Bat Out of Hell – one of the finest rock albums from a guy named Meat Loaf

When you read this title, you may do a few double takes if you are unfamiliar with the music or the performer. Who is Meat Loaf and why should I listen to such an odd titled album? Yet, “Bat Out of Hell” is end to end one of the finest rock albums to which I have ever listened. And, it almost did not get promoted due to its theatrical set of songs during the Disco era. Did I tell you Meal Loaf, (Michael Lee Aday) could belt out a song like few others?

Per Wikipedia, “‘Bat Out of Hell‘ is the 1977 debut album by American rock singer Meat Loaf and composer Jim Steinman. It was developed from a musical, Neverland, a futuristic rock version of Peter Pan, which Steinman wrote for a workshop in 1974. The album was recorded during 1975–1976 at various studios… produced by Todd Rundgren, and released in October 1977 by Cleveland International/Epic Records. Its musical style is influenced by Steinman’s appreciation of Richard Wagner, Phil Spector, Bruce Springsteen and The Who. Bat Out of Hell has spawned two Meat Loaf sequel albums:…Bat Out of Hell is one of the best-selling albums of all time, having sold over 50 million copies worldwide. It is certified 14x Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.”

Every song on the album has its own merits.. The songs tend to focus on young love, angst, passion et al along with some adult realizations the song characters figure out along the way. The song that was the biggest hit off the album is not its best song, but is pretty darn good – “Two out of three ain’t bad.” One reason others did not get played as much as singles is their length – the songs each told stories. Let me highlight three of the songs.

Two out of three ain’t bad – the chorus tells an all too familiar story about lust and love, but there is more to the song than that.

“…And maybe you can cry all night
But that’ll never change the way that I feel
The snow is really piling up outside
I wish you wouldn’t make me leave here

I poured it on and I poured it out
I tried to show you just how much I care
I’m tired of words and I’m too hoarse to shout
But you’ve been cold to me so long
I’m crying icicles instead of tears

And all I can do is keep on telling you
I want you
I need you
But there ain’t no way
I’m ever gonna love you
Now don’t be sad
‘Cause two out of three ain’t bad
Now don’t be sad
‘Cause two out of three ain’t bad”

If you focus on the chorus, you miss out that the lead character tried to make it work. What I also like is the song is sung in first person, so it is not gender specific. This could easily be a woman singing about a man or even someone who does not identify as either.

Paradise by the Dashboard Light – is the best song, in my view. It tells a story and involves in the recording Ellen Foley, who is much tinier than Meat Loaf, but whose voice can match his needed gravitas for this passionate song. And, when I say passionate, I mean two kinds – lust and eventually spite. I would add that talented Karla DeVito is seen in live performances, but the original recorded voice is Foley’s. Here are a few snippets.

“I remember every little thing
As if it happened only yesterday
Parking by the lake
And there was not another car in sight
And I never had a girl
Looking any better than you did
And all the kids at school
They were wishing they were me that night
And now our bodies are oh so close and tight
It never felt so good, it never felt so right
And we’re glowing like the metal on the edge of a knife
Glowing like the metal on the edge of a knife.”

This sets the stage, but the song describes what happens by the dashboard light using a famous baseball announcer for the New York Yankees, Phil Rizzutto. You hear Rizzuto’s voice as he broadcasts a game with the muffled foreplay going on in the background. To me, the best part of the song is when Foley’s character stands her ground and asks for a pledge of love.

“Stop right there!
I gotta know right now!
Before we go any further!
Do you love me?
Will you love me forever?
Do you need me?
Will you never leave me?
Will you make me so happy for the rest of my life?
Will you take me away and will you make me your wife?”

From there, I will leave it to your imagination, but the ending is worth the wait..

Bat Out of Hell – is also a story telling song as a lover leaves town, but the regret seems to drive him to be careless on the road. There are some lyrics my wife does not care for in the song as they are gruesome, but the song is vintage rock and roll.

“…Oh baby, you’re the only thing in this whole world
That’s pure and good and right
And wherever you are and wherever you go
There’s always gonna be some light”.

