“Two out of Three Ain’t Bad” by Meat Loaf

The details vary, but the legend goes that at some point when Steinman and Meat Loaf were being rejected by all of the record labels on earth, someone brought up the Ira Kosloff and Maurice Mysels song “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” made famous by Elvis Presley and said, “Why can’t you write something like that?” So, Steinman went home and wrote, “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.” I have often called that story Jim Steinman in a nutshell–the impish humor, the use of a common English idiom in an unusual way, the competitive attitude, and the turning a trope on its head are all vintage Steinman trademarks, and they may never be on more obvious display than they are here.

In “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,” Kosloff and Mysels present a common, simple picture: “Every time that you’re near/All my cares disappear/ . . . Never leave me alone/’Cause I die every time we’re apart/I want you, I need you, I love you/With all my heart.” Steinman, however, isn’t just making a joke: it’s a song about pain, regret, and romantic failure. It takes a bit of close reading of the lyrics to realize it, but Meat Loaf is actually trying to sell himself on the idea that he doesn’t love the object of the song by borrowing a phrase from an earlier romantic partner.

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“All Revved up with No Place to Go” by Meat Loaf

I said that it was going to be considered blasphemy by other Steinman fans that I don’t think “Heaven Can Wait” is among his best work. This one I have to go a step further: I absolutely do not like it. I have an odd opinion in that I like Bat out of Hell II: Back into Hell more than its predecessor, and much of the reason is that “Heaven Can Wait” is nowhere near as good as most of either album and then it’s followed by the legitimately weak “All Revved up with No Place to Go.”

The song opens with a saxophone lead over a simple piano-led rhythm. It plods along as Meat Loaf’s voice comes in and his typically forceful, emotive delivery interplays with the saxophone throughout. For most of the song’s run time, nothing changes. Then, it sort of comes to life as Rundgren adds in crunchy guitars and Meat Loaf spit-shouts his way through the lyrics again at breakneck speed.

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“Heaven Can Wait” by Meat Loaf

The third song on Bat out of Hell is its softest and sweetest moment, a gently sung ballad backed by piano and strings. The bombast that so defines Steinman’s work is all gone, not just sonically but (at least on the surface) lyrically as well.

The melody is a relatively simple, flowing movement almost entirely down the scale, sort of like a river winding its way down at some varying paces. That constant downward motion of the melody helps give the song a sense of constant momentum, rolling ever-forward even though there isn’t much of a sonic build-up. Meat Loaf even keeps himself restrained throughout, his power and even his vibrato and arguably over-emotive musical theater stylings are all kept in check. He even manages to hit a sustained high note without shouting at the end. (It’s admittedly not the most impressive high note of his career–wait for Bat out of Hell II for that–but it’s still impressive.)

The lyrics to “Heaven Can Wait” are somewhat confounding. In singing the first recorded demo, Bette Midler allegedly asked Steinman, “What the fuck is this song about?” Nearly every line is religious imagery, with the singer claiming that he has enough paradise to want both to stay alive and to stay in his home. He feels the calls of angels, gods, and prayers, but is able to resist because of the happiness he has achieved and the love he is getting.

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