in The People's Album

In case you were wondering, I haven’t been able to find any definitive evidence whether Meat Loaf — one of showbiz’s true outright conservatives — has come out and endorsed Donald Trump.  However, I’m gonna say Meat’s answer to the question of whether Trump should be president would most likely be a “yes”.  So in case you already had little interest in this piece, there’s one more reason to roll your eyes in Meat Loaf’s direction while reading it.

Album: Bat Out Of Hell
Artist: Meat Loaf
Release Date: October 21, 1977
Copies Sold In The U.S.: 14 million

Why Was This Popular?

Because America Likes Things Overstuffed

I don’t know how surprised you are to see Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell this high up on the list of America’s best-selling albums, but this definitely strikes me as a bit of an odd one.  I have to assume that’s also part of the reason for this album’s slow rise to commercial ubiquity.  Supposedly Meat Loaf (born Marvin Lee Aday) and composer Jim Steinman had spent years courting record companies with these overblown songs that were so un-radio friendly that they caused Clive Davis to throw Steinman and Meat Loaf out of his office in a fit of rage.  But then in stepped producer Todd Rundgren, a guy who had had about as good of a track record (as a producer and solo artist) as anyone working in the record industry in the ‘70s.  Contrary to everyone else who didn’t “get it”, Rundgren found the music hilarious, envisioning Bat Out Of Hell as a kind of parody of Bruce Springsteen.  And if you think about it, this is one of those albums that gets so much better the less seriously you take it.

I’m not sure how much the listeners who bought Bat Out Of Hell saw it as tongue-in-cheek however, since the late ’70s definitely marked a point where the excesses of the time were growing increasingly out-of-hand, and were often rewarded for it in terms of record sales.  This mentality of course gave rise to punk, while coked up pop-rock like Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles were selling millions, while the dinosaur rock of the early ’70s was slowly starting to go the way of, well you can probably guess.  But here was an album that took the hallmarks of this dying genre and just said “fuck it, let’s throw everything in there” with a kind of zeal and overblown confidence that seemed built for this album-oriented era of rock radio.  And then when you throw in the novelty of seeing this big fat sweaty guy roam around the stage and belt out these big boisterous songs, you had an album that was so ridiculous that you kind of had to love it.

Todd Rundgren recently made an appearance on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast in which he talked a bit about Bat Out Of Hell, and said one of the reasons for the album’s success was it’s airplay in the early days of MTV.  This timeline seems a bit wonky, since MTV didn’t begin to air until four years after Bat Out Of Hell’s release, but I think he was more pointing to the fact that there were promotional videos that were shot for several of the songs on Bat Out Of Hell, which eventually did make it onto the early days of MTV.  But apparently these clips were also shown on several pre-MTV music programs that aired during the late ‘70s, while some of them also played before screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which was tearing up midnight screenings at the time and happened to feature Meat Loaf in a supporting role.  Which is to say that Bat Out Of Hell might have been the first uber-successful album that was a product of this shallower, more image-based era of popular music that came in the wake of MTV, which is made all the more amusing that it came from one of the least sexy rock stars ever.

Did It Deserve To Be Popular?

If I’m being honest, I’ve probably had Bat Out Of Hell in my iTunes library for close to ten years now, but I don’t know if I’d ever listened to it all the way through prior to writing this.  Because when it comes to this album, it’s mostly all about the song “Bat Out Of Hell” and “Paradise By The Dashboard Light”, right?  Well, yes, in the sense that I’d still say those are the two best examples of this album’s potent combination of driving hard rock and Wagnerian histrionics.  But taking this album as a whole, I’d say “You Took The Words Out Of My Mouth” and “All Revved Up With No Place To Go” are respectable rockers, while “Heaven Can Wait” and “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad” are certainly oozing with cheese, but it’s a kind of cheese that ain’t bad if your ears happen to have a hankering for lactose.  Oh, and “For Crying Out Loud” is fine too.  So there you go, that’s every song on the album.  I guess I’m a fan of Bat Out Of Hell.

That said, and I think I’ve already made it pretty clear, this is not a purely sincere kind of fandom.  Way back in 2009 (!), I wrote a top ten concerning my favorite “guilty pleasure” artists, while Meat Loaf came in at #4, almost entirely on the strength of Bat Out Of Hell.  It’s an album that feeds my appetite for both the gargantuan sounds of ‘70s classic rock, and also the fact that I’m sort of fascinated by the inherent ridiculousness of this kind of music.  Hell, I play drums in a KISS parody band for God’s sakes.  I’d just be lying to myself if I said that on some level I didn’t love the fact that an album like this exists, and I’d also be lying if said I was above rocking out to every single section of “Paradise By The Dashboard Light”.  Well, except for that Phil Rizzuto baseball part.  I could maybe do without that nonsense.

Would I Pay Money For This?

Since this was such a massive hit that came at the height of album-oriented rock, and I tend to spend a lot of time sifting through record stores for rock albums of this ilk, me and Bat Out Of Hell have locked eyes on a number of occasions.  And yet, I’ve never quite felt the need to pull the trigger and own this one.  It probably stems from the previously mentioned fact that I’d possibly never listened to it all the way through, so is it really one I’d feel compelled to put on my record player and give it it’s full due?  Hell, I ran into this record earlier this week when I was at my local record store, but I was kind of just wasting time and had to leave before I had the chance to decide whether I needed to buy Bat Out Of Hell, so I didn’t.  But, I think if I was in the right mood, I’d pull the trigger.

Next Time On The People’s Albums: I’ll be Ropin’ The Wind with Garth Brooks (I can’t make any puns for this one because I’m familiar with literally zero songs on this album.  Should be fun!)