But I gotta get out
I gotta break it out now
Before the final crack of dawn
So we gotta make the most of our one night together
When it’s over you know
We’ll both be so alone

Like a bat out of hell
I’ll be gone when the morning comes
When the night is over
Like a bat out of hell
I’ll be gone, gone, gone
Like a bat out of hell
I’ll be gone when the morning comes.”

Two other songs which are also strong are “All revved up and no place to go” and “You took the words right out of my mouth.”

Give this album a try. When I read those lists of greatest albums, this one usually makes a top twenty list. It is different. It is excellent, if you are a rock and roller.

Note two sidebars: Meat Loaf appeared in the movie “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” in a small but pivotal role and Ellen Foley is also known for being on the comedy TV show “Night Court” with Harry Anderson.


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A Beautiful Loser – an encore tribute to Bob Seger

The following post was written eight years ago, so I thought it might be good to dust it off. Bob Seger combines great lyrics with a rock and roll melody. He remains a favorite even today.

One of the more surprising posts I have written was a tribute to one of my favorite artists, Jim Croce. I wanted to introduce him to new audiences as he passed away in the early 1970’s, yet it has been one of the more frequented posts I have written as many have fond memories of his music. Another favorite artist is Bob Seger. His combination of great lyrics and rock and roll sound is not often matched. His memorable songs are many in number and it is hard to decide which is my favorite. It is probably equally as difficult for other fans of his.

Unlike Croce, Seger is still with us and my wife and I have had the good fortune to have seen him concert. It was later in his career, but I have found that artists doing a later tour are much more appreciative of their audience. Seger was no exception. I use this title as “Beautiful Loser” is among my favorites. It resonates with me as we all are fixer uppers. None of us is perfect, but the song title reminds me we all aspire to be better than we are and we want it all – but we will fall short of that goal. We want to be the most beautiful loser we can be. The chorus goes as follows:

“Beautiful loser….where you gonna fall….when you realize…..you just can’t have it all.”

But, the list goes on. “Night Moves” is his most played song as he sings of how young teens are learning and experimenting with lustful romance.  They are “working on mysteries without any clues” which is a wonderfully expressive line. Yet, there are many classic lines throughout. Another example is “Trying to lose the awkward teenage blues.” It is a song that bring back many memories, both the excitement and the angst.

Some of his songs show how similar we are. He vividly portrays the uniformity of male lust under “Fire Down Below” whether you are “the mayor with your face hidden from the light” or the “lawyer or the cop.” He shows it is a universal trait across all US geography. If he wrote it today, maybe he would tease in whether you are a Tea Partier or a progressive, we all have the fire down below.

Another big favorite of mine is “Against the Wind.” I think the story it tells is so reflective. “We are older now, but still running against the wind.” Like Beautiful Loser, we are doing the best we can, but sometimes it feels like the odds are against us. So, just do the best you can. And, he laments as an older person “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.” He sadly remembers the excitement and anticipation of it all when he was younger.

Others worth listening to include:

– “Main Street” which is one of the few songs by anyone that sounds better live with the haunting guitar sound. The intent of the song is how the memory of a “long lovely dancer at the club downtown” haunts him to this day.

– “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” was great even before a young Tom Cruise lip-sang to it as a teenager with his air guitar in “Risky Business.” The women reading this can thank me later for giving them a reminder of a young Cruise.

– “Feel Like a Number” resonates to this day, as we are an employment number, a social security number, a user code, etc. We have desensitized ourselves to each other and he saw it even then when he cried “I’m not a number, dammit I’m a man.”

– “Fire Lake” was not a huge hit, but is a great storytelling song – “You remember Uncle Joe, he was the one afraid to cut the cake.” The song has much deeper meaning, but I love that line as it remind us all of relatives we have.

– “Her Strut” which is down and dirty rock and roll. “I do respect her but, I love to watch her strut” pulsates to a great rock and roll beat. I have never wanted to look up the spelling of “but” as I wanted to leave it to my imagination.

– “Turn the Page” about an aging rock star, “Still the Same” whose title describes the song, “Like a Rock” which is a good song, but was burnt out by a commercial marketing pick-up trucks, “Hollywood Nights” another great sounding live song,  “You’ll Accompany Me,” We’ve Got Tonight” sung with Sheena Easton, “Roll me Away,” “Travelin Man”and Katmandu” are all terrific songs as well.

