Thursday, February 21, 2008


One of Pete Townshend's most fervent disciples is composer Jim Steinman, who wrote all the songs for Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell (1977) and Bat Out of Hell II (1994), as well many other songs, most notably the mega-hit "Total Eclipse of the Heart" for Bonnie Tyler. He followed in the footsteps of "A Quick One While He's Away" with his epic tale of teenage lust and middle-aged loathing, "Paradise by the Dashboard Light." Read more, and see the video, after the jump!

Steinman has always striven for a Broadway career and has always been denied, but his rock career has not been too shabby. The Bat Out of Hell album was filled with songs from his stage show Neverland (a post-apocalyptic Peter Pan fable which I will examine at length in another post), making it his version of Who's Next. Also appearing on that classic record is Steinman's equivalent of "A Quick One While He's Away," namely, "Paradise by the Dashboard Light."

Like "A Quick One," "Paradise" is a humorous look at sex and relationships. Combining Chuck Berry with Gilbert & Sullivan, "Paradise" follows a teenage couple (Meat Loaf and Ellen Foley) through the stages of heavy-petting, ill-advised marriage and bitter disillusionment. Unlike "A Quick One," nobody is forgiven in this song, and the couple ends up bickering into the fade-out. "Paradise" is part of the vogue for 1950s and 60s nostalgia that infected pop culture as the Baby Boomers grew up (or got older, anyway) and got self-reflective. As such, it fits in comfortably with Grease and American Graffiti. Unlike many 50s-retro products, however, "Paradise" leavens the nostalgia with pungent 70s cynicism and a smidge of disco funk.

The tune was originally conceived a a 20-minute epic taking up an entire side of a record - but producer Todd Rundgren wielded his red pen and distilled the original concept to a manageable (but still massive by pop radio standards) eight-and-a-half minutes. The song is in three parts, "Paradise," "Let Me Sleep On It" and "Praying for the End of Time."

Though the song itself barely cracked the Top 40, Bat Out of Hell is one of rock's all-time best-sellers, and "Paradise" is a karaoke favorite to this day. Meat Loaf's concert performances of the song have gotten more and more elaborate over the years, with costumes and props galore.

So here's Jim Steinman's "mini-opera," performed by Meat Loaf and Karla DeVito (DeVito was the touring vocalist, but for the music video she lip-synchs to Ellen Foley's album track). Steinman is on the piano (though E Street Band member Roy Bittan plays on the track), while New York Yankees announcer Phil Rizzuto's radio play-by-play takes "getting to first base" literally. Many theaters used to show this as an apt curtain-raiser for The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

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