What Happened after “Bat out of Hell?”

I’m skipping writing about “For Crying out Loud” for now. Honestly, I find the lyrics confounding–there are threads I can follow but I find it difficult to add them up into something coherent. I love the song and I think it’s valuable as a showcase for Meat Loaf, but I just can’t put enough thoughts together for a full post about it. I’ve started to a number of times over the last few months and it keeps turning into the reason this series is stalled, so I’m just going to skip it and hopefully come back to it later.

Bat out of Hell was a massive and shocking success. It is currently tied for 20th all-time with 14 RIAA platinum certifications, and the US might well be the English-speaking country in which it was the least successful. Understandably, the record company responded to the success by pressuring Meat Loaf and Steinman for a follow-up, even as they continued to tour relentlessly in support of the album.

A combination of that relentless schedule (which, remember, had also been in place before recording as the group tried to get the album recorded and then released–they had really all been working at an unsustainable pace for years even before you consider the stories about Meat Loaf regularly passing out during concerts and Steinman leaving a trail of nearly-destroyed pianos in his wake that tell you just how hard they were working at that pace), heavy drug use, a voice Steinman speculated was unsuited to heavy touring, and pressure to follow up such a massive hit took a major toll on Meat Loaf as the face of the enterprise. By the end of the tour, Meat Loaf’s voice was shot, and when Steinman began working with him on the follow-up Renegade Angel, they both knew he could not record an album.

So, Meat Loaf headed to Hollywood, taking a starring, non-singing role in Roadie (Alan Rudolph, USA 1980). Reviews of the film were generally negative, though Meat Loaf received strong reviews for his own performance.

Meanwhile, Steinman and the rest of the Bat out of Hell crew went to work on an album without him. Steinman would take the lead vocals himself and this time the credit would be to him rather than Meat Loaf.

In typical Steinman fashion, he gave interviews where he claimed that he had always planned to sing his own songs and had taught Meat Loaf how to sing them in the first place even though it seems unlikely that he believed any of it. In the final, ten-track album, one song is instrumental, one song is a duet between Steinman and Karla DeVito (the latter of whom does more of the vocal heavy lifting), one is spoken word, and three songs have lead vocals by frequent collaborator Rory Dodd. That leaves only four true lead vocals (four and a half if you want to count the duet “Dance in My Pants”) for Steinman. His actions seem to betray a lack of confidence in his own voice, no matter what he tried to say in interviews.

And while his vocals aren’t atrocious by any means, Steinman would never sing lead on a studio recording again for a reason: he just doesn’t have the power or ability to show an emotional connection that his songs need. In interviews, Steinman would often bristle at the idea that Meat Loaf added anything to his work or was his best collaborator, but the truth is that the two fit one another perfectly: Steinman’s Wagnerian bombast needed the lung power that Meat Loaf had in spades and his melodramatic storytelling needed Meat Loaf’s emotive delivery; but Meat Loaf’s limited range needed songs that didn’t push him outside that range, his over-enunciation needed Steinman’s use of the melody as rhythm, and his unwillingness (or inability, though I suspect it’s unwillingness) to stay on every melodic note needed repetition not to sound like missing the notes entirely. Steinman could hit the notes he wrote, but he just couldn’t do enough with them.

Otherwise, the Bat out of Hell crew essentially returned intact. Steinman took over producing (John Jansen, Todd Rundgren, and Jimmy Iovine are also credited but most accounts suggest that they were only present at record company insistence) himself and continued to play keyboards. Rundgren returned on guitar and backing vocals. DeVito, while she had not appeared on the Bat out of Hell album, had been singing “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” with Meat Loaf live for essentially the entire touring history of the song and lip-synched to Ellen Foley’s original vocal in the famous video. The E Street Band’s Max Weinberg and Roy Bittan returned on drums and piano, respectively. Utopia again loaned out (in addition to Rundgren) bassist Kasim Sultan and keyboardist Roger Powell. Original “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” co-lead Ellen Foley returned on backing vocals. Even Richard Corben returned to produce the album cover (though I still wonder if that cover is based on the original Renegade Angel title).

With the band quite literally back together sans Meat Loaf, Steinman recorded his one official solo album, Bad for Good. Taken as a debut album, its performance was unspectacular but possibly promising–it made dents on album charts and one single, “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” (notably one with lead vocals by Dodd), even managed to make the US top 40. However, as a follow-up to one of the biggest albums of all time, it was a dud. It wouldn’t have been reasonable to expect to match Bat out of Hell, because no one has ever had two original albums that big in a row. Only the Beatles and the Backstreet Boys–two artists who are very strange to have in the same sentence–have ever really come close to it. But Bad for Good barely made a ripple in the public consciousness and disappeared beneath the surface never to be seen again.

