meat was sinking under the weight of his load. “Everyone wanted a little piece,” a 1983 Billboard article quoted the artist. One might have thought there was enough Meat to go around, but apparently not and he retreated within himself, lubricating the path with a nine-month booze bender. Lawsuits sprang like mousetraps. Sued by his publisher, manager, and others in 22 separate suits totaling 85 million, Meat Loaf attempted to get out from under by declaring bankruptcy in 1983.
That same year the swollen songster’s Midnight at the Lost and Found appeared without evoking much U.S. interest. The title seemed autobiographical, for Meat was down in the dumps. And it took four sessions a week of psychotherapy for a year to haul him back out. The mid-eighties were a doldrums for the Meat Loaf. The 1985 album Bad Attitude ana 1986’s Blind Before I Stop— both efforts without Steinman—fared worse than Midnight
In 1988 Meat Loaf began a public Ultra Slim-Fast diet. Shortly after this, Steinman and Meat made up. Not that the weight loss drew Steinman; indeed, as the two geared up in 1991 to record Bat Out of Hell II, Steinman left trails of doughnuts around the studio in hopes of returning Meat Loaf to his former glory. Perhaps the composer was a little unsure just why the first Bat had done so well and didn’t want to take chances. The weight loss didn’t hurt Meat’s film career—subsequent efforts included roles in Wayne’s World and Leap of Faith.
MCA Music Entertainment Group signed up the pair but found themselves up against a decidedly unvision-ary, “Are these guys kidding attitude?” according to a 1993 article in Entertainment Weekly. MCA embarked on an exhaustive marketing campaign of radio stations, record stores, and MTV for months before the record release. Despite negative reviews—one writer characterizing Bat II as 75 minutes of “operatic drivel”—the work paid off. The album contained such Steinman compositions as “Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are,” an automotive ditty that lasted over ten minutes but lacked the sexual content of “Paradise By the Dashboard Lights.”
New York Times critic Jon Pareles, reviewing a Bat II promotional concert, saw Meat as “the hulking every-man.” Watching this self-proclaimed sex god mugging and singing to the pretty back-up singer suggested to Pareles the myth of Beauty and the Beast. Perhaps, concluded the critic, Meat gives his audience hope for themselves.
Apparently it gave them something, for Meat and Steinman had on their hands a comeback unique in the annals of rock history. As Bat II advertising boasted: “Number One in 20 countries ... Standing Room Only World-Wide Tour... Madison Square Garden sold out in 90 minutes.” Meat Loaf had dislodged another big one. Perhaps no other artist has so clearly demonstrated that success will come if you keep pushing.
Stoney and Meat Loaf, Rare Earth, 1971, reissued as Meat Loaf (Featuring Stoney), Prodigal/Motown, 1979.
Bat Out of Hell, (includes “Paradise By the Dashboard Lights”), Epic 1977.
Dead Ringer, Sony, 1981.
Midnight at the Lost and Found, Epic, 1983.
Bad Attitude, RCA, 1985.
Blind Before I Stop, Atlantic, 1986.
Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell, (includes “Objects in the Mirror May Appear Larger Than They Are”), MCA 1993.
Pareles, Jon, and Patricia Romanowski, The Rolling Stone
Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press/Summit Books, 1983.
Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers & Shakers, Billboard Books, 1991.
Stambler, Irwin, Encyclopedia of Pop Rock & Roll, St. Martin’s Press, 1989.
Billboard, August 27, 1983.
Entertainment Weekly, October 15, 1993.
New York Times, September 15,1993; September 15,1993.
People, December 20, 1993.
Rolling Stone, November 16, 1978; October 28, 1993.
—Joseph M. Reiner
Best-selling album since 1990: Bat out of Hell II: Back into Hell (1993)
Hit songs since 1990: "I'd Lie for You (And That's the Truth)," "Original Sin," "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)"
Meat Loaf became a 1970s superstar when he combined rock opera bombast and arena theatrics, particularly on his signature hit "Two out of Three Ain't Bad." He was a memorable performer thanks to this melodramatic style and overpowering 250-pound presence.
Born into a gospel-singing family, Meat Loaf first worked as a singer and occasional actor. His mother died from cancer when he was quite young and his father became an alcoholic. In 1967 he quit college where he was studying to be an accountant, and moved to Los Angeles to form a rock group known alternately as Meat Loaf Soul and Popcorn Blizzard. The band gained a following while opening for rockers the Who, the Stooges, and Ted Nugent.
