Saturday Night at the Rock Opera

April 2021 saw a landslide of celebrity deaths the likes of which we haven’t seen since The Great Celebrity Cull of 2016.

Some of these were absolute shocks to me: Paul Ritter, an actor best known for his role as the father in the comedy, Friday Night Dinner but who I’d also seen in several straight drama TV roles over the years; Bay City Rollers frontman Les McKeown, who I had the pleasure of meeting circa 1990 when we booked the Rollers (in truth, just him and a backing band) to play at the Students Union – I have no stories to tell about him, even if I wanted to speak ill of the dead, which I don’t. What I would say was that I was very popular with a lot of students’ older sisters who attended the gig; most shockingly and out of the blue actor Helen McRory, best known for being Polly Gray in Peaky Blinders, not a show I’ve ever got round to watching, despite the rave reviews, but I’d seen her in so many things and was always blown away by her performances. Somebody can do much better eulogies to each of these than I can manage.

And then there was the news that somebody I had assumed died years ago, hadn’t, but had now obliged.

His name came up on these pages not so long ago, when I mentioned that a Sisters of Mercy record I posted had all the hallmarks of this musician and writer, only to find that he had in fact co-written it.

A composer, lyricist, record producer, and *gulps* playwright, he worked with the likes of Bonnie Tyler, Celine Dion, Barry Manilow, Air Supply, Boyzone – all the greats (sense the tone, readers) – bringing his bombastic, rock opera-esque trademark sound to each of them.

I speak, of course, of Jim Steinman

Steinman was, of course, most closely associated with the work of Meat Loaf, to the point where The Loaf’s solo career was harmed. In the same way as you know not to bother to listen to a Weezer album unless it has a colour in the title, so we learned to avoid anything Mr Loaf released which didn’t have Steinman’s name attached to it somewhere.

It wasn’t a guarantee of quality mind: I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) remains utter dogshit, and if you’re one of those people who says “What wouldn’t he do?” whenever it gets played a) you haven’t listened to the rest of the song properly, and b) you deserve the punishment of going to listen to it again, and pay attention this time will you, or you’ll have to listen to it again and again until you understand. Go on. Now.

I will always remember watching Top of the Pops in the 80s, and this video coming on; my father looked up from the newspaper he was pretending to read (like he wasn’t waiting for Legs & Co to come on) and said: “That’s Cher!” At the time, I had no idea who Cher was, and the next time I would encounter her she would be straddling the barrel of a very large looking phallic rocket launcher on a US Navy ship, dressed in nowt but a set of black net curtains and a black mankini carefully placed to cover of her plastic parts (face excluded).

Dead Ringer For Love remains, in my opinion, one of the greatest two-hander pop records ever. To this day – incoming private joke that I’m not going to explain – it has me tapping the rhythm of the lyric out on whatever table or kitchen worktop is closest, imploring the nearest female friend to join in with the Cher parts:

Meat Loaf – Dead Ringer For Love

Still rocks, thirty years later, that.

But the best known collaboration between Mr Meaty and Steinman came at their very first attempt, with an album often much mocked and derided, but which I have loved from the day I first heard it, back in the early 80s.

Released in 1977, Bat Out Of Hell is, of course, one of the best-selling albums of all time, having sold over 50 million copies worldwide. It spent 522 weeks in the UK Albums Chart, the second longest chart run by a studio album.

Every song is a teenage rock opera in its own rights – the title track is practically the Shangri La’s Leader of The Pack told from the dead boyfriend’s point of view – but nowhere are the key Steinman traits more evident than on Paradise By The Dashboard Light, a song which comes in three acts and tells a tale of teenage lust, fulfilment and ultimate entrapment. The middle act, played out to the sound of a baseball commentator describing a batsman reaching various bases, naïve little me didn’t fully understand until a few years later.

Here you go:

Meat Loaf – Paradise By The Dashboard Light

It may not be cool, but by God that’s great.

More soon.

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One thought on “Saturday Night at the Rock Opera”

  1. “In the same way as you know not to bother to listen to a Weezer album unless it has a colour in the title” – by golly, you’d better hope MrsRobster doesn’t read that. If she does, you’re on your own mate…

    I also admit to loving Deadringer For Love, and always had a soft spot for Bat Out Of Hell. I think it was one of many records I borrowed from my older cousin over the years.

    In this neck of the woods, it was Steinman’s work with Bonnie Tyler that was mentioned most. Total Eclipse Of The Heart is mandatory at every karaoke night in the Valleys…

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