I have nothing really to say about “Nocturnal Pleasure.” It’s very short and while I still love Steinman’s delivery, it doesn’t seem to have anything terribly interesting to say. It is interesting that, like “Love and Death and an American Guitar” but unlike “Hot Summer Night,” it is its own track instead of being attached to the song following. It’s just an assumption on my part, but I assume that it was a concession to commercialism since it would undoubtedly be removed for a radio release anyway.
If “Read ’em and Weep” is Dead Ringer‘s version of “Two out of Three Ain’t Bad” and this album is consciously following its predecessor, the next song would be the equivalent of “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” And even looking at the track list most places will confirm the suspicion, as the title gets followed by “feat. Cher” in parentheses. Is it a vocal duel-of-the-sexes all about teen sex? Yep. The one part that might be surprising is that it’s actually the shortest song on the album, clocking in at a decently radio-friendly 4:21.
The lyrics tell the tale of a (presumably) young adult who who is missing the “sex” part of “sex, drugs, rock and roll” and begging a woman at the bar for it. He gives a hint that maybe he’s a bit more grown up than he sounds at first when he says that “rock and roll and brew/They don’t mean a thing when I compare ’em next to you” and “I know that you and I we got better things to do” but finishes the chorus with, “I don’t know who you are or what you do/Or where you go when you’re not around/I don’t know anything about you, baby/But you’re everything I’m dreaming of,” undermining that hint completely with his teenaged feeling of, “You’re hot. That’s all that matters.”
However, there is something of a twist when she takes over for the second verse and immediately says, “You’ve been tryin’ to look away but now you finally get the point/I don’t have to know your name and I won’t tell you what to do/But a girl she doesn’t live by only rock ‘n’ roll and brew.” They then go through the chorus together and she is the one who delivers, “I don’t know anything about you, baby/But you’re everything I’m dreaming of.” The conflict of different expectations that drives the gender politics of “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” (and later “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)”) actually isn’t here.
Arguably, the bridge of the two trading lines even gives her the upper hand in their relationship. He praises her “legs that do more than walk,” “eyes that do more than see,” and “lips that do more than drink” while she fires back, “I don’t have to listen to your whimpering talk/ . . . /You got a lot of nerve to come on to me/ . . . /You got the kind of mind that does less than think.” She’s the one who really consummates their encounter, saying, “Why don’t you give it a shot and get it ready to go?/I’m looking for anonymous and fleeting satisfaction.” The place the sexes can meet is by just admitting they just want to have sex with nothing else–it’s not a different message than “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” but it’s delivered in a more lighthearted way, like it’s the fantasy world compared to “Paradise’s” reality.
Musically, the song is really something like an update of “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” It’s the same honky-tonk rhythm but now it’s delivered on bass and rhythm guitar punctuated with horn blasts. The piano is there but buried in the mix, so much so that there are actually only a few moments that it’s noticeable. There are a few lines of lead guitar, but most of the song just sticks to a loud, distorted version of that honky-tonk rhythm, and it really never changes direction. Going into the bridge there is a short section of the horns being in the lead, but it’s so short that it’s almost more like a marker of the transition to the bridge than an actual musical change.
Legend says that Steinman made Meat Loaf perform this song for hundreds of takes and then meticulously constructed the vocal out of what bits were salvageable from all of those takes, and that’s when he gave up on producing this album. The story makes sense, because this is the only time on the album that Meat Loaf sounds healthy. He sounds strong, able to careen from singing to shouts and back again, fitting in distortion when necessary. He even manages to hit one of the higher notes on the album at the end of the chorus without sounding strained to get there. Cher, meanwhile, is barely singing on the other end in her solo parts. She’s something between talking and shouting, with barely any sense of melody, but it actually works, especially for the fastest parts of the song (and this song would forever be at its best played at a breakneck pace). She sounds strong and in control–she’s the boss in this song not just lyrically but vocally, even though Meat Loaf nails his part. And when they sing together, it’s clear that each can hold their own with the other, which is all you want from that pairing.
Back when I first listened to this album, I remember being disappointed in “Dead Ringer for Love.” I was expecting something as good as “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” and it just isn’t. However, it’s a very fun, fast-paced, rave-up rocker sung surprisingly well and full of attitude. There are very few lyrics that are as good an encapsulation of the teenage experience as the chorus of this song, which is why it remains great fun even if it’s not the thoughtful piece of commentary that “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” is.
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