Meat Loaf won a part in the West Coast production of the musical Hair. At an early 1971 tour stop in Detroit, Michigan, Meat Loaf teamed up with a singer/actress cast-mate named Stoney to record his first album Stoney and Meat Loaf on Motown's Rare Earth imprint. (This was later re-released as Meat Loaf (Featuring Stoney) in 1979.) The album met with negligible success but the pair scored on the hit single "What You See Is What You Get," which peaked at number seventy-one on the Billboard pop charts later that year.
After Meat Loaf moved to New York, he appeared in the off-Broadway musical Rainbow in New York, which ran from 1972 to 1974. He then switched roles in another off-Broadway musical, More Than You Deserve, written by producer, composer, and classically trained New York pianist Jim Steinman, who was impressed by Meat Loaf's powerful vocals and stage presence.
Meat Loaf landed the part of Eddie in the theatrical production in 1975 and later the movie version of Richard O'Brien's cult piece The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The next year he followed that up by singing on one side of Ted Nugent's album Free for All. Meat Loaf joined up again with Steinman on the National Lampoon Road Show tour and later as Steinman worked on a musical update of the Peter Pan story titled Never Land. But it was on the pair's masterpiece album, Bat out of Hell (1977) that Meat Loaf reached his critical zenith. A teen opera penned by Steinman, the music was elevated into rock lore thanks to producer Todd Rundgren's pop focus and Meat Loaf's over-the-top vocals and theatrical stage presence. The album went platinum by the end of the year, with several hit singles, including "Paradise by the Dashboard Light," "Two out of Three Ain't Bad," and "You Took the Words Right out of My Mouth."
A sequel was planned but never released as Meat Loaf was unable to record due to physical exhaustion and other problems relating to nonstop work, including film appearances in Americathon (1979) and Roadie (1980). Frustrated, Steinman released his own solo album Bad for Good (1981) to minimal success in England. Meanwhile Meat Loaf followed with Dead Ringer (1981), which included Steinman tunes and featured Cher in a duet on the title track. But gone was producer Rundgren and his pop skills. Making matters worse, almost four years had transpired since the original smash, and so the album barely dented the charts. One tune "I'm Going to Love Her for the Two of Us" peaked at number eighty-four on the Billboard pop charts.
In 1983 Steinman filed suit against Meat Loaf and none of his songs appeared on Meat Loaf's subsequent album, Midnight at the Lost and Found (1983). That and Meat Loaf's subsequent albums, Bad Attitude (1984) and Blind before I Stop (1986), fell flat. Shortly afterward, Meat Loaf filed for bankruptcy as he went into physical and psychological rehabilitation.
In 1993 Meat Loaf hooked up again with Steinman to produce Bat out of Hell II: Back into Hell, the long awaited sequel. The album features the original story and the usual bombastics. It produced the hit single "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)" while the album peaked at number one in October 1993.
Meat Loaf then went solo again and released Welcome to the Neighborhood (1995) and Rock 'n' Roll Hero (1999) but by then the appeal of his melodramatic flair was old hat. As a team Meat Loaf, Steinman, and Rundgren struck lightning when they combined absorbing lyrics, pop sense, and over-the-top singing. But the magic of the original Bat out of Hell came in its camp silliness and gothic and operatic flair, an approach that did not have a long shelf life.
Spot Light: The Bat Is Back
It was highly improbable, but Meatloaf soared back on the national scene with his hit single "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)" from the direct sequel to his pompous masterpiece Bat Out of Hell (1971). Few rock artists have been able to resurrect the zenith of their careers to such an incredible degree. Putting their differences behind them Meatloaf and Jim Steinman reunited for Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell (1993), which peaked at number one in October 1993. All the basic elements were there—confused teen hero, histrionic singing, and arena sound. Familiar themes of youthful angst and struggle were plentiful in titles like "Life Is a Lemon and I Want My Money Back," "Out of the Frying Pan (and into the Fire)," "Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer," and "Good Girls Go to Heaven (Bad Girls Go Everywhere)."
Bat out of Hell (Epic, 1977); Dead Ringer (Epic, 1981); Bat out of Hell II: Back into Hell (MCA, 1993); Welcome to the Neighborhood (Virgin, 1995).
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975); Americathon (1979); Roadie (1980); Crazy in Alabama (1999); Fight Club (1999).
Meat Loaf, To Hell and Back (New York, 2002).