Suppose you were to meet the artist who recorded Bat Out of Hell, one of the best-selling albums of all time. How would you address him — would you do it familiarly, and call him Meat? Or formally, as Mr. Loaf.
OK, I copped that bit from some comedian, which one I don’t remember. But you don’t have to worry about which approach to take, because you won’t be encountering Meat Loaf on this planet. Marvin Lee Aday passed away three weeks ago, joining John Prine and a bunch of other musicians killed by COVID-19.
Interestingly, Aday’s stage name was not some random alteration or marketing stratagem. After he was born on Sept. 27, 1947 in Dallas, Texas, his father — an alcoholic World War II veteran who had been wounded in action and went on days-long drinking binges — described his newborn son as “nine pounds of ground chuck” and convinced the nurses to put the name “Meat” on his crib.
Where did the middle (last?) name, Loaf, come from? If you’ve seen Mr. Loaf, considering his size, and his Texas origins — and his energy level while performing — it’s unsurprising that he played high school football, during which he picked up the nickname Meatloaf.
After high school — and following his mother’s death, after which he survived his father’s alleged attempt to knife him — Meat Loaf decamped to Los Angeles. There, he played in several iterations of the band Meat Loaf Soul, which was good enough to open for the likes of Van Morrison’s Them, ? and the Mysterians, the Who, the Grateful Dead and the Grease Band, Joe Cocker’s backing band.
Mr. Loaf took the next step up by — unsurprisingly, again, in view of his stage presence — turning to acting. His start in professional theatre was in the L.A. production of the mawkishly-hippite musical Hair. Which gig earned him an invite from Motown Records to record for them, and the suggestion to duet with his fellow Hair cast member, Shaun “Stoney” Murphy.
That proposal resulted Meat Loaf’s first album, an LP called Stoney & Meatloaf, one cut of which, “What You See Is What You Get,” charted on the Billboard Hot 100 and Soul Singles rankings. The duo toured in support of the album, opening for some notable acts, including Richie Havens, Bob Seger, the Stooges and the Who.
Meat Loaf bailed on Motown when the label replaced his and Stoney’s vocals with the singing of Edwin Starr (he of the No. 1 hit “War”). He returned to the stage in off- and on-Broadway musicals, including the NYC production of Hair. Auditioning for one of those, he met the man who would help make him a star, composer/lyricist/producer Jim Steinman.
Before Steinman (who left the planet eight months before Meat Loaf) could work his magic, though, Meat Loaf made one more foray into acting — one that would help define his musical image. He appeared in the 1973 L.A. production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the follow-up movie, taking two parts in the former.
The stage and film versions both proved popular, and helped raise Meat Loaf’s profile — not the least because he convinced the producers of the film to run one of the songs that he and Steinman had been working on as the movie’s trailer. That was “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” perhaps the best known of the songs on the album that would come out the following year, Bat Out of Hell.
The rest is history — with a dollop of hysteria included, in the form of over-the-top performance and slick production. The credit for the latter goes to The Wizard and True Star, Todd Rundgren, who also helped Meat Loaf and Steinman get a record deal for the album.
It worked: BOoH has sold more than 63 million copies worldwide since then, making it one of the best-selling LPs of all time. (Two-thirds of those sales were elsewhere than in the U.S. — mostly in the U.K., where, as of 2015, it had spent 485 weeks on the album chart.)
But Meat Loaf and Steinman had trouble following up on that success. Their first attempt at a sequel fell victim to the former’s losing his voice because of his extensive touring and Rock and Roller’s Disease, and became the latter’s only solo album.
After that, Meat Loaf recorded a series of albums that had only modest success, the highest-charting of those being Dead Ringer, which made it only to No. 45. His record label wouldn’t let him record two songs Steinman had written for one of those LPs — and “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” became No. 1s, for Bonnie Tyler and Air Supply, respectively.
Meat Loaf and Steinman had had a falling out by then, the latter suing the former, among a number of lawsuits that resulted in his filing for bankruptcy in 1983 and losing the rights to his songs. It wasn’t until 1990 that Steinman and Meat Loaf, having gotten past their legal issues, got around to the BOoH sequel.
Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell came out three years later, and sold 15 million copies. It didn’t include as many memorable songs as its processor, but “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” was a No. 1 in the U.S. and U.K.
Ten years later, a heart problem and subsequent surgery limited the duration of Meat Loaf’s live performances, but his concert tickets continued to sell very well, and her toured regularly. He and Steinman had started working on Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose,” but their attorneys and managers became embroiled in legal action over the trademarking of the term “Bat Out of Hell.”
BOoH III was ultimately finished and released, and initially sold well, but in the end was not nearly as successful as the first two in the series. That apparently was their last collaboration until a 2016 LP that ended up being Meat Loaf’s last. He had continued to tour successfully well into the 21st century, and announced last year that he was going into the studio early in 2022. The Grim Reaper got him before that happened, though.
I was never a huge Meat Loaf fan, his performing style being a bit too over-the-top for my tastes — beyond Spector’s Wall of Sound, albeit without the guns and misogyny. As for Bat Out of Hell, I liked the less-frenetic numbers, “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” (which channels the same teen testosterone as “Paradise”) and “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth.”
But Mr. Loaf was a Hell of a showman, the likes of which we are not likely to see again, and made music that many found memorable. Hard to think of him resting, but may he do so in peace.