I am certain I left out someone’s favorite, so please forgive me. Please do comment with songs that resonate more with you. For those who have not listened to a fuller body of his work, give the above songs a try. He reminds us of ourselves. We are all doing the best we can to be “beautiful losers.”

The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys – an encore tribute to Steve Winwood

One of the most prolific musicians, songwriters and performers is someone too few people know. Steve Winwood was born in Birmingham, England to a foundry worker and semi-professional musician. After playing with his Dad and brother Muff at the age of 8, he joined the Spencer Davis Group with his brother at the age of 14. That is not a misprint. Before being associated with a parade of compelling and different hit songs, he backed up musicians touring in England such as Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, and John Lee Hooker. A long list of instruments he plays would include, but not be limited to: keyboards, organ, guitar, bass guitar, violin, mandolin and drums.

He played and sang lead with great groups such as Spencer Davis, Traffic, Blind Faith (with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker) and several others. In fact, Clapton always lamented leaving Blind Faith in his continual search for perfection, but often played with Winwood as recently as a few years ago. Then, in the mid-1970s, Winwood went out on his own. But, it was not until the mid-1980s did a new generation of fans rediscover this marvelous talent. His hit songs are many, such as “Well Alright,” “Higher Love,” “Roll with it,”  “Can’t Find My Way Home,” “Valerie,” as well as the songs noted below and others not mentioned.

The following songs are a taste of the breadth of his talent. I will lead with one of my personal favorites and close with another.

Presence of the Lord

Clapton wanted Winwood’s higher voice to sing this ethereal song. Even with the title, it is not an overtly spiritual song, yet is quite profound nonetheless as he sings about finding a better way to live.

 I have finally found a way to live
Just like I never could before
I know that I don’t have much to give
But I can open any door
Everybody knows the secret
Oh, everybody knows the score
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
I have finally found a way to live
In the color of the Lord

Gimme Some Lovin’

When I had the good fortune to see him play, he closed the show with this up tempo song, which has a classic bass beat throughout.

Well, my temperature’s rising and my feet hit the floor
Twenty people knocking ’cause they’re wanting some more
Let me in, baby, I don’t know what you’ve got
But you’d better take it easy ’cause this place is hot

So glad we made it, so glad we made it
You got to gimme some lovin’, gimme some lovin’
Gimme some lovin’ every day

Back In the High Life Again

This song was part of his rebirth as a single performer leading to his discovery by a new audience. More of today’s listeners would equate this with Winwood. It also is somewhat prophetic with his new audience.

It used to seem to me
That my life ran on too fast
And I had to take it slowly
Just to make the good parts last

But when you’re born to run
It’s so hard to just slow down
So don’t be surprised to see me
Back in that bright part of town

I’ll be back in the high life again
All the doors I closed one time
Will open up again

Higher Love

Like the previous song, “Higher Love” would resonate as a Winwood song to more people as part of his rebirth. He wants something more from a relationship, be it a higher love together or from a larger entity than both can provide.

Think about it, there must be higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above
Without it, life is wasted time
Look inside your heart, I’ll look inside mine

Things look so bad everywhere
In this whole world, what is fair?
We walk blind and we try to see
Falling behind in what could be

Bring me a higher love
Bring me a higher love, oh
Bring me a higher love
Where’s that higher love, I keep thinking of?

Dear Mr. Fantasy

Yet, let me back up in time and close with two oldies, which are great songs, but different in lyrics and style. The lyrics of “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” remind me of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Minstrel of the Wind.” Both are singing of entertaining many, but reflective that the singer of the songs is an imperfect being just like the rest of us, those he is trying to provide a brief fantasy or respite away from their problems.

Dear Mr. Fantasy play us a tune
Something to make us all happy
Do anything take us out of this gloom
Sing a song, play guitar make it snappy
You are the one who can make us all laugh
But doing that, you break out in tears
Please don’t be sad if it was a straight mind you had
We wouldn’t have known you all these years

The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys

Let me close with the strangest of titles for a song you might ever see. To me, this song seems to be about a record producer or merchandiser who has made a lot of money off young, talented musicians – the “high heeled boys.” It is quite interesting even without the music, but the music adds a pacing that is also unique.

