Saturday, June 7, 2008

Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through For Meat Loaf's Buddy

When most people hear the name Jim Steinman they associate it with Meat Loaf, the singer not the hearty dinner, and a quaint little album called ‘Bat Out Of Hell‘. But Steinman’s involvement in, and contribution to, the tapestry of popular music over the last 40 years extends so much further. A native of New York City, Steinman trained as a classical pianist and first met Marvin Lee Aday (AKA Meat Loaf) in 1973 at auditions for the off-Broadway musical ’More Than You Deserve’. They worked together again on the National Lampoon Road Show and developed a musical synergy that would prove to be dynamic. Jim Steinman then began working on music for an update of the Peter Pan story titled ’Neverland’. Many of the songs Steinman wrote ended up being reworked and included on 1978’s ’Bat Out Of Hell’. A popular misconception is that Steinman actually produced the album, but this credit actually went to the legendary Todd Rundgren, though Steinman did just about everything else in conceptual and creative terms. But it would take an entire blog (or at least a page) to do justice to the history and impact of that album. For this post I’d like to highlight the highpoint in Jim Steinman’s work as an artist in his own right.

Following on from the storm that was ’Bat Out Of Hell’, in 1981 Jim Steinman made the move to add the role of artist to his already established work as a songwriter, arranger and producer. The album ‘Bad For Good’ contained just eight songs, but all mini rock-operas, and all penned by Steinman. Following the phenomenal success of Meat Loaf‘s ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ there was pressure for a follow up album to be recorded, tentatively titled 'Renegade Angel'. A series of events, including Meat Loaf suffering vocal problems, conspired to prevent the songs Steinman had penned from seeing the light of day. But in lieu of the Steinman/Meat Loaf collaboration being repeated at that time, Steinman himself undertook to record the songs he had written. As prolific a songwriter as Steinman was at that time he found time to write another eight songs for Meat Loaf’s eventual follow up album ‘Dead Ringer’. Later Steinman would commence legal action against Meat Loaf over the breakdown in their recording relationship.

On ‘Bad For Good’ Steinman assumed the role of co-producer with Todd Rundgren on all the tracks save for ‘Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through’, which he co-produced with Jimmy Iovine. Steinman was never the most gifted vocalist, and so again he turned to others to provide the voice on some of the album’s tracks. Canadian singer Rory Dodd provided the lead vocals for three tracks including the first single ‘Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through’. The song suited Dodd’s unique vocal falsetto perfectly, and was the archetypal Steinman opus. Released amid a surge of three minute new wave/post punk minimalism, the grandiose nature of ‘Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through’ symbolised the very antithesis of all that was deemed fashionable at the time. Yet it found an audience around the world (UK#52, OZ#18, US#32) through the sheer brilliance of its conception and form. The song was actually written as an epilogue for the main album, which comprised eight tracks, with the addition of ‘Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through’ and a prelude ‘The Storm’ originally included as a 7” EP in addition to the vinyl album. The album itself ‘Bad For Good’ was well also received (UK#7, OZ#5, US#63) though Steinman was lambasted by critics for his own vocal performance on some of the tracks.

Two other singles were released from 'Bad For Good'; 'Dance In My Pants' which featured vocalist Karla DeVito, and 'Lost Boys And Golden Girls' which again featured Rory Dodd and was the basis for the planned Steinman musical 'Neverland', described as a futuristic post-apocalyptic take on the whole Peter Pan story.

In the 90s Jim Steinman continued to write and produce for a range of artists, including Barry Manilow, Boyzone, Tina Arena and Celine Dion (’It‘s All Coming Back To Me Now‘), gifting to each artist his uniquely lavish and operatic vision of rock/pop music. This man of many talents even played trumpet with the Swing City Big Band. And of course he rekindled his working partnership with Meat Loaf which resulted in 1993's 'Bat Out Of Hell II - Back Into Hell'. Meat Loaf covered 'Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through' on that album.

‘Bat Out Of Hell’ remains the crown jewel in Steinman's career achievements but ‘Bad For Good’ deserves acknowledgement as a stand alone gem. Whilst Jim Steinman may not have invented the conceptual rock album, he certainly redefined it immeasurably. As has been said a number of times Steinman’s work is what classical composer Wagner may have come up with had the rock genre been prevalent at the time.

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