In the wake of Steinman’s death, articles across the web paid tribute to the Lord of Excess beyond the Bat albums and “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by mentioning his solo album, and somehow they came to a consensus in suggesting that the title track was the cream of the crop. There are probably reasons for that decision that are not related to the song’s quality (Can you really talk about his solo album in a reverent, respectful way while also recommending a song he didn’t actually sing? And what song on this album best exemplifies the type of dramatic, long, mini-opera power ballad that he was most known for? And how many of those writers had listened to more than the first song on the album?), but the song is in many ways this album’s version of “Bat out of Hell” and as such is something of a defining track for the album.
Lyrically, Bad for Good is one of the more obvious times that Steinman was really still working on what would become Bat out of Hell: The Musical. The singer opens by suggesting that he is chasing “you” in a very bestial fashion, fighting through the burning of the Northern Lights (“giving off sparks,” hmm, I think we will hear that again . . . ), a storm, and icy cold to get to his quarry’s window. Yep, this is definitely a vampire. Then he exclaims that the now-defined girl needs to, essentially, loosen-up in a very traditionally vampiric fashion because, after all, “I’m gonna be like this forever/I’m never gonna be what I should/And you think that I’ll be bad for just a little while/But I know that I’ll be bad for good.”
Steinman spent much of his career musing on different perspectives (which he typically framed as male v. female perspectives but they certainly do not have to be) for relationships, and “Bad for Good,” while it doesn’t give the girl any actual voice, does set up that dichotomy nonetheless. From her perspective, he is a potential reformed rake, but he is explaining that he is beyond reformation. He argues back that the only way for them to stay together is for her to join him: “I know that you can be bad/At least a little while/But if you give me a chance, give me one little chance/And give me all the love that you should/Then instead of being bad for just a little while/I’m gonna make you bad for good.”
Literally, it’s a vampire telling a girl that he needs to turn her into a fellow vampire for there to be a long-term future. Metaphorically, it’s about the idea of “growing up.” He’s saying that she has to meet his level of immaturity because he is incapable of matching her maturity. It’s a little ham-fisted in this specific case, but I think this song serves well to show why Steinman was able to spend a career writing songs for vampires without most people ever noticing: he is acutely aware of the broader themes that his vampires are representing. His Peter Pan scenario is eternally 18-year-old vampires because it is on a very basic level what rock and roll represents: an eternally teenaged existence that refuses to recognize any sense of mortality.
A short back and forth between Todd Rundgren’s guitars and Max Weinberg’s drums open the song almost as if to comfort us that they’re both back–“Yeah, guys, it’s been a while, but the band really is back together!”–before dropping the bombshell that Meat Loaf is gone when Jim Steinman’s voice appears. There is minimal sound behind his voice when it enters, and then the band, led by Roy Bittan’s boogie piano, propels us forward beneath him. The pavement-beneath-the-wheels energy of the song is so strong that it definitely feels like a first-cousin to “Bat out of Hell” as Steinman leads us through the setup.
When we hit the chorus, everything else feels like another fine entry out of the Bat out of Hell playbook, but Steinman’s vocal weakness becomes obvious. Meat Loaf’s delivery is full of playing around the pitch to give it emotion–it’s the opposite of how auto-tuned deliveries or even just absolutely on-pitch deliveries (think Phil Collins in the first half of “In the Air Tonight”) come across as robotic and cold. Steinman clearly understands that, as he attempts similar things in the chorus, but they just don’t work that well. It sounds forced and strained, more like someone trying to impersonate Meat Loaf than mirroring his techniques. And his voice is just too thin and weak to carry over the volume of everything around it–even with plenty of volume in the mix, it feels like he gets lost when every instrument and the choir are all going full blast. Up to this point, his voice is unspectacular but fine enough, but when it’s all blaring, we miss Meat Loaf’s bombast. At least on the surface, “like a bat out of hell, I’ll be gone when the morning comes” is the same sort of defiant declaration of immaturity that “You know that I’ll be bad for good” is, but the former comes out like a triumphant statement of purpose where the latter sounds like a petulant wish. You can believe Meat Loaf is a bestial great gothic vampire who won’t listen to reason; Steinman sounds like someone who just wants people to think he is that.
All that said, “Bad for Good” may be the song that suffers the least from its relationship to Bat out of Hell. The elements repeated from the older album are all still done really well and it’s only by comparison that they come across as weak. Steinman’s voice doesn’t have what it takes to carry the song, but he still delivers probably 2/3 of it well enough. If this album had come out before Bat out of Hell, this song would feel like the foundation of what could be an interesting future, but the time context means that it feels disappointing.