Can someone over 50 explain to me the Meatloaf "Bat Out of Hell" phenomenon?

I happened to be looking at a list of the top selling albums of all time, and all of the top 10 or 20 (Michael Jackson, AC/DC, Pink Floyd, Whitney Houston, etc.) made sense to me except this one. I have heard a couple of these songs on classic rock radio, but I had no earthly clue the thing was this kind of monster album. I would have guessed it to be in the lower second tier or even third tier of the classic rock pantheon.

So was this some kind of Pet Rock style craze or what? How did it get that huge but subsequently become only modestly played on classic rock radio? One would, I’d think, expect an album that sold that big to either be a radio staple decades later or–if there was a backlash and great embarrassment in hindsight at its popularity–disappear entirely, like Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” or Debbie Boone’s “You Light Up My Life”.

I think you need someone who is right about 50. All I can say is that popular music lost it’s way in the 70s and Meat Loaf came up with a different sound that appealed to the emerging post-Watergate generation. It wasn’t disco, it wasn’t pop, it was some kind of rock that appealed to the selfish generation that would become the Yuppies in a few years.

Interesting perspective. It’s definitely different from other music of the era without being super groundbreaking. It’s sort of like a reinterpretation of pre-Beatles rock in a way.

I have always considered this album to be one of the best ever. There was a lot of rock music made at the time, but very little that was rock-n-roll.

This album had a mix of both, along with love ballads, motorcycles, teen angst, teen sex, rebellion, boogie-woogie, dying young – a lot of things that were part of the attitude and theme that started and permeated rock-n-roll.

Along with great music, lyrics, and a powerful voice that wrapped up the package well, it was, and is, a great album.

Yeah, what **stanger ** said.

This is a list of top 100 songs in 1977; there’s maybe a dozen I wouldn’t change the station on. “Bat out of Hell” was competing with “Muskrat Love” and “Lucille”.

They are very long songs.

They’re pretty good songs. Paradise by the Dashboard Light tells a story that is at once hilarious and a warning against letting your loins rush you into a relationship that might last the rest of your life.


And don’t forget those film clips that featured Karla De Vito!

Yes, she was miming Ellen Foley’s vocals, but by crikey could she work a white t-shirt.

Imagine how this affected the average 16 year old back then

It’s also brilliantly and uniquely arranged and produced by Jim Steinman. I really hate to make analogies between rock and classical music, but the use of dynamics (loudness and softness) is Beethovenian. Listen to the title track and what he does with “and like a sinner before the gates of Heaven” bits throughout the song compared to the final climax.

Paradise by the Dashboard Light also manges to resonate but also be humourous with the baseball game.

And since I’m old and out of touch, do kids today still have sex in the backseat of cars or is that too old school for today’s yutes?

They definitely sounded different. Jim Steinman wrote an dramatic and operatic type of song that has rarely been equaled (think of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” as another example of the form). It played very well to teen angst (though I loved the album and was 25 at the time), but the songs were all great and were definitely different from anything else on the radio then.

I always thought that “Two out of Three Ain’t Bad” was the weakest song on the album.

Don’t you think it played better to nostalgia for teen angst? One needs a bit of distance to really appreciate a line like
“… we were doubly blessed
because we were barely seventeen and we were barely dressed.”

25 sounds just about right.

I remember hearing it blaring in my high school parking lot. It was loud without being scary, so adults didn’t mind it, especially since it was reminiscent of 50’s love ballads. It was also theatrical without requiring that the audience be all hoity-toity. Happy Days was popular, so leather jackets and crooning were back in style. I think the album cover helped too, since detailed choppers were also popular back then.

I don’t think Meat Loaf ever caused any sort of national embarrassment. Much like the boy bands, his audience eventually grew up and tastes in music changed. None of his other albums sold as well as BooH.

I absolutely despise “Bat Out Of Hell.” There’s not a song on it I like.

But I can totally see WHY it’s popular. Say what I will about my dislike of it, but

  1. It is made with a great degree of technical proficiency and musicianship, and
  2. It doesn’t sound like anything else.

That’s a combination that, if it gets a little PR and captures some interest, can take off big time.

Meat Loaf’s first two Bat Out of Hell albums were different from anything else going on at the time, but of such quality that rock fans embraced the albums wholeheartedly. It just proves that good music can sell even when the trends aren’t going your way. And that Jim Steinman, the writer of the first two albums, is a genius. The third Bat probably would have gone multi-platinum as well if not for Steinman’s absence.

BTW, I’m 41 and my first experience with Meat Loaf was the 2nd album.

But if you want to understand what the big deal was, it’s not hard to figure out if you listen to them. The songs are epic, the lyrics unique and clever, the production top notch for the time, the hooks quite solid, the vocals distinctive and not unpleasant.

But really, it’s not about Meat Loaf. It’s about Steinman. Meat Loaf’s albums without Steinman as writer and producer were mostly commercial failures, unlike the other top artists you listed in the OP, who had more consistent success. I suspect that Steinman could have used Bonnie Tyler and done just as well.

It’s the kind of epic rock that Queen and later Jack Black in Tenacious D do. Operatic ballads that tell stories.

[nitpick] Todd Rundgren was the producer, not Jim Steinman. Steinman just wrote the songs. [/nitpick]

Half the lyrics are ridiculously over the top but damn it if Meat Loaf doesn’t sing the hell out of them with sincerity. Which makes them fun to sing along to. Plus, as others noted the technical proficiency and theatrical quality of it all.

Like j666 points out though, the ones people really remember are rather long songs and I think the same quality that makes them great on their own terms works against them in a radio format. You kind of have to be in the right mood for eight minutes of belting out “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights”.

MeatLoaf’s voice was perfect for the style of songs

Steinman writing operatic, lush, songs in a style that became instantly identifiable as a Steinman song. When I heard Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” on the radio, I instantly knew that Steinman had written it.

Rundgren producing. The real question should be, how could these not have been huge albums??

Perhaps this short essay on the album will give the OP a hint. Maybe even the title will do Endlessly Horny for Wonder and Magic: How Jim Steinman’s Bat Out of Hell Perfectly Captured the Pre-Pubescent American Id (and Nearly Ruined Me for Life) (Pop Papers Book 5).

They are interesting books in the series but only very brief.