Meat Loaf: 10 Essential Songs
From “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” to “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” and beyond
Meat Loaf was a rock & roller like no other: a 300-pound sex symbol with a throat of gold. The singer, who died Thursday, started out in musical theater, and he boasted a clean, commanding voice that spanned both the baritone and tenor ranges. His delivery was a natural fit for both his star-making cameo in The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the gorgeously outlandish, Oscar-worthy Jim Steinman–penned melodramas that defined his career: “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad,” “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That),” and more. Whatever the song, Meat Loaf didn’t just belt out the words, he fully became the character. Here are 10 of his best performances.
“What You See Is What You Get” (1971)
Long before Bat Out of Hell or even Meat Loaf playing Eddie in Rocky Horror, he was the second-billed singer in the duo Stoney and Meatloaf (the group was so embryonic for Meat, he hadn’t even split up his name yet.) Stoney, a.k.a. singer Shaun Murphy, knew Meat from the Detroit music scene, and the pair had appeared together in a production of Hair before teaming up. They signed to the Motown subsidiary Rare Earth for one self-titled album, which contained their debut single, “What You See Is What You Get.” The oversize psychedelic-soul record sounds at once like an outtake from Hair, Seventies Motown (“Papa Was a Rolling Stone”–era Temptations, the band Rare Earth), and the Jackson 5 — all in two minutes — with vocals that trade off, rock organ, and lots of tambourine. It’s catchy, too. The track made it up to Number 71 on the Hot 100. It even features an uncredited cameo by Stevie Wonder. “One day Stevie was hanging out and they played this really corny song [of ours], and Stevie Wonder heard it and said, ‘Can I play piano on that?’ ” Meat recalled in 2010, according to Songfacts. “So Stevie played piano on this corny song of mine.” —K.G.
“Hot Patootie — Bless My Soul” (1975)
Everything about Richard O’Brien’s 1973 musical The Rocky Horror Show was a farce, from the way it sent up Fifties sci-fi movies to how it revealed love triangles between nearly all of the characters. At its center was Eddie, a corpulent Elvis wannabe who rides a motorcycle and “blows” a sax. He gets only about four minutes of stage time — belting the Dion-esque ode to rock & roll “Hot Patootie”— but his disappearance shortly thereafter sets off the chain of events that leads to the story’s many climaxes. In the original production, Meat Loaf played both Eddie and Dr. Scott (the scientist searching for Eddie, his nephew), which made the whole thing campier. When it was made into a movie, 1975’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Meat played only Eddie — but his cameo was a scene stealer (Tim Curry in drag notwithstanding), and the film’s cult appeal set up the success for Bat Out of Hell. Years later, the song was a staple of Meat’s set lists from the Nineties until just a few years ago. —K.G.
“You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)” (1977)
The mini-est of Bat Out of Hell’s mini rock operas, “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth,” released in advance of the album in 1977, finds Meat crooning about romantic fumbling on a hot summer night with all the urgency of first love — “There’s not another moment to waste,” he sings. Jim Steinman’s music quotes the drumbeat from “Be My Baby,” the crushing guitar riffs of “Baba O’Riley,” and the whiny background vocals of the Four Seasons, but with Meat singing — especially when the backdrop falls away for the punchline of the chorus: “You took the words right out of my mouth/It must have been while you were kissing me” — the song feels fresh. Steinman and Meat wrote the song while Meat was understudying for John Belushi in the National Lampoon road show. “My input was more arrangement, methods, a word or two here and there,” Meat Loaf told Rolling Stone after Steinman’s death last year. “My job was to make the songs focused, the same way you’d get a character focused. Every song was a character.” —K.G.
“Paradise by the Dashboard Light” (1978)
When Meat Loaf was a teenager, he would drive his girlfriend out to the edge of town in his 1963 red Galaxie convertible and try to make his move. “We’d park somewhere,” he told Rolling Stone in 2021, “and she’d, in so many words, say, ‘Stop right there.’ ” He relayed that story to Jim Steinman in the early days of their partnership, and the songwriter transformed it into a three-part, eight-minute epic about a relationship gone very, very bad after the couple “goes all the way” in the car one night, complete with a play-by-play by New York Yankees announcer Phil Rizzuto. Meat’s real-life girlfriend Ellen Foley sings the female parts on Bat Out of Hell, though Karla DeVito handled them on the road, where the song became the highlight of every show. A single cut down to five-and-a-half minutes reached Number 39 on the Hot 100, helped along by a music video that ran before showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. —A.G.
“Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” (1978)
There might not be a Coupe de Ville hiding at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box, but hidden inside “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” is Elvis. Jim Steinman heard “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” and immediately thought of Meat, applying the song’s bare-bones melancholy to the singer’s booming heartbreak. It became his highest-charting hit to date, only topped by “I’d Do Anything for Love” in 1993. And Meat was fully aware of how iconic “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” was, pouring it on and pouring it out years later in an interview with Rolling Stone. “Your magazine started this thing where we stole everything for Bat Out of Hell from Springsteen and it was nothing but a rehash of Born to Run,” he said. “I’m saying to myself, ‘Where does Springsteen have a ‘Two Out of Three’?” —A.M.
“Heaven Can Wait” (1978)
“Heaven Can Wait” is the respite nuzzled between “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth” and “All Revved Up With No Place to Go” on Bat Out of Hell. Jim Steinman originally wrote it for Neverland — his Peter Pan rock musical that Bat Out of Hell stems from — wanting the melody to sound like a music box. “That was a song that Wendy sang after she married Peter,” Steinman said. Prior to Bat Out of Hell, the song was recorded by Alaina Reed Hall and even Bette Midler (check out her bonkers country-rock take here), but the definitive version is Meat’s. His most stunning performance of the track was with Luciano Pavarotti in 1995, where Meat clutches a red scarf while he belts his heart out, his powerhouse vocals gently cradling the ballad like a baby. —A.M.
“Dead Ringer for Love” (1981)
Not even a guest appearance by Cher could rescue “Dead Ringer for Love” or the album Dead Ringer, Meat Loaf’s bedraggled 1981 follow-up to Bat Out of Hell, from flopping. But that doesn’t mean that the song — which sounds a bit like “Summertime Blues” meeting “Mony Mony” in a dark alley, with a Meat Loaf twist — is bad. Prior to making the album, Meat had lost his voice from a cocktail of drugs and exhaustion on the road, so what stands out instead is the intensity of his performance. “I don’t know who you are, but you’re a real dead ringer for love,” he sings to Cher, who sounds just as into Meat as he is into her. “‘Dead Ringer for Love’ is about a teenage boy, and he’s got a fake ID,” Meat said in 1981. “And he goes to this bar every night … and he sees this older woman. She must be at least 19 and he must be at least 16. Finally he gets the nerve up to make his move, and she scares him half to death and backs him into a corner, and winds up taking him home anyway. But it’s very animalistic. … It’s a very basic emotion. It’s like, ‘Your place or mine.’ ” —K.G.
“I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” (1993)
The idea of a Bat Out of Hell sequel album floated around for a good decade before it finally became a reality in 1993. This was the height of the grunge movement, and a Meat Loaf comeback seemed about as likely as a KC and the Sunshine Band revival. But nobody expected Meat and Jim Steinman to return with a song as memorable as “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).” The 12-minute tune (cut down to 6:36 for radio) was peak Steinman, complete with motorcycle sound effects, a long piano intro by Roy Bittan of the E Street Band, and perhaps the most passionate vocals Meat Loaf ever recorded. It became the unlikeliest hit of the year, topping the charts all over the world and restoring Meat to his rightful place in the pop universe after years in exile. —A.G.
“I’d Lie for You (And That’s the Truth)” (1995)
Meat’s 1995 album, Welcome to the Neighbourhood, was a curious one, with the vocalist putting his stamp on songs by Tom Waits and Sammy Hagar (along with two Jim Steinman compositions, of course). This monster Diane Warren ballad was the standout. “I’d Lie for You (And That’s the Truth)” hit all the Meat Loaf marks: an oxymoron parenthetical title, exponentially increasing drama, a bait-and-switch false ending at the five-minute mark, and an over-the-top music video. Meat’s impassioned voice tied it all together, with help from his duet partner Patti Russo. As in “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” he promises his lover the world — if she’d only grant him one ounce of faith. “I’d walk on the wild for you,” he bellows, “if you’d just believe in me.” Meat Loaf made that easy to do. —J.H.
“It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” (2006)
Jim Steinman originally wrote “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” for his all-female group Pandora’s Box in 1989, but most people didn’t hear it until Celine Dion tackled it seven years later on her hit album Falling Into You. And when Meat decided to record a third Bat Out of Hell record in 2006, without the active cooperation of Steinman, he decided it was time to put his own spin on the song, cutting it as a duet with Norwegian singer Marion Raven. “To me it wasn’t a song about romance,” Meat said. “It was about me and Jim Steinman.” Living up to the Celine Dion version was tough, and Bat III was such a bomb that even Meat himself later disowned the album. (“To me, that record is nonexistent,” he told Rolling Stone in 2016.) But it does exist, and it’s worth hearing just for Meat’s take on “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.” —A.G.
From Rolling Stone US.