Jim Steinman’s voice opens the second track of Bat out of Hell with his legendary question: “On a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?”
It’s a question with clear innuendo that includes one of the most common fantastical sexual tropes: The Big Bad Wolf who is here to devour an “innocent” female. It plays on Little Red Riding Hood‘s usual recitation of the wolf’s oversized body parts compared to the girl’s grandmother with the girl instead asking for union with the wolf’s teeth, jaws, and hunger. Then, she verbally turns the tables on this power dynamic by asking, “Will he starve without me?” and “Does he love me?” Once she agrees, he replies, “I bet you say that to all the boys.”
This introduction, while quite lyrically disconnected from the song that follows, is another example of Steinman’s satire of typical rock music tropes and their results: the “boy (Which is the name given in the liner notes–probably meant to tell us that these are decidedly not adults but again Steinman’s eternal teenagers.) is after sex while the “girl” wants it to be for love. However, what’s interesting about this bi-play is Steinman’s conclusion: “I bet you say that to all the boys.” He is seeking to end her innocence, but when faced with the actual prospect, especially after agreeing to love her, he no longer knows whether she truly is innocent.
An echoing drumbeat follows and then an almost impossibly loud wall of voices on top of Rundgren’s lead guitar as clapping joins in with the drums. While this album is often compared with Bruce Springsteen’s ’70s work, this moment is so purely Phil Spector Wall of Sound that it reveals the shared influence between the two. Meat Loaf claimed that this song had resulted from his request that Steinman write him a shorter pop song, and in many ways that is how it sounds. Because the wall of sound is built directly on a single, relatively simple melody, the song immediately comes across as the “poppiest” on the album. However, ever the classicist, Steinman still writes a pop song more from 1960 than 1977.
Most of the music cuts out to leave behind a simple piano-and-drum rhythm as Meat Loaf’s vocals make their first appearance. The vocal that opens this song is more restrained than what we just heard on “Bat out of Hell,” so much so that when the blaring guitars and choir join back in, Meat Loaf feels almost buried in the mix. Meat Loaf is often criticized for his over-the-top delivery and there is a reason for the criticism, but this song is one of the examples that shows that he has more range than some believe.
Guitars, church bells, clapping, and choir all work together to make the “bigger” parts of the song, but unlike most Steinman songs they are all working on one melody and rhythm. It is, in this sense, a pop song building on a single hook. And it ends by cutting out all the rest of the music and just having the choir and clapping, Steinman celebrating just how damn good the one hook is for longer than seems possible.
The lyrics to this song are also probably the most straightforward of any Steinman lyric: a teenager remembering the exciting-but-nervous first sexual encounter. It’s not really deep and doesn’t have much to say, but it captures the mixture of apprehension and anticipation of that moment: “I see the shooting stars falling through your trembling hands . . . Now my body is shaking like a wave on the water/And I guess that I’m beginning to grin/Oh we’re finally alone and we can do what we want/Oh the night is young and . . . No one’s gonna know where you’ve been.”
And of course Steinman infuses the chorus with one of his favorite tricks, using a common idiom in a new way by saying, “You took the words right out of my mouth/It must have been while you were kissing me/And I swear it’s true/I was just about to say, ‘I love you.'” It’s a phrase that normally means, “You said what I was going to say,” but instead here it means, “You rendered me speechless,” while also proclaiming that he was about to profess his love, bringing us back again to the introduction and, ultimately, the question of what relationship sex and love have and what each means to each person in this encounter. Does the fact that she “took the words right out of [his] mouth” mean that she’s really the “aggressor” versus the “innocent” boy who was clearly suggesting a level of confidence beyond reality when he took on the Big Bad Wolf persona back at the start? Is it actually that she stopped him from saying it because the truth is neither wants to (hence using the traditional meaning of “You took the words right out of my mouth” as a double-entendre) and she understands that before he does? I don’t think the song really answers those questions as much as it tells us that we don’t know. The tension of differing relationship expectations is one of Steinman’s favorite themes, and even this “simple” song definitely explores them.
We don’t see how things turn out for this couple (at least not in this song, anyway–one could argue that any number of other Steinman songs are the same couple with some reason but no real evidence), but it generally doesn’t turn out well for them in Steinman’s universe, so perhaps that’s why this is one of his more fun songs: it’s the fun, early part of the relationship before things get complicated and ultimately almost always sour. This one isn’t long ago and far away. It’s a surprisingly complex moment in time, but one that doesn’t come with consequences.