One of rock’s unlikeliest superstars, Meat Loaf died at 74 on Thursday (Jan. 20), leaving behind an indelible legacy that touched on everything from Fight Club to the Billboard Hot 100 to a karaoke bar near you on damn near any given night. A mighty rock vocalist who subscribed to the theory that more is, in fact, more, Meat Loaf first made his mark as the ill-fated bad boy in The Rocky Horror Picture Show before recording the blockbuster Bat Out of Hell album, a team-up with lyricist Jim Steinman and producer Todd Rundgren that elevated him into the pantheon of arena rock greats.
From classics on Bat that signaled his arrival to his five-week Hot 100 No. 1 in 1993 to his Rocky Horror vocal spotlight, here are Meat Loaf’s 10 best songs.
“Hot Patootie” (1975)
Meat Loaf first roared onto screens as Eddie in the cult film to end all cult films, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. As a rock-lovin’, motorcycle-ridin’, teddy bear-hatin’ bad boy who sweeps the girls off their feet and makes the older generation shake their fists, Meat Loaf’s role in the movie musical was in many ways a precursor to the persona he’d inhabit on the career-making Bat Out of Hell album. His spotlight performance, “Hot Patootie,” is a throaty slice of good time, inoffensive party rock, harking back to that window in time between rock n’ roll’s sonic boom and its thematic expansion and maturation.
“Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” (1977)
The highest charting single from the blockbuster Bat Out of Hell (No. 11 on the Hot 100), “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” is comparatively subdued when slotted alongside the rest of the Bat‘s wild excess. Even so, modest Meat doesn’t exactly make for a lean song – even when he’s holding back his substantial vocal punch, the Loaf’s voice is marinated in regret, sentimental schmaltz and a winking theatricality. And while much has (rightly) been made of Steinman’s importance to the Bat formula, you have to bow down to a singer who can sell a lyric like “there ain’t no Coupé de Ville hiding at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box.”
“Paradise by the Dashboard Light” (1977)
This three-part top 40 hit from Bat plays like a campy counterpart to “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” trading in the honest introspection of the Shirelles for a winning theatricality as Meat Loaf and Ellen Foley face off in a hormone-addled battle of the sexes over a rollicking shoo-bop-bop rock odyssey. After kicking off with buoyant teenage lust (“we were barely 17 and we were barely dressed”), New York Yankees announcer Phil Rizzuto stops by to provide a not remotely subtle sex-as-sports innuendo about things escalating inside a car parked by the lake at night. But before “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” is achieved, Foley extracts a promise from Meat Loaf that he’s not the love ’em and leave ’em type; the surprise third act twist is that Loaf did honor the promise and — cue the take my wife, please jokes — he’s now waiting less than patiently for death to free him from his marital commitment. A staple of classic rock radio, karaoke bars and (for some reason) weddings, “Paradise” demonstrated that rock n’ roll bombast didn’t need to be quite so self-serious in the ’70s – you can shout your chorus at the mountaintops while still smirking at the front row, too.
Meat Loaf, “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth” (1977)
Operating as if he were Phil Spector on steroids (which is saying something), Todd Rundgren drenches this deliciously sappy Jim Steinman composition (“You took the words right out of my mouth – it must have been while you were kissing me”) in an intoxicating cocktail of romance, doubt and possibility. In the hands of a different vocalist, it would probably all be for naught, but Meat Loaf segues between teenage lust and sentimental earnestness with such deft precision that by the time the song wraps in a cascade of handclaps, you just might find yourself believing he doesn’t tell this to all the girls despite your better judgment.
“Dead Ringer for Love” (1981)
When Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman reteamed for his second studio album in 1981, the magic and material didn’t have quite the same spark as on the undying Bat. Dead Ringer‘s “I’m Gonna Love Her for the Both of Us” stalled at No. 84 on the Hot 100, but “Dead Ringer for Love” – which missed the Hot 100 but went top 10 in the U.K. – is a scorching duet with none other than Cher that still rips decades later. Both singers knew a thing or two about imbuing theatrical kitsch into rock without overselling it, and it’s breathtaking to hear them egg each other to greater heights over this soulful, pile-driving blast of heartland rock.
“I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” (1993)
Skeptics predicting that lightning couldn’t strike twice with Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell were effectively silenced by “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).” A Springsteenian power ballad that replaces the Boss’ lyrical specificity with a compellingly unanswered question (what is “that”?), this is 12 minutes of motorcycle roars, guitar squeals, tinkling piano keys from Roy Bittan, and sturm und drang vocal lamentation from the Meat, all of which Steinman skillfully deploys to bridge the gap between the arena-rock popular when Bat hit in ’77 and the power balladry palatable to Adult Contemporary radio when Bat bounced back in ’93. So epic that even the single edit clocks in at five minutes; you can’t contain the God of Sex and Drums and Rock n’ Roll, and sure enough, this classic became his sole No. 1 on the Hot 100.
“Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” (1993)
You wouldn’t accuse this nearly six-minute epic about the healing power of rock, boasting Queen-meets-ELO backing vocals, of being minimalist, but compared to the excess and absurdity of most Loaf/Steinman pairings, there’s a sweetly introspective bend to “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” from Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell that shows off Meat Loaf’s ability to emote without belting to the heavens.
“Objects In the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are” (1993)
With Steinman serving as songwriter and producer, Meat Loaf delivers a tale of childhood traumas that refuse to relent even after decades have passed. With “Objects In the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are” serving as a tidy metaphor for memories that haunt, Meat Loaf mulls over the titular phrase like it’s a mantra as the swelling piano crests and plummets with a religious intensity, eventually drifting off into a wounded whisper after crossing the ten-minute mark. Between Jurassic Park and this Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell top 40 hit, rearview mirrors were having quite a moment in 1993.
“I’d Lie for You (And That’s the Truth)” (1995)
Few song scribes could match Jim Steinman when it came to crafting blockbuster landscapes for Meat Loaf to run wild in, but power ballad pro Diane Warren proved she could go toe-for-toe with the widescreen cinematic rock of “I’d Lie for You (And That’s the Truth).” Trading off lusty vocals with Patti Russo, Meat Loaf delivers another sly, double-edge lyric with just the right balance of earnestness and knowing wink, demonstrating his peerless ability to sum up and sell the eternal guessing game of love. Listeners agreed, propelling this Welcome to the Neighborhood single to No. 13 on the Hot 100 in 1995.
“Left in the Dark” (1995)
Originally hailing from Jim Steinman’s only solo album, 1981’s Bad for Good, “Left In the Dark” became a No. 50 Hot 100 hit for Barbra Streisand when she covered it in 1984. While Meat Loaf’s version wasn’t a hit – he didn’t even release it as a single, slotting it in as an album track on 1995’s Welcome to the Neighborhood – it demonstrates his unique affinity for Steinman’s material. When his voice, steadily punching upward over Steinman’s Wagnerian pop-rock, finally catches in his throat at the 2:37 mark, it’s one of the few moments where the typically polished vocalist lets us see the seams; it’s a gut-wrenching choice that pays off beautifully.