My Playlist: Meat Loaf

As widely reported by the media, Meat Loaf passed away last week at the age of 74. Instead of writing another obituary that really wouldn’t add anything to what already has been revealed, I decided to primarily focus this post on music and put together a playlist of his songs I dig. I was actually surprised how many I know. If you feel like reading a traditional obituary, here’s a pretty good one published in The New York Times.

Before we get to music, I’d like to provide a bit of background, so I guess there’s a similarity to an obituary. Meat Loaf was born Michael Lee Aday on September 27, 1947, in Dallas, Texas. He was the only child of Wilma Artie (née Hukel), a school teacher and member of a girls gospel quartet, and Orvis Wesley Aday, a former police officer who went into business selling a homemade cough remedy with his wife and a friend.

Meat Loaf Should Have Had Two Parts in The Rocky Horror Picture Show | Den  of Geek
Meat Loaf as Eddie in The Rocky Horror Picture Show

During his high school years, Aday appeared in various school stage productions. In the late ’60s, he relocated from Dallas to Los Angeles and formed his first band, Meat Loaf Soul, after a nickname his football coach had given him because of his weight. The band subsequently adopted different names and opened up for well-known acts like The Who, The Stooges and Grateful Dead.

Subsequently, Aday joined the L.A. production of the musical Hair. The resulting publicity led to a Motown-produced album that appeared in October 1971, Stoney and Meatloaf, a collaboration with blues and R&B singer Shaun “Stoney” Murphy. In late 1973, Aday was picked for the original L.A. Roxy cast of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The musical was turned into a motion picture in 1975 and became a cult film.

How Meat Loaf Met Jim Steinman
Meat Loaf (left) and Jim Steinman

While Aday and his longtime collaborator Jim Steinman had started to work on what became Meat Loaf’s debut solo album Bat Out of Hell in 1972, it took until October 1977 for the record to appear. It was the first in a trilogy of Bat Out of Hell albums, and the first of 12 solo albums Meat Loaf recorded between 1977 and 2016. That shall suffice for the background. Let’s get to some songs. Apart from highlighting various tunes upfront, I’ve put together a Spotify playlist at the end of the post, which includes additional music.

Let’s kick it off with Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul, a great tune from the Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack performed by Meat Loaf. Like all other songs from the soundtrack, it was written by  English-New Zealand actor, writer, musician and television presenter Richard O’Brien. Meat Loaf also acted in the film as Eddie, who breaks out of a deep freeze riding a motorcycle, interrupts mad scientist Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry), and gets the Transylvanians dancing and singing the tune. Eddie is then killed with a pickaxe by a jealous Dr. Frank after his creation Rocky had started to dance and enjoyed the performance of Eddie and the Transylvanians. You can watch a clip of Eddie’s appearance here. What a classic!

The Bat Out of Hell album, released in October 1977, includes various great songs. Since I only wanted to call out one here, I decided to go with the title track, a close to 10-minute over-the-top rock opera spectacle written by Steinman. Bat Out of Hell has sold over 43 million copies worldwide, making it one of the most successful records of all time.

In September 1981, Meat Loaf released his sophomore studio album Dead Ringer. I’ve always dug Dead Ringer for Love. Aday’s duett with Cher also appeared separately as a single released in the UK in November of the same year, where it reached no. 5 in the charts. Surprisingly, if I see this correctly, the tune did not appear as a single in the U.S. Predictably, Dead Ringer could not match the success of Bat Out of Hell.

Wolf at the Door is a tune from Meat Loaf’s third album Midnight at the Lost and Found. Notably, the record did not include any songs written by Steinman due to a dispute between Aday and his longtime collaborator. As such, it had more of a straight pop rock sound compared to the massive rock opera productions by Steinman. Wolf at the Door was penned by his wife Leslie Aday (born Leslie Edmonds) and bassist Steve Buslowe.

For Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell, Meat Loaf’s sixth studio album from September 1993, Steinman was back as producer. Predictably, the record marked a return to the heavy operatic sound of Bat Out of Hell. Here’s the epic Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through, which like all other tracks on the album was written by Steinman. Steinman had first included it on his own 1981 solo album Bad for Good, using uncredited Canadian rock vocalist Rory Dodd. While it’s not a bad version, it sounds somewhat timid compared to Meat Loaf’s melodramatic rendition. The single did pretty well in the charts, reaching no. 13 and no. 11 in the U.S. and UK, respectively, as well as no. 4 and no. 4 in Canada and New Zealand, though its performance paled that of I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That), which topped the charts in all of these countries. Yes, it’s an over-the-top rock & roll dream, but it’s a hell of a catchy tune!

Couldn’t Have Said It Better is the title track of Meat Loaf’s eighth studio album that appeared in September 2003. It was another record without any song written by Jim Steinman. While according to Wikipedia, Meat Loaf said it was his best album since Bat Out of Hell, once again, the record couldn’t match the enormous success of his solo debut – not really much of a shock to me. The record did best in the UK where it peaked at no. 4 and in Germany where it reached no. 8. In the U.S., it got to no. 85 on the Billboard 200.

The final tune I’d like to call out is from Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose, the last in the trilogy, and Meat Loaf’s ninth studio album released in October 2006. While it was produced by Desmond Child, making it the only Bat album not produced by Jim Steinman, Steinman wrote half of the songs. This includes the power ballad It’s All Coming Back to Me Now, a duett Meat Loaf performed with Norwegian singer-songwriter Marion Raven. It was Meat Loaf’s last single to enjoy significant chart success, including in Norway where it hit no 1, as well as the UK and Germany, where it reached no. 6 and no. 7, respectively.

