Once when a friend was making fun of how long many of the songs I like are, they said that I was trying to have a single song that encapsulates all of human experience. I was exaggerating, but I said, “You mean ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light?'”
The song is separated into three parts in the liner notes, so I’m going to more or less write about each part separately.
Part 1. Paradise
“I remember every little thing as if it happened only yesterday” opens Steinman’s tale of car sex gone wrong. It’s his version of “once upon a time” and explicitly sets the song long ago–Meat Loaf’s character is a now-jaded adult remembering with his (presumably) now-wife how they got together even though they can no longer stand each other. Their lives are now filled with “cold and lonely . . . deep dark night[s],” even though they remember the “paradise by the dashboard light” by the lake all those years ago.
The details vary, but the legend goes that at some point when Steinman and Meat Loaf were being rejected by all of the record labels on earth, someone brought up the Ira Kosloff and Maurice Mysels song “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” made famous by Elvis Presley and said, “Why can’t you write something like that?” So, Steinman went home and wrote, “I want you/I need you/But there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you/Now don’t be sad/’Cause two out of three ain’t bad.” I have often called that story Jim Steinman in a nutshell–the impish humor, the use of a common English idiom in an unusual way, the competitive attitude, and the turning a trope on its head are all vintage Steinman trademarks, and they may never be on more obvious display than they are here.
In “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,” Kosloff and Mysels present a common, simple picture: “Every time that you’re near/All my cares disappear/ . . . Never leave me alone/’Cause I die every time we’re apart/I want you, I need you, I love you/With all my heart.” Steinman, however, isn’t just making a joke: it’s a song about pain, regret, and romantic failure. It takes a bit of close reading of the lyrics to realize it, but Meat Loaf is actually trying to sell himself on the idea that he doesn’t love the object of the song by borrowing a phrase from an earlier romantic partner.
I said that it was going to be considered blasphemy by other Steinman fans that I don’t think “Heaven Can Wait” is among his best work. This one I have to go a step further: I absolutely do not like it. I have an odd opinion in that I like Bat out of Hell II: Back into Hell more than its predecessor, and much of the reason is that “Heaven Can Wait” is nowhere near as good as most of either album and then it’s followed by the legitimately weak “All Revved up with No Place to Go.”
The song opens with a saxophone lead over a simple piano-led rhythm. It plods along as Meat Loaf’s voice comes in and his typically forceful, emotive delivery interplays with the saxophone throughout. For most of the song’s run time, nothing changes. Then, it sort of comes to life as Rundgren adds in crunchy guitars and Meat Loaf spit-shouts his way through the lyrics again at breakneck speed.