Marvin Lee Aday was a rock star cut from a different stripe of cloth.The artist known to the world as Meat Loaf has died age 74. But as fans mourn his passing they will also celebrate an artist who did things his way – and who never compromised his vision of rock ’n’ roll as the ultimate celebration of extravagance, eccentricity and escapism.
Meat Loaf leaves rock music with some of its most spectacularly ridiculous and enduring hits. With 1977’s Bat Out of Hell he and his songwriting collaborator Jim Steinman (who died in April 2021) brought the theatricality of heavy rock to a mass audience, working with the studio sorcerer Todd Rundgren.
In 1993, they did it all over again with the power ballad to rule them all, I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).
These weren’t Meat Loaf’s only smashes. Loaf connoisseurs will always have a special place in their hearts for his debut single You Took The Words Right Out Of My (Hot Summer Night). They did, though, represent the alpha and omega of his repertoire.
They had a baroque, pantomime pizazz that drew on Aday’s background in musical theatre and early performances in the Broadway runs of Hair and the Rocky Horror Picture Show (he also starred in the 1975 movie adaptation).
In between the hits, Meat Loaf’s career had the quality of a Hollywood melodrama. There was huge success; Bat Out Of Hell sold 43 million copies. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, its cover image of a biker zooming through a scarlet hellscape was ubiquitous, whether on T-shirts or as a patch sewn on backs of denim jackets.
But Aday, born in Dallas, Texas in 1947, struggled to match its success. A combination of over-touring and too many drugs caused Meat Loaf to lose his voice and forced the shelving of the Bat Out of Hell sequel Steinman had written for him.
And when the duo finally returned with 1981’s Dead Ringer, music had moved on. Dead Ringer reached number one in the UK but reviews were scathing. “Whatever bovine charm Meat Loaf’s voice may once have had is now shot to smithereens,” said Rolling Stone. “His vocals here are alarmingly awful, the star apparently having lost the ability to hit notes and form coherent syllables at the same time. “
What followed was a plunge into obscurity, during which Meat Loaf embarked on a 1989 tour of Ireland that saw him headline such off-the-beaten track locations as Conna Castle in north Cork and Neptune Stadium in Cork city.
In the UK press, there has been much jeering at this phase of Meat Loaf’s life in music – as if going to Ireland was the worst fate that could befall a rock star.
Meat Loaf himself always spoke fondly of that time and credited it with helping restore his passion for rock music – setting him on the comeback path which would culminate in1993’s Bat Out Of Hell II, the single I Would Do Anything For Love and sales of over 14 million.
“We played one gig in a big shed in the middle of nowhere,” he told me once of the tour of Ireland. “I got off the truck and said, ‘let’s sound-check’. I was told we couldn’t. Because there wasn’t any electricity. There was supposed to be a generator. It hadn’t arrived yet.
“I remember looking around thinking, ‘this place is miles from anywhere – nobody is going to come’. And you know what? That night it was packed. Five, six thousand people showed up. I’ll always have warm memories of Ireland and of those shows.”