Jim Steinman obituary

Composer and songwriter who masterminded Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell, one of the biggest-selling albums of all time

His own website described him as “The Lord of Excess”, and the Los Angeles Times dubbed him “the Richard Wagner of Rock and Roll”. Jim Steinman, who has died of kidney failure aged 73, made a spectacular career of being bigger and more bombastic than the rest, and his achievement in masterminding Meat Loaf’s album Bat Out of Hell will guarantee his immortality.

Bat ... has sold more than 50m copies since its 1977 release. It is the original and best showcase for Steinman’s mixture of extended multipart song structures, beyond-operatic production, and lyrics in which teen angst is inflated to berserk dimensions. Bat’s producer, Todd Rundgren, thought the album was supposed to be a parody of Bruce Springsteen – members of Springsteen’s E Street Band played on it – and Steinman did not entirely reject parallels with the Boss. His own songs, Steinman said, “are dream operatic, his are street operatic. He’s more West Side Story and I’m more Clockwork Orange.” He added that he conceived his albums as “musical films on record”. Such was Steinman’s estimation of himself as the complete auteur that, while the album was nominally by Meat Loaf, he insisted on the front cover credit “Songs by Jim Steinman”, a virtually unique feat for a songwriter.

Steinman and Meat Loaf enjoyed rather less success with the Dead Ringer album (1981), which did at least top the UK charts, but their previously close relationship had begun to fray. A spate of legal and financial disputes temporarily derailed their progress, and they did not release Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell until 1993, though it sold 26m copies and produced the international hit I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That). The song topped the charts in 28 countries and won Meat Loaf a Grammy award. The third Bat instalment, The Monster Is Loose (2006), only appeared after disputes over the ownership of the Bat Out of Hell trademark, and Steinman did not participate in the recording sessions. It reached the Top 10 in both the US and the UK.

Elsewhere, Steinman was able to develop his aural panoramas through his collaboration with Bonnie Tyler on Faster Than the Speed of Night (1983), which generated her biggest hit, the Steinman-penned chart-topper Total Eclipse of the Heart. Hot on its heels up the US chart came Air Supply’s Making Love Out of Nothing at All, also by Steinman, which was only kept from the US No 1 slot by Total Eclipse. Tyler then scored with Steinman’s Holding Out for a Hero, from the Footloose soundtrack (1984). Céline Dion’s recording of his power ballad It’s All Coming Back to Me Now was an international chartbuster in 1996, and Steinman worked on its parent album Falling Into You, for which he won a Grammy award in 1997.

Steinman was born in Hewlett, on Long Island, New York, to parents Louis and Eleanor. His father owned a steel distribution warehouse (first in Brooklyn, then later in California) while his mother taught Latin. In 1965 he graduated from George W Hewlett high school, then attended Amherst College in Massachusetts. In 2013 the college would award him an honorary doctorate.

While at Amherst in 1969, he gave a hint of things to come when he wrote and starred in The Dream Engine, which he described as “an epic rock spectacle”. Joseph Papp, founder of the New York Shakespeare festival, saw the show and not only purchased the rights, but commissioned him to write the musical More Than You Deserve, which was staged at the Public Theater in 1973. Steinman first met Meat Loaf when he auditioned (successfully) for this production. The first of Steinman’s songs to be released commercially was Yvonne Elliman’s recording of Happy Ending (1973).

Steinman and Meat Loaf worked on the Bat Out of Hell material for several years before it was released on Cleveland International Records, having been turned down by a list of other companies. It was a slow starter on the charts, but a performance of the track Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad by Meat Loaf on US TV’s Saturday Night Live, and a three-song video aired by the BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test in Britain, helped to ignite its upward surge.

Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman recording Bat Out of Hell II in Los Angeles, 1991
Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman recording Bat Out of Hell II in Los Angeles, 1991. Photograph: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc

Steinman’s career as a solo artist only managed to encompass the album Bad for Good (1981), which reached the UK Top 10 and spun off the modest hit single Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through, but he was in demand from many directions. He contributed his production skills to the album Floodland by British goth-rockers the Sisters of Mercy (1987) and to Billy Squier’s Signs of Life (1984), and wrote a theme song for the wrestler and TV personality Hulk Hogan. The all-female band Pandora’s Box made one album, Original Sin (1989), which was produced and mostly written by Steinman, but it failed commercially and is perhaps most memorable for Ken Russell’s lurid video for the group’s version of It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.

In the 1990s Steinman ventured into musical theatre by collaborating with Andrew Lloyd Webber on Whistle Down the Wind (based on the 1961 film). It sank without trace in the US but enjoyed a successful run at the Aldwych theatre in London’s West End. Boyzone had a huge hit with the Steinman/Lloyd Webber song No Matter What from the show, a No 1 in the UK and several other countries.

Steinman then achieved great success in Europe with Tanz der Vampire, his musical reinvention of the eponymous Roman Polanski film. Polanski himself directed the original Vienna production, and the show has been staged in France, Poland, Estonia, Belgium, Finland, Hungary and Russia. An English language version (Dance of the Vampires) bombed disastrously on Broadway.

A stage version of Bat Out of Hell was successfully produced in Manchester and London in 2017-19, breaking box office records at London’s Dominion theatre, but international touring plans were disrupted by the Covid pandemic. Steinman was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2012. He reunited with Meat Loaf for the last time for the singer’s album Braver Than We Are (2016).

Steinman suffered a stroke four years ago, and had been in poor health recently. He is survived by his brother, Bill.

James Richard Steinman, composer, songwriter and producer, born 1 November 1947; died 19 April 2021


Adam Sweeting

The GuardianTramp

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