On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenge of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post every day (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be… legendary!
Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell (1977)
We’re remaining in the US today, dear reader, and we leave New York to make our way on down to Texas. Marvin Lee Aday was born here and became known as Meat Loaf when he pursued a music career. Originally, Loaf dabbled in both music and the theatre. Notably, he played Eddie in The Rocky Horror Picture Show but after the mid-1970s he wanted to pursue music solely. Collaborating with writer Jim Steinman as far back as 1972, the duo worked on a project named Bat Out of Hell and finally secured a record deal with the help of producer, Todd Rundgren, and released the album in 1977. 1001 Songs have gone with the opening and title track. You may have heard of it.
Bat Out of Hell started life as one of a group of songs Jim Steinman intended as a rock opera version of Peter Pan, which I did not know. The project was subsequently shelved and Bat Out of Hell became, for Steinman, the ultimate “crash” song. We have two young lovers in a dead end and dangerous town. He describes the horrors that can be found there such as a boy “starting to foam in the heat” and “a killer on the bloodshot streets.” Out of all this violence and shadow, the narrator has found love, the only light for him in this dismal town. He wants this love to go on but insists he also has to leave and to escape. For some unspecified reason, this girl is intent on staying so she and the narrator decide to have one last night together before he leaves. In the chorus this guy talks of fleeing on his motorcycle and it sounds like he has done so many times but keeps coming back to the girl he loves. She is hard to walk away from. Ultimately, the narrator does make another attempt to leave, driving at high speed away from the dark town but his mind is distracted by his lover, the sudden curve in the road not registering, and he and his motorcycle go off the road where he suffers a fatal crash. Enough life remains for him to lament his situation, his final breath being exhaled but his heart still rises from his body to be free, or maybe it’s just thrown out by the impact of the crash. I prefer the poetic version.
Bat Out of Hell is one of the songs I grew up with and it remains one of the most outstanding rock songs I have ever heard. It’s amazing to think nearly two minutes pass before Loaf even starts to sing but you do not care when the music is this good. This near 10-minute epic was put together amidst intense arguing between Loaf, Steinman and Rundgren but as we have seen before, beauty can emerge from chaos. Steinman wanted a boy choir but was vetoed, he drove Loaf and Rundgren mad by continuing to write when the song reached 6 minutes as he wanted a crash in there. Thankfully, he got his way. Steinman also wanted a real motorcycle sound adding in but Rundgren, both producer and instrumentalist, created the noise with a guitar! In his autobiography, Meat Loaf wrote admiringly that Todd Rundgren recorded all of the guitar parts for a 10-minute song in less than an hour. Now, that’s just showing off. Bat Out of Hell would be a huge selling album, turning Loaf into a rock legend and despite many amazing songs since 1977, it is Bat Out of Hell that remains, for me, Loaf and Steinman’s greatest achievement, though Rundgren deserves similar credit for the part he played.
Favourite songs so far:
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
The Doors – The End (1967)
The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)
Rod Stewart – Maggie May (1971)
Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody (1975)
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (1975)
Fleetwood Mac – Go Your Own Way (1977)
David Bowie – “Heroes” (1977)
Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell (1977)