Bad for Good definitely isn’t perfect and it lacks the consistency of the two Bat out of Hell albums, but it does end on one hell of a high note with “Left in the Dark” and “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through,” two songs that could easily stand with anything from the more-acknowledged masterpiece albums. “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Though” also stands out in Steinman’s oeuvre overall for being just a bit different than everything else. It’s not over-the-top. It’s not funny. It’s a normal song length. It’s a sincere and beautiful tribute to the power of rock and roll that he really never approached otherwise.
Interestingly, what “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” really makes me think of is Todd Rundgren. Rundgren was a musical chameleon, perhaps more so than anyone in history, but his early-to-mid-’70s work was often peppered with slices of a similar vein of pop to this one, with the choir-like background vocals, a piano as the main instrument, and a strong melody leading the way. Like Steinman, he typically had too much of a sense of humor and too much intellectualism to stick with it for long, but his straightforward pop song moments sound noticeably similar to this one. Rundgren and Steinman had obviously worked together extensively in the last few years and Steinman, not one to praise others on most occasions, would always call Rundgren a genius, so it’s not a surprise to see some similarity, perhaps even influence, there. But this and “The Storm” are the two tracks on this album that don’t give Rundgren a producing credit.
In a bit of a reversal from the way Steinman songs are usually built, this one opens with drums, bass, and electric guitar stings. The bass provides the hook until the piano joins in, playing the melody that serves as the heart of the song. After one trip through the melodic line, Rory Dodd joins in singing right along with the piano and the guitar leaves the picture. It makes for a straightforward, simplistic but not sparse sound that wouldn’t sound out of place from anyone else but seems strange for Steinman. The chorus adds choir-like backing vocals and some piano fills but otherwise continues in a similar vein. Lou Marini then gets a saxophone solo that basically replaces a second verse. The saxophone leaves the song and we get the biggest tonal shift for a short bridge over some extensive piano fills before we go back to a bigger version of the chorus that adds more backing vocals and strings. Then the strings and backing vocals play through the chorus again as though speaking it into the void the rest of the music has left.
Dodd’s vocal here is like his vocal on “Lost Boys and Golden Girls,” totally respectable with no problems at all but also not memorable. Without the typical drama of a Steinman song, this one really doesn’t give the singer much room to imprint a personality on it, anyway. Meat Loaf’s version years later still didn’t have a ton of personality, and no one can accuse him of lacking a personality on record in general.
Much of the reason for my love of Jim Steinman is his satire of rock and roll’s self-created mythology, but the lyrics to “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” are a rare moment of him seriously reveling in that mythology. “You’re never alone ’cause you can put on the ‘phones/And let the drummer tell your heart what to do” is one of the purest expressions of the joy of music, especially for introverts and loners, that anyone has written.
Opening the song is the brilliant lyric, “You can’t run away forever/But there’s nothing wrong with getting a good head start.” Rock and roll often betrays its rockabilly roots with its love of the idea of “escaping” or “getting away” once adulthood arrives. Small town dwellers often see physical escape from the town as the only way to escape the socioeconomic circumstances in which they find themselves and that romantic notion that was often at the heart of Appalachian rockabilly still peeks its head out from under rock and roll’s veil on a regular basis, even as rock and roll became much more city-focused music. Some rockers (notably John Mellencamp) have openly challenged the notion as based on a false world view, which is true enough, but Steinman offers something of a rebuttal to such an argument. There’s a creeping sense to the way “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” suggests that rock and roll can’t actually solve these problems but there’s a strength to the way it suggests that rock and roll can nonetheless be a short-term salve: “If you hold on to a chorus, you can get through the night.” Maybe rock and roll doesn’t fix things, but maybe it can at least make us feel better about them. It’s a weirdly qualified positivity but it’s still undoubtedly presented as positive.
In what is an unusual (for him) foray into writing a more typical pop song, Jim Steinman still finds a message that few would have touched and delivers it in a stunning way. It’s an understated masterpiece, which is a phrase one would never expect to associate with the Lord of Excess.
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