The percentage you’re paying is too high priced
While you’re living beyond all your means
And the man in the suit has just bought a new car
From the profit he’s made on your dreams

But today you just read that the man was shot dead
By a gun that didn’t make any noise
But it wasn’t the bullet that laid him to rest was
The low spark of high-heeled boys, high-heeled boys

If I gave you everything that I owned
And asked for nothing in return
Would you do the same for me as I would for you?
Or take me for a ride
And strip me of everything including my pride
But spirit is something that no one destroys

And the sound that I’m hearing is only the sound
Of the low spark of high-heeled boys, heeled boys

Steve Winwood may be the closest thing to a rock and roll prodigy we have ever had. At a minimum, he would be on a short list. Yet, he is not as well-known as his contemporaries. If you know Winwood’s magic, thanks for joining the memory lane. If you are not as familiar with his breadth or much of his work, give him a detailed listen. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Man in the wilderness – a tribute to a lyrical rock band called Styx (reprise)

The following post was written ten years ago, so please forgive the references to tours. Even if you are not a rock fan, take a peek at some of the lyrics.

Since my last musical post was about Rush, by venturing onto Styx you can guess that I was a head-banger in my youth – still am. Yet, with earlier musical posts on Jim Croce, Gordon Lightfoot, Harry Chapin and Bob Seger, with a little Springsteen, Dylan, and Elvis Costello thrown in, I must have interesting lyrics for the song to resonate with me. With Styx, the lyrics can be haunting and mystical as well as more concrete and still be meaningful. They had both. Unfortunately, when I say Styx, many people remember the more pop oriented songs in the 1980s, which actually led to significant creative differences and the band’s demise. When I think of Styx, I think more of the rock and roll version that filled the late 1970’s. This music is what the revived band is playing more of on tour these days.

The title of this post includes my favorite Styx song and you won’t find it on many Top 10 lists. Penned and sung by their lead guitarist, Tommy Shaw, “Man in the Wilderness” is very reflective and asks what am I all about? Here are some sample lyrics:

Another year has passed me by, still I look at myself and cry. What kind of man have I become?

All of the years I’ve spent in search of myself. And I’m still in the dark. ‘Cause I can’t seem to find the light alone.

Sometimes I feel like a man in the wilderness. I’m a lonely soldier off to war. Sent away to die, never quite knowing why. Sometimes it makes no sense at all. Makes no sense at all

The original band that hit it big in 1975 after Shaw joined them included Dennis DeYoung, the primary lead singer and key songwriter, James Young and the Panozzo brothers, Chuck and John. DeYoung penned many of the more mystical songs and his voice is as good as they come. My personal favorite of DeYoung’s is “Suite Madame Blue” which was written for the bi-centennial, but whose lyrics would be meaningful today as he speaks of America needing to reinvent itself, while remaining optimistic that it still can:

Red white, and blue gaze in your looking glass. You’re not a child anymore.

Red, white, and blue the future is all but past. So lift up your heart, and make a new start. And lead us away from here

DeYoung wrote and sang the lead on such tremendous hits as “Come Sail Away,” “Lorelei,” “Lady,” “Grand Illusion,” and “Light-up.” He also wrote some of the more pop songs in the 1980’s such as “Mr. Roboto” and “Babe” which were good, but caused the friction the band could never resolve. In fact, DeYoung does not tour with the band anymore and only Shaw and Young remain. One of the Panozzo’s (John) has passed away and Chuck only joins the band on occasion such as at a recent taped concert session which highlighted two of their albums – Pieces of Eight and Grand Illusion.  The current band is excellent and the cast is very talented and strong. I caught them in Milwaukee at the SummerFest in 2011 and they put on a great show.

The songs written by DeYoung above are all worth listening too, but they tend to show up on everyone’s Top Ten list. Another favorite of his that does not get as much airplay now is “Castle Walls.” It is vintage DeYoung and here is why:

Once in a dream, far beyond these castle walls. Down by the bay where the moonlit water falls.