At some point during the recording of Bad for Good; Meat Loaf, after time to rest his voice, at least one stint in rehab, and some bizarre treatments, returned to the studio for his own follow-up, Dead Ringer. It was another album entirely written by Steinman and many of the same musicians (Bittan, Weinberg, guitarist Davey Johnstone, synth player Larry Fast, and even Steinman’s spoken-word voice) appeared again, but it’s probably more accurate to take Bad for Good as the intended follow-up to Bat out of Hell. Steinman talked about the Dead Ringer album being less heroic, less epic and smaller than Bat out of Hell and Bad for Good, and my suspicion is that those are Steinman’s way of saying that these were just lesser songs (after all, only “Dead Ringer” would appear in the final version of the Bat out of Hell musical). We will get to a real discussion of that album later, but I think it is important context to what was going on with Bad for Good.

I have to make some notes about the format of Bad For Good before discussing it. The original album was released as an eight-song LP with two others appearing on a separate EP that Steinman described as the prologue and epilogue to the album. Subsequent releases (including the CD version) would add these two tracks in varying order. My preferred order is to open with “The Storm,” then play the eight songs of the original LP, and then conclude with “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through,” as that seems to be Steinman’s intent. If you look up the album in Apple Music (and I would presume some other streaming services, though that’s the one I can check), it lists track 8 as “Medley,” because Steinman for some reason decided to call this track a medley and list the three “songs” in it there even though it is really the song “Left in the Dark” with a brief spoken-word intro and outro. I suspect that the eight-track formatting was done to make it easier to mirror Bat out of Hell.

Overall, I think Bad for Good is a collection of largely amazing songs that suffers from being stuffed into a Bat out of Hell-shaped box. The similarities of the albums’ formats are absolutely striking and frankly seem ludicrously forced when compared to the deliberate sequel a dozen years later. They open with a titular statement of teenaged purpose, they both include a fabulous spoken-word piece leading into some impossibly loud guitars that open what turns out to be a modernized Phil Spector tribute (though Bad for Good turns them into two separate tracks and makes the speech much longer) early in the album (track two of Bat out of Hell; tracks three and four of Bad for Good). Both albums include a gentle, surprisingly straightforward ballad early (track three of Bat out of Hell; track two of Bad for Good). After that they are identical in format: a fast, rave-up rocker; then a Beach Boys-inspired ballad; then a sexually-charged duet; then a booming power ballad. Adding in “The Storm” at the start and “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” at the end of Bad for Good makes it feel less forced into a box, and the latter is frankly the best song on the album, but the original format betrays an amazing lack of confidence. They really just swapped the second and third tracks and then split “Love and Death and an American Guitar” from “Stark Raving Love” where they left the “Would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?” intro attached to “You Took the Words Right out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night).”

There are definitely some places to poke holes in this analysis (for example, admittedly, “Two out of Three Ain’t Bad” sounds more like the Eagles than the Beach Boys while “Surf’s Up” is self-consciously Beach Boys-influenced), but I think it shows why this album just doesn’t work as well as the two Bat albums, despite having some amazing songs. The first Bat out of Hell is original. The second is riffing, commenting on, and updating the original. This is just trying to recreate what worked the first time. The confounding success of Bat out of Hell may have become a straitjacket for Steinman, pushing him to record an album that duplicated that success as much as possible, especially when he no longer had the charismatic front man of Meat Loaf.

Later on, Steinman would end up bringing songs and elements of songs from this album back repeatedly, and I suspect that there are two main reasons for it. First, the songs on this album were being forced into a format, whether it served them or not, in a desperate attempt to ape Bat out of Hell. Second, Steinman was famously one of the slowest songwriters in the world. He only wrote something like 67 songs (That was my count by hand but there is definitely some argument to be had in addition to the likelihood of me making a mistake.) in his nearly five decade career. Was even four years just too little time for him?

Bad for Good is almost the lost Bat out of Hell album. Its best moments–“Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through,” “Love and Death and an American Guitar,” and “Left in the Dark”–stand with those twin triumphs any day. However, there is a reason that those first two songs re-appeared on the second Bat: they could be done better, or at least put in better context. Steinman’s voice isn’t great and he surprisingly lacks personality (surprising because he is amazing at spoken-word work) as the lead vocalist, but what really prevents this album from being among the greatest ever recorded is that it’s too beholden to its own legacy to stand on its own.

Well, that and that “Dance in My Pants” is just utter garbage.

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