70's Pick of the Week
“Paradise by the Dashboard Light”, Meatloaf (1977)
The twins had this album first. I was over there shooting pool and drinking beer. It seems like that was long ago and far away now. The older I got, the more I realized this album had an impact on a lot of people’s lives. Everybody can think of some melodrama around it, at least it sure seems like it...
This was not new or groundbreaking. “Rocky Horror Picture Show” had done it already in terms of being a glam-Rock Opera. Rock Operas themselves were not new: The U.K. band the ‘Pretty Things’ did the brilliant “S.F. Sorrow” (1968), The Who did “Tommy” (1969) and “Quadrophenia” (1973). David Bowie did “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” (1972). Bizarrely the first reference to the term “Rock Opera” seems to have been in RPM magazine (published in Toronto) in 1966, noting that Bruce Cockburn and William Hawkins, were working on a ‘Rock opera” which they did not seem to complete.
This is music that had a time and a place. The relevance now, or to us now, is limited. It did for a small window in time give us a soundtrack for what was the teenage soap-opera of our lives. Now it stands as a bit of a curious time piece for those that were not around for it.
What has not been said about the Jim Steinman written, orchestrated, over-blown, symphony of love lost and won and lost again? It was like this guy crawled into the teenage psychy in the late seventies, and decided that there he would conduct the most brilliant, evocative musical fireworks/lightshow and opus to broken-hearted teenagers everywhere – well at least in theory. The perfect tool to perpetrate this heinous musical crime was Marvin Aday, better known as ‘Meat Loaf’ who seemed to come out of thin air – big as life, and then some. (Actually Marvin was in “Rocky Horror Picture Show”). (BTW if you met him could you call him ‘Loaf’ for short? Or was it ‘Mr. Loaf’?)
Shlocky and mucho grandiose, the first production out of the block, “Bat Out of Hell”, sets the tone for the rest of the album. You can practically imagine a slightly demented Jim Steinman (who wrote the lyrics in their entirety) in a dark tower somewhere pounding on his funky organ, like a scene from “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken1” or something.
The song I did really like on this album was “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth” although I had a bit of trouble with the opening: The predatorial question (of the wolf) and answer (by the innocent/not so innocent girl) seems dated now. If the girl was not an ice queen then she must be an unvirtuous tramp. Is there no happy medium? Or was this how society labelled young women at the time? I was there. I don’t think so.
The much more blatant “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” makes a parady of the classic teenage sexual tension, with a pound of sterotypes and pinch of classic rock-like substance. Phil Rizutto announcing the New York Yankees baseball game metaphor is so literal it risks being inane. Ellen Foley sang along side Meat Loaf on this one on the album. She was a broadway actress and singer. Karla DiVeto (no relation to Danny as far as I know) toured and did the video with Meat Loaf.
The album and the song did not chart all that well in the U.S. peaking at #39, but it has had enduring charm, like an old chair in the corner you don’t have the heart to part with.
I was slightly disappointed in Todd Rundgren who produced and perfomed extensively on the studio album. Todd had produced such classy bands as Badfinger, The Band, and Grand Funk. He had his own excellent hits “Hello It’s Me” and “I Saw the Light”, which you would know if you heard I’m sure. He had done his own opus in 1972 with the ambitious ‘Something/Anything’ where he wrote and performed almost everything on this double album. To have him work on this just seems so incongruent to what you would expect. Why did he do it? Oh ya...money!
Sixteen years later the marketing ploy called “Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell” was teeny-bopper mush again in “I’d Do anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)”. Oh my gawd! What were they thinking?
1) The Ghost and Mr. Chicken – 1966 comedy with Don Knotts as a newspaper guy who spends the night in a haunted house in Kansas – the Simmon’s “murder house’ mansion.