I stood alone while the minstrel sang his song. So afraid I’d lost my soul.

There in the fog his song kept calling me. Leading me on with its haunting melody.

Deep in my heart a voice kept echoing. I knew I’d soon be wandering. Far beyond these castle walls.

With DeYoung’s voice and organ playing, John’s drumming and Shaw, Young and Chuck’s rhythmic guitars and bass, DeYoung would turn these words into magic.  Yet, let me highlight a few other songs, as the group was not all about mystical lyrics. My third favorite Styx song was written by Shaw before he joined the band and he brought it with him – “Crystal Ball.” While the title is the ethereal, it also is a reflection of what am I going to do next in my life?

I used to like to walk the straight and narrow line. I used to think everything was fine.

Sometimes I’d sit and gaze for days through sleepless dreams. All alone and trapped in time. All alone and trapped in time.

I wonder what tomorrow has in mind for me? Or am I even in its mind at all?

Perhaps I’ll get a chance to look ahead and see. Soon as I find myself a crystal ball.

Shaw also penned and sang about some of the more concrete trials and tribulations in “Blue Collar Man” and “Renegade,” but any inventory of great Styx songs must also include the contributions of James Young. “Miss America” is one of their better songs and is emblematic of the rougher edge of the band, while still telling a good story:

Are you really who we think you are? Or does your smile seem to wear your down.

Is the girl who you once were. Screaming to jump out?

Is the dream that you must live. A disease for which there is no cure.

This song speaks to the act that young women play to become Miss America. They cannot afford to be themselves. He asks is the real you screaming to jump out, which is a very insightful query.

For Styx fans, I am sure I have left off several of your favorite songs. They have a huge body of work. And, please do not construe this as a slight on the later songs, some of which I noted above. They are very good, but different from the earlier work and caused the band to break up over differences in direction.That is unfortunate, but not unusual for bands. Most bands do not make it as long as they did. To their credit, Styx’s  body of work can stand up to many and if you catch the current tour, you will be greatly entertained. Listen out for “Man in the Wilderness.” It is very powerful when heard live, as are most of their songs.

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Straight on for you – a revisit to a tribute to Heart

My wife and I had the great fortune to see Ann and Nancy Wilson and their Heart mates perform live a few years ago. We decided to splurge and had seats in the second row off to the side. Although, they were not at the start of the career, we were enthralled by one of the greatest rock and roll voices of all time in Ann and her energetic guitar playing sister, Nancy. Anyone who can play “Crazy on You” on the guitar has got to have some energy.

Heart began as a cover band in the Seattle area and gained renown with Ann singing some of Led Zeppelin’s songs better than Robert Plant could. It was a great tribute to both bands, when Heart performed “Stairway to Heaven” to close the Kennedy Center Honors of Led Zeppelin. As an aside, on one of their live albums has Ann singing one of the finest versions of “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers I have ever heard including the original.

Heart is a true kick ass rock and roll band. Their attractive looks may have overshadowed that fact at first, but even if you never saw them, you would like what and how they played. One of their earlier tunes was “Kick it Out” which is vintage rock and roll. Yet, they broke through with “Magic Man” and the aforementioned “Crazy on You” both whose straightforward and highly seasoned double entendre lyrics were cleverly done and gave us teenagers an extra thrill.

Yet, with these lyrics setting the stage, their musicality showed Heart was all about words and music. And, when you have Ann belting out rock and roll songs like only she can, it made a very powerful sound. I will not highlight the three songs I mentioned first, as they are well-known. Yet, I do love them dearly.

I would rather highlight some other songs, a few hits and few that were interesting to me. One of the more lyrical songs they performed is “Dog and Butterfly,” the title song off a great album. Here is a sample of the lyrics.

Well I stumbled upon your secret place
Safe in the trees you had tears on your face
Wrestlin’ with your desires, frozen strangers stealin’ your fires
The message hit my mind, only words that I could find

We see the dog and butterfly up in the air he like to fly
Dog and butterfly below she had to try
She roll back down to the warm soft ground
Laughin’ to the sky, up to the sky dog and butterfly

To me this song is about not reaching your dreams. The dog will never catch the butterfly (his or her dream), but will keep on trying. The idea is to keep trying and learn to laugh at yourself, even if you fail. As, we will all fail more than once.