Following is a playlist featuring most of the above tracks and some additional tunes. Spotify did not have the Bat Out of Hell III and Couldn’t Have Said It Better albums. Peace on Earth from Meat Loaf’s 10th studio album Hang Cool Teddy Bear was only available as a live version.

Love him for many of his catchy songs, or hate him for his oftentimes theatric over-the-top productions, there can be no doubt Meat Loaf was a pretty unique artist who combined rock music and acting in his shows. And he was remarkably successful, even though health issues had sidelined him during the last five to seven years of his life.

Only his Bat Out of Hell trilogy has sold more than 65 million albums worldwide, mostly stemming from the first record. Combined sales of all of his albums exceed 100 million worldwide. The Bat Out of Hell album remained in the charts for more than nine years. After more than 40 years since its release, it still sells an estimated 200,000 copies annually.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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What I’ve Been Listening to: Frankie Miller/The Rock

When Max from PowerPop blog recently posted about I Can’t Change It by Frankie Miller, I was immediately intrigued by the Scottish rock singer-songwriter’s soulful vocals. I also instantaneously recognized the name from an appearance on the German TV concert program Rockpalast I had watched in August 1982, though I still can’t remember any of the songs Miller performed during that show. Anyway, this is what prompted me to start listening to his music including his third studio album The Rock from September 1975.

Before getting to this gem, a few words about Miller are in order. He was born as Francis John Miller in Glasgow on November 2, 1949. Miller’s first exposure to music was his mother Cathy’s record collection. She particularly liked Ray Charles who interestingly ended up covering the above I Can’t Change It on his 1980 album Brother Ray Is at It Again, a song Miller had written as a 12-year-old and recorded for his debut album Once in a Blue Moon released in January 1973.

Going back to Miller’s childhood days, another music music influence were his older sisters Letty and Anne, who introduced him to Little Richard and Elvis Presley. Miller started writing his first songs at the age of nine after his parents had given him a guitar. While still being at school, he started singing in a series of bands. Eventually, he joined Glasgow outfit The Stoics. While Chrysalis signed them in 1970, the band broke up before making any recordings.

In 1971, Miller formed a band called Jude, together with former Procol Harum guitarist Robin Trower, ex Jethro Tull drummer Clive Bunker and James Dewar, a Glasgow bassist and vocalist. While the band got attention from the British music press, they dissolved in April 1972, also without recording any music. Miller ended up signing a contract with Chrysalis later that year and released his above debut album in January 1973.

Frankie Miller at Rockpalast, Germany, 1982

Until 1985, Miller recorded eight additional solo albums. After his second-to-last solo release Standing on the Edge from 1982, he mostly focused on songwriting, including film music. Miller’s professional career came to a tragic end in August 1994 when he suffered a massive brain hemorrhage while writing music for a new band he and Joe Walsh had formed with English keyboarder and drummer Nicky Hopkins and Ian Wallace, respectively.

According to a bio on Miller’s website, the brain hemorrhage should have killed him but he has shown remarkable courage to claw his way slowly back to health, after spending 15 months in hospital. With massive support from his partner Annette, Frankie is learning to walk and talk again and has even written a new song with lyricist Will Jennings called “Sun Goes Up Sun Goes Down”. But sadly, Miller has not been able to resume performing.

The Rock back cover

While Miller’s records apparently received positive reviews, they were not commercially successful. His singles did not fare much better. Only two of them reached the top 40 in the UK: Be Good to Yourself from May 1977 (no. 27) and Darlin’ from October 1978 (no. 6). Miller’s songs have won writing awards and been performed by an impressive array of artists, such as Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Bob Seger, Roy Orbison, Etta James, Joe Cocker, Joe Walsh and Eagles.

Time to get to The Rock, Miller’s only album officially credited to the The Frankie Miller Band. All tracks were written by Miller. Here’s the excellent opener A Fool in Love. Like other tunes on the album, it reminds me of Joe Cocker. The song was actually covered by Etta James on her 1990 album Stickin’ to My Guns.

The title track was inspired by the Alcatraz prison in San Francisco, which could be seen from the studio where the album was recorded. According to Wikipedia, Miller said that music saved him from prison. He dedicated the song to the plight of prisoners, apparently a reference to his second cousin Jimmy Boyle, a Scottish former gangster and convicted murderer who became a sculptor and novelist after his release from prison in October 1981. The Rock has got a cool Faces, early Rod Stewart vibe.

Another gem is Ain’t Got No Money. It’s probably not a coincidence that it became the album’s most covered tune, including by artists like Cher, Chris Farlowe and Bob Seger. Frankly, this would be a great song for The Rolling Stones.

Let’s slow things down with All My Love to You, a dynamite soulful tune. Why this didn’t become a hit beats me. Check it out this beauty!

Frankly, there’s no weak track on this album and I could have selected any other. Let’s do one one more: I’m Old Enough.

The Rock was produced by Elliot Mazer, one of the co-producers of Neil Young’s Harvest album. Musicians included Henry McCullough (lead guitar, backing vocals), Mick Weaver (keyboards), Chrissy Stewart (bass), Stu Perry (drums, percussion) and Miller’s former Jude mate James Dewar. The album also featured two ingredients for shaping its soul sound: The Memphis Horns and The Edwin Hawkins Singers.

Sources: Wikipedia; Frankie Miller website; YouTube