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Like a 'Bat Out of Hell'

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

"Bat Out Of Hell" is the 1977 debut album by the late rock singer Meat Loaf, who died Thursday at the age of 74. It opens with the title track, an epic tale played on radios and in bars for decades. NPR's Miguel Macias brings us this homage to "Bat Out Of Hell."

EMILY GALE: My name is Emily Gale, and I am a lecturer in popular music studies at the University College Cork.

ELIZABETH WOLLMAN: I'm Elizabeth Wollman. I'm professor of music at Baruch College, City University of New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEAT LOAF SONG, "BAT OUT OF HELL")

GALE: This is such a wild song. Unlike some of the other kind of epic, over-the-top emotional songs that really use techniques of build-up and climax throughout the course of a long song, this one really starts at an 11. We get this, like, really kind of intense, repetitive pounding piano right from the get-go.

WOLLMAN: And then we finish that - you know, there's that big flourish (vocalizing).

(SOUNDBITE OF MEAT LOAF SONG, "BAT OUT OF HELL")

WOLLMAN: There were a number of rockers that were pushing against the form, but I feel like nothing is as grab-you-by-the-throat-and-shake-you as that first 40 seconds.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEAT LOAF SONG, "BAT OUT OF HELL")

WOLLMAN: Now we're maybe getting ready. We're being signaled that Meat Loaf's coming.

GALE: (Laughter) Yeah. It's starting to kind of settle into kind of cadence that's moving us towards kind of settling into that groove.

WOLLMAN: There are like three sections even to the opening - this roiling kind of repeated chords, and then you hear those guitars come shrieking out in the background. It's very exciting.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEAT LOAF SONG, "BAT OUT OF HELL")

GALE: It's got that approach to it that's, in a way, like "Bohemian Rhapsody" or something like that, that it's very much in these sections that take us through a kind of emotional journey up and down and up and down.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAT OUT OF HELL")

MEAT LOAF: (Singing) The sirens are screaming, and the fires are howling way down in the valley tonight.

GALE: We've kind of like settled now, and we've got this kind of powerful tenor voice that's using a lot of natural but evocative imagery with screaming sirens, fires, shadows. It's cliche, but it's also very - it's powerful. It's evocative.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAT OUT OF HELL")

MEAT LOAF: (Singing) Oh, I swear I saw a young boy down in the gutter. He was starting...

WOLLMAN: Here he is. He's a young, rugged renegade, and he's all by himself. And the only good thing that he's ever found in this dark, miserable world is a good, pure woman. But he's going to leave. They always have to leave.

GALE: I ended up seeing Meat Loaf perform in Victoria. I found it quite uncomfortable. There was something that almost made it feel like this is rock musical theater for people who feel entitled to a kind of manipulative sexuality.

WOLLMAN: All of these songs are ultimately about, like, not only finding yourself, but getting laid.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAT OUT OF HELL")

MEAT LOAF: (Singing) Like a bat out of hell, I'll be gone when the morning comes. When the night is over, like a bat out of hell, I'll be gone, gone, gone.

WOLLMAN: (Vocalizing). Like, he's been sort of giving us the whole history, but now we're in the kind of song with the refrain and proper.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAT OUT OF HELL")

MEAT LOAF: (Singing) And the sun goes down, and the moonlight's shining through.

GALE: This is a very intimate moment. All of a sudden, the texture kind of falls away, it's very sparse, and there's a sense of that kind of slowing down to really soak in the emotion of crawling back.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEAT LOAF SONG, "BAT OUT OF HELL")

WOLLMAN: The theatricality of "Bat Out Of Hell" - it is a short, mini, little musical. Meat Loaf, as a young man, was gigging regularly in rock bands, but he also had a side pursuit that actually ended up taking over his life for a little while where he was in an awful lot of rock musicals.

GALE: We're hearing some of the elements that might be described as the kind of cheesy over-the-topness (ph), the very theatrical - we've got the piano glissando here and the really kind of repetitive pounding notes on the keys. These are the more kind of, like, theatrical, over-the-top elements of the song.

WOLLMAN: I mean, it tells the whole story. It was Jim Steinman's rock musical version of "Peter Pan." That's where "Bat Out Of Hell" comes from. And once you know that, it is - it's glorious. I mean, it is so huge and over-the-top and ridiculous and Wagnerian.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAT OUT OF HELL")

MEAT LOAF: (Singing) Oh, baby you're the only thing in this whole world that's pure and good and right.

GALE: Culturally, I think we have this idea that excessive emotion, it's associated with a kind of womanly characteristic. And yet there are so many examples that we have across musical history of men who are comfortable with and capitalize on the excessive expression of emotion. This seems to me like a kind of perfect example of that.

WOLLMAN: I think the sound is really so indicative of young people who feel trapped, who feel like there's a bigger world that they're not getting to see, that they're dreaming of.

GALE: This is often a kind of middle-class aspiration for teenagers, often white teenagers, for whom the road is this sign of safety, of freedom, of potential.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAT OUT OF HELL")

MEAT LOAF: (Singing) Then like a sinner before the gates of Heaven, I'll come crawling on back to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOTORCYCLE REVVING)

WOLLMAN: (Laughter) Oh, and there's a motorcycle because he's going to zoom right out of hell. Not an actual motorcycle - it was Todd Rundgren played the electric guitar and keyboards on the recording, and he also played a little bit of percussion.

GALE: And then we're shifting into the part of the story that really is about, you know, tearing up the road, going faster than any boy who's ever gone before.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAT OUT OF HELL")

MEAT LOAF: (Singing) Well, I can see myself tearing up the road, faster than any other boy has ever gone.

GALE: Associating that idea of the sound of the electric guitar as a symbol of power, as a symbol of masculinity. And that's getting tied very closely to this idea of a kind of aspirational freedom that's going to be represented by this drive.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAT OUT OF HELL")

MEAT LOAF: (Singing) And I never see the sudden curve till it's way too late.

GALE: Musically and vocally, it remains very exciting, even as he's delivering this line about I never see the sudden curve until it's way too late. The music doesn't kind of slow down in response to seeing the curve until it's after he's already delivered this line.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAT OUT OF HELL")

MEAT LOAF: (Singing) Then I'm down at the bottom of a pit in the blazing...

WOLLMAN: You could put on earphones and listen to every little tiny nuance in every single little shifting motif, but you could also so typically hear this live.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAT OUT OF HELL")

MEAT LOAF: (Singing) And the last thing I see is my heart still beating.

WOLLMAN: I mean, there's so much new material that they just throw at you. It's so ridiculous and over the top.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAT OUT OF HELL")

MEAT LOAF: (Singing) Like a bat out of hell. Oh, like a bat out of hell.

GALE: We're kind of left with the repetition over and over again of like a bat out of hell.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAT OUT OF HELL")

MEAT LOAF: (Singing) Oh, like a bat out of hell.

GALE: There's something kind of positive associated with that idea.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAT OUT OF HELL")

MEAT LOAF: (Singing) Oh, like a bat out of hell.

WOLLMAN: It almost never behaves like a typical rock song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAT OUT OF HELL")

MEAT LOAF: (Singing) Oh, like a bat out of hell. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Miguel Macias
Miguel Macias is a Senior Producer at All Things Considered, where he is proud to work with a top-notch team to shape the content of the daily show.