Allow me to indulge you with possibly more than you ever cared to know about a song that was deeply impactful to my early appreciation of rock and roll. It is also a part tribute to my deceased mother, who was a hip, hip lady who turned me on to a lot of cool music as a kid and even quietly tolerated my Weird Al phase when I was eleven.
Background. While the majesty of this song is nothing without the power of Meatloaf’s pipes, his imprint on the song is vocals alone. The brainchild behind the album was arranger Jim Steinman, who wanted to make a good old rock opera. Without his ego and courage, this whole bizarre album would not have happened. And it certainly was bizarre. It had Phil Rizzuto (Phil Rizzuto!)! It had motorcycle sounds! It had a pre-Night Court Ellen Foley! And it had more graphic sexual imagery than you would want to hear from a young, husky Meatloaf.
Why the Hell Do You Care About this Song and Album So Much, TR? Let’s start with that album cover. I have vivid memories of being a young boy and going through my mom’s album collection with my older sister. It’s a shame that music won’t be as vivid a multi-sensory experience to future generations as it was to me growing up. An album was a THING. You could hold it, stare at the front, the middle, the back, the lyrics in the middle and wonder about all the thought that went into the packaging. As a kid, I remember the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine album, the Stones’ Tattoo You album, which featured a goat hoof in a high heeled shoe, and, of course, Bat Out of Hell. As a kid, you could not help but be drawn to it. It was evil and enticing all at once. There was a dude on a motorcycle. Exploding out of the ground. At night. In a cemetery. While a mega-bat sitting on a mausoleum squawks in the background. How badass is that? Very. It felt like I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to when I was staring at that thing, which made it that much better, probably because it had “the H word” on the cover. I’m not sure how much I would’ve liked Devil Went Down to Georgia at that same age without the “I’ve told you once, you son of a bitch…” line. Cursing was cool to five year-old me.
Part I - The Intro (0:00 to 1:45). I don’t know of any song that goes from 0-60 quicker. The first 105 seconds of this song (the first 100, to be precise, since it really starts ripping five seconds in) are EPIC. Pure bravado and excess. It reminds me of the conclusions to some of my favorite old Phish jams. And that’s just the start. I dare you to crank this part in your car and not feel better about your life for having done so.
Part II - The Story Unfolds (1:45 to 2:57). There is a bit of mystery as to a possible secret meaning to the lyrics. Many see it as a Springsteen tribute or Springsteen parody. Making this more intriguing is the fact that E Street Band pianist Roy Bittan and drummer Max Weinberg were the session drummers for the entire album. Bittan’s ivory tickling here is especially E Street Band-esque. We’re getting an opaque orgy of dismal imagery, offset by a boy’s love for a girl. But it’s just a tease. Meatloaf hasn’t even started wailing yet! This song was actually part of a Neverland-themed play that Steinman had composed in the past. But that’s less relevant. Who gives a shit about Peter Pan?
Part III - The Chorus (2:57 to 3:37): Meatloaf starts wailing! When I was younger, I used to think the lyrics were about a one-night stand, but who the hell knows. This part can be interpreted many ways. But most involve visualizing Meatloaf making love, so let’s not go too deep here.
Part IV – Motorcycle Conquers Teen Angst (3:37 to 5:23): Segue to traditional teen anthem – motorcycles, decaying city, teen angst. Speeding on a motorcycle will prove to be a bad thing later, Meatloaf! This section also features my favorite cheesy lyrics in the song: “Nothing really rocks and nothing really rolls.” I love this, because Meatloaf’s voice pulls off all the goofy lyrics. He could read the ingredients in a bag of Doritos and have me riveted. Maybe that’s just because I eat too much and love Doritos. But Meatloaf is pretty clear here – he is qualmless about being damned for dancing through the night with a special woman. Pretty minor offense to be damned for, IMO.
Part V – Chorus Reprise (5:23 to 6:12): Same chorus, but extra em-PHA-sis on the last words. And we get the motorcycle revving at the end, letting us know it’s time to get back on our hog for one last fateful trip.
Part VI – Solo (6:12 to 6:54): Dueling motorcycle-piano solo! You never hear Asia, Styx or Boston doing that.
Part VII – Motorcycle Accident! (6:54 to 7:40): Speed proves to be Mr. Loaf’s problem, as he “…never see(s) the sudden curve ‘til it’s way too late.” More motorcycle sounds are added to reinforce the obvious. There’s been a wreck. And it's bad.
Part VIII – Is Meatloaf’s Heart Jesus Christ? (7:40 to 8:52): My favorite verse in the song gets repeated twice. First slowly, then with the power of those pipes. “I’M DYING AT THE BOTTOM OF A PIT IN THE BLAZING SUN.” Fuck. Yeah. And then we get the cathartic after-math. His heart, still beating, is breaking out of his body and flying away, like, you guessed it, a bat out of hell. And if you’re scoring at home, that’s eight seconds that he takes to hold that least hellllllllllllllllll. After his sixth time of saying that line. You try to do that shit and see how it goes. Song fades out and we all take a deep breath and think about having a smoke.
Part IX – What Comes Next on the Album: We get this gem. Tremendous intro.