The other day I had the electronic files on my computer on shuffle through the old stereo (I was being very lazy while NOT listening to vinyl that day), when serendipity struck as I got three songs in a row that had been written by the great Jim Steinman. Many of my followers are asking, “Keller, who the hell is Jim Steinman?” Well, this man has written, as well as produced, many songs that have been part of the soundtrack of Gen X lives. Let me throw out some names of artists whose hit songs and albums Steinman has played a major creative role: Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand, Air Supply, Bonnie Tyler and, perhaps most famously, a little singer named Meat Loaf.
From 1977, upon the release of Meat Loaf’s classic Bat Out of Hell through Celine Dion’s classic song from 1999 “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” Steinman’s bombastic, Phil Spector influenced “throw everything in the mix” production, Wagnerian operatic themes, thinly veiled teenage angst lyrics and heavy metal-cum-Broadway musical sound has become a staple on radio of seemingly every format. Additionally, Steinman is renown for his absurdly long song titles. Yet, through it all, there is just a sprinkling of truth and heart at the base of his music, and that’s what has always attracted his music to the public. And as verbose his lyrics can get, there is a touching beauty within them, as if he had been a direct offspring of the romanticism of Jane Austen and the verbiage of John Steinbeck.
And while he is not a household name, many of those same households own several of the records with which he has been involved. In 1983 through 1985, he wrote and/or produced at least five Top 40 hits by the likes of Bonnie Tyler, Barry Manilow, Air Supply, Billy Squier and Fire Inc. And most puzzling is the huge popularity of his music in the UK and Europe, where so many more songs have become standards. And to top all of this off, Steinman was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2012, a well-deserved honor for the Grammy Award-winning songwriter and producer.
So, today, in honor of a man whose music proved to be the muse for so many terrific vocalists from my era of music, may I present my Top 25 favorite Jim Steinman songs and the artist who recorded them, with one song actually repeated by two different artists which is not unusual for Steinman to attempt.
25. “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” – Jim Steinman (1981)
24. “A Kiss Is a Terrible Thing to Waste” – Meat Loaf (2003)
23. “No Matter What” – Boyzone (1998)
22. “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” – Meat Loaf (1993)
21. “Nowhere Fast” – Fire Inc. (1984)
20. “Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are” – Meat Loaf (1993). A very underrated Meat Loaf epic.
19. “Read ‘Em and Weep” – Barry Manilow (1983). Even Manilow sounds great doing a Steinman song.
18. “Left in the Dark” – Barbra Streisand (1984). Barbra is “butta” for Steinman songs.
17. “Holding Out for a Hero” – Bonnie Tyler (1984). This is a great cut from the Footloose soundtrack that was stuffed with great tracks.
16. “Dead Ringer for Love” – Meat Loaf feat. Cher (1981). No, this is NOT a Springsteen concert closer, but it does sound like a Springsteen on Broadway type of song. This is a vocals-in-Heaven type of duet. What is wrong with me? This song should be higher on this list!
15. “Loving You’s a Dirty Job (But Somebody’s Gotta Do It)” – Bonnie Tyler & Todd Rundgren (1985). Of course, Tyler sings the hell out of the song, but she sings the hell out of EVERY song. And, Todd’s great as well. There’s just a chemistry issue between them. Maybe, if Heart’s Ann Wilson and Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander had recorded this song instead of that God awful “Almost Paradise” then this would have become the HUGE hit its screaming to become.
14. “Heaven Can Wait” – Meat Loaf (1977). The emotional centerpiece of the Bat Out of Hell LP.
13. “Rock Me Tonight” – Billy Squier (1984). Steinman produced this song without his usual bombast. And, hey, it wasn’t Steinman’s fault Squier did such a horrible video for this song that is blamed for ruining Squier’s career. Everyone was dancing in their videos back then. It’s just that Squier should not have been!
12. “Bat Out of Hell” – Meat Loaf (1977). Perhaps, THE Steinman epic.
11. “Original Sin (The Natives Are Restless)” – Pandora’s Box (1989). This song screams for a true Goth band to cover. Eighties dance diva with a HUGE voice Taylor Dayne did a respectable cover of this song.
10. “More” – The Sisters of Mercy (1985). If Meat Loaf was Steinman’s arena rock muse and Bonnie Tyler was his pop muse, then The Sisters of Mercy were his Goth rock muse. This song was their first collaboration that would only solidify on the band’s next album. Steinman is truly perfect for Goth music. Too bad Siouxsie & the Banshees never hooked up with him. And, I would be very interested in a Nick Cave/Jim Steinman collaboration. Just a couple of thoughts…
9. “This Corrosion” – The Sisters of Mercy (1987). If anyone was made to write and produce a song for this theatrical post-punk Gothic synth band, it was Jim Steinman. And, he proved it TWICE! This is one of the best songs on the band’s best album.
8. “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” – Celine Dion (1996). Okay, I am not a big fan of Celine, but I do acknowledge that she has a great voice. I just prefer several other divas who seem to have more soul and are not as “Wonder Bread” vocally. But, she was made for Steinman’s songs, as she made this throw-away from an earlier Steinman project a huge international hit.
7. “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night) – Meat Loaf (1977). For the longest time, this song would have occupied the top spot in this countdown. But, I have come to recognize the value of so many other songs. Still, it rocks! And, who doesn’t just love the spoken word introduction?!
6. “Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young” – Fire Inc. (1984). This little known track from the Streets of Fire soundtrack (Anyone else love Dan Hartman’s “I Can Dream About You”? It was on this soundtrack album.) is a hit looking for a place to happen. Honestly, the song has the UK written all over it, but nay. Still, it’s terrific and deserves its high ranking.
5. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” – Bonnie Tyler (1983). What’s not to love about this single? It was one of the songs of the Summer and Fall of 1983. Personally, I knew right away that this was a Steinman song when I heard it.
4. “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” – Meat Loaf (1977). The song that started the whole Meat Loaf phenomenon. But, little did we all know that the true talent was the man behind the curtain, Jim Steinman, who was learning the ropes from Todd Rundgren’s impeccable production.
3. “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” – Meat Loaf (1993). THE Meat Loaf/Steinman comeback, this song brought Meat his first number one hit. And, it had EVERYTHING I loved about the original album in one epic song.
2. “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” – Air Supply (1983). Air Supply?!?! Really Keller?!?! Yep! I will defend the epic nature of this song with anyone! Steinman made the minstrels of wimpy music into arena rockers right before our eyes. It’s truly a match made in heaven to finally pull the drama out of this Australian duo with some of the finest lyrics Steinman has ever put to paper. I often wonder how Meat or Bonnie would have done with this song. But, I wouldn’t change a thing!
1. “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” – Meat Loaf (1977). This epic is a longing look back to one’s lost youth, combining the darkness of an unwanted pregnancy with the humor of “praying for the end of time so I can end this time with you” is just hilarious. Then, throw in the Phil Rizzuto-voiced baseball play-by-play with all the teenage sexual innuendo just takes this song to a whole other level. It’s Springsteen-ish in its scope, both lyrically and musically, yet it’s also so bombastic in its sound that it borders on the ridiculous only to be saved by the brilliant vocal interplay of Meat Loaf and the great Ellen Foley (who would become famous for her stint on the TV show Night Court). The big controversy happened when the video was released with Karla DeVito acting as Foley’s vocals were playing. DeVito toured in the place of Foley who was recording her brilliant debut album. So, that’s all out of whack. However, my wife and I used to entertain our friends with a killer lip-sync version of this song since the lyrics hit just a little too close to home for us. In conclusion, this song is just way too much fun!