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Steinman's post-Meat Loaf career prospered when he wisely quit singing, opting to pen big hits for small voices. Bonnie Tyler shredded her larynx all the way to No. 1 with his "Total Eclipse of the Heart," while Air Supply sounded as if lead singer Russell Hitchcock was indeed running out of oxygen trying to make it through Steinman's helium-filled anthem "Making Love Out of Nothing at All." While those songs were making a mint, Meat Loaf was in the throes of 22 crippling lawsuits, which necessitated his declaring bankruptcy. Meat Loaf has no kind words for his peers' interpretations of the Steinman songbook.
"They don't understand it. They don't get it. No one gets it like I get it. The bottom line is that when other people do [a Steinman song], it never comes off like when I do it," he emphasizes. "I am in that music, and Jimmy is in my vocal style. Everything we do, we still carry each other, whether we work together or not." It's hard to imagine anyone else doing the recent No. 1 hit "I Would Do Anything" and pulling it off the way Meat does. Lyrically, this song is an extreme revision of Little Peggy March's 1963 devotional hit "I Will Follow Him." You'll recall Little P.M. pledging she'd swim the deepest oceans, climb the highest mountains; in short, that she would complete every leg of the love decathlon just to be two steps behind her dream guy.
Like Little Peggy, Big Meat professes his unflinching love in abstract terms. Lyrics like "Will ya hose me down with holy water if I get too hot?" recall the kind of Dating Game questions Jim Lange used to ask bachelors one through three. Having reestablished himself as a viable commercial entity by singing Steinman's words, Loaf again finds himself fighting the notion that Steinman is his Svengali and that he's Steinman's mouthpiece.
"You know why they would say that?" he says, fuming. "Because they're coming from a place of ignorance; because they've never worked with me and Jim Steinman. Jim Steinman's mouthpiece? Here's another fact for ya! I've never asked Jim Steinman what one of his songs is about. I have no idea what he's writing about. I only know what I'm singing about.
"Have I questioned a line? I question them all the time. I rewrite them."
This is true. Compare the three songs from Steinman's solo album that reappear on Bat Out of Hell II. On "Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through," the line "The beat is always new" has been wisely updated to read "The beat is always true." "When you're alone and afraid" has seen equally drastic changes, into "When you're along and afraid." But that may just be a typo. Elsewhere, "Out of the Frying Pan (And Into the Fire)" sports two additional "ands," as well as a couple of exclamation points that weren't in the original.
As Meat Loaf well knows, sometimes it's the subtle tweaking that makes the crucial impact.
And it's not just what he's singing, but how he sings it. Yes, Loaf takes pains to make sure that each and every listener can step right into the imagery channeled by the artist.
"The words singers tend to accent are 'I,' 'me' and 'my'--words that people automatically hear," he explains. "And I never do that, because the minute you accent [those] words, it becomes about you and not the person who's listening to it. It's the words that follow the words that should be accented that I accent."
Accents aside, give Meat Loaf some credit. He sings ludicrous lines like "You're all enlisted in the armies of the night" with a straight face.
Before you get the impression that Meat Loaf belongs in the company of bad actors turned singers like Rick Springfield, David Soul, Jack Wagner and William Shatner, note that Loaf's impressive stage credentials outside of rock include Joseph Papp presentations of "Shakespeare in the Park" with Raul Julia, and the Sam Shepard play Billy the Kid and Jean Harlow.
But the Loaf is quick to make a distinction between his musical activities and his theatre work.
"Theatre is Cats," says the portly rock thespian, sniffing. "Theatre is Phantom of the Opera. We do a rock n' roll show. The difference is that I have a background in films and theatre. We move in such a way that's always painting a picture. I think that makes it far more interesting to the audience.
"People can say we're guilty of a lot of stuff, but the one thing we're never guilty of is standing still. Because that's what you're there for, the audience. I'm not coming to Phoenix for me. I'm coming to Phoenix for them." And that means you.