Another great song of theirs is “Barracuda.” This one is more obvious about a deceitful man who hurt her dearly, but the wordsmithing and tune are excellent.

So this ain’t the end, I saw you again today
Had to turn my heart away
You smiled like the Sun, kisses for everyone
And tales, it never fails!

You lying so low in the weeds
Bet you gonna ambush me
You’d have me down, down, down to my knees
Wouldn’t you, Barracuda?

Another title song, which is terrific, especially when played live is “Dreamboat Annie.” Here is a sample:

Heading out this morning into the sun
Riding on the diamond waves, little darlin’ one

Warm wind caress her
Her lover it seems
Oh, Annie
Dreamboat Annie, ship of dreams
Oh, Annie
Dreamboat Annie, little ship of dreams

Nancy usually sang harmony in the chorus to many songs. Her voice is good and she should have sung more lead on occasion. One of her better songs is “These Dreams.” It should not be lost on others, that dreams play a hand in several songs. Here are Nancy’s words.

Is it cloak and dagger?
Could it be spring or fall?
I walk without a cut
Through a stained glass wall
(Weaker in my eyesight)

Weaker in my eyesight
The candle in my grip
(Words that have no form)
And words that have no form
Are fallin’ from my lips

These dreams go on when I close my eyes
Every second of the night I live another life
These dreams that sleep when it’s cold outside
Every moment I’m awake the further I’m away
(Further I’m away)

After some time away from the charts, Heart came back big in the late 1980’s with “Alone” which showed the world that Ann was still a big time voice. This song needs little discussion and is quite apparent in its meaning.

I hear the tickin’ of the clock
I’m lying here the room’s pitch dark
I wonder where you are tonight
No answer on the telephone
And the night goes by so very slow
Oh I hope that it won’t end though, Alone

Till now I always got by on my own
I never really cared until I met you
And now it chills me to the bone
How do I get you alone?
How do I get you alone?

A song that many may not know which I have always enjoyed is “Mistral Wind.” Especially, when played live, this song resonates with me. In addition to dreams, references to the sea are often used in their songs. Here is taste:

No wind when I took the watch, my ship was still waitin’
I lay on that mirrored sky, a restless sail waitin’ I closed my eyes, said the words of will for the gentle breathin’
That moves the sea, make my sails fill

Whisper waves cloud the glass, awake at last like a lover
It rushed around the talkin’ sweet, roll over, roll over, roll over
And in my ear he blew his name, it sound so strange
But I heard it plain mistral, mistral wind

The double entendres abound in this one as well. Sometimes, they are plain-spoken about desire, but they are equally adroit at the subtle. That is part of their great appeal. This final song and the title of the post is in the former category. It is exactly as the title implies. “Straight on for You” may be my favorite Heart song, if I can have only one (a link is below to a late in their career live performance of this song).

Quite some time, I’ve been sittin’ it out. Didn’t take no chances, I was a prisoner of doubt.

 I knocked down the wailin’ wall, ain’t no sin. Got the feel of fortune, deal me in

Comin’ straight on for you, you made my mind. Now I’m stronger, now I’m comin’ through. Straight on, straight on for you. Straight on for you.

The song is about taking a chance. A lyric in a later verse describes “what the winner don’t know, the gambler understands.” Initially, she is a prisoner of doubt and won’t dare to take a chance. But, then she realizes, if I want this person to be mine, I better take a chance. I might lose, but by God I better try.

And, that may be the best way to think about life. Earlier, I wrote about a recurring theme of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young of taking a chance and not sitting on the shore (there is that sea analogy again). Ann and Nancy took a chance and still do. They became one of the greatest rock and roll bands ever (a Wikipedia summary can be linked to below). Plus, I think they still have some more they can come “straight on for us” with. Many thanks ladies. You are the best.

Heart – Straight On (from Night At Sky Church) – Bing video

List of Heart band members – Wikipedia