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Jim Steinman - An Obituary

Jim Steinman – Songwriter, composer

 Born November 1, 1947; died April 19, 2021 


 Jim Steinman, who has died aged 73, was a songwriter and composer of boundless pomp and fantastical circumstance, whose defining moment came with Bat Out of Hell (1977), the feast of Wagnerian rock bombast that became the debut album by Meat Loaf. Meat Loaf’s own larger than life persona was perfect for Steinman’s operatic compositions, which were brought to life by producer Todd Rundgren, who had presumed Steinman’s construction to be a Bruce Springsteen pastiche. Whatever, the record’s impact was as big as its sound, with an estimated 50 million copies sold worldwide. 


With a background in musical theatre, Steinman’s anthemic canon didn’t so much break the pop mould as explode his way through it with enough fire-power to keep small nations at bay. After Bat Out of Hell, he did this just as spectacularly with other artists, including Celine Dion, Air Supply and wrestler Hulk Hogan, whose theme tune he penned. 


Other mini epics included Total Eclipse of the Heart (1983), which Bonnie Tyler took to number 1 in both the American and British charts. The song transformed the Welsh singer from the AOR comforts of her previous work into a windswept gothic heroine. Tyler went on to sing another Steinman song, Holding Out For a Hero (1984), for the film, Footloose. 


Steinman won a Grammy for It’s All Coming Back To Me Now (1996), originally sung by all-female troupe Pandora’s Box, but made a hit by Celine Dion. In terms of sales and impact, there was clearly life for the self-styled Little Richard Wagner beyond Bat Out of Hell.


James Richard Steinman was born in Hewlett, New York, to Eleanor, a Latin teacher, and Louis Steinman, who owned a steel distribution warehouse. He graduated from George W. Hewlett High School in 1965, and began his musical theatre explorations at Amherst College. 


During 1968, he contributed music to an adaptation of two Bertolt Brecht plays, A Man’s a Man, and Baal, and directed a production of Beat poet Michael McClure’s controversial play, The Beard, which charts an imagined encounter between Billy the Kid and movie icon Jean Harlow. 


A year later, Steinman wrote the book, music and lyrics for the Dream Engine, an of-its-time dystopian satire about a boy named Baal who rebels against society with a gang called The Tribe, who take their ire out against the parents of an unnamed girl Baal has fallen in love with.


Some of the roots of Steinman’s later work can be found in numbers for The Dream Engine, which led to him working with New York theatre impresario Joseph Papp. In 1971, Steinman composed music for a puppet version of Alfred Jarry’s play, Ubu, and a year later wrote Rhinegold, a musical based on Wagner’s opera, Das Rheingold, with college friend Barry Keating penning the lyrics.


By this time, Steinman’s songs were being sung and recorded by Bette Midler and Yvonne Elliman, and in 1973 his musical, More Than You Deserve, written with Michael Weller, was produced by Papp. A cast led by Ron Silver and Fred Gwynne also featured  a young singer called Michael Lee Aday, aka Meat Loaf, who had appeared in Hair on Broadway. Meat Loaf’s  taste for on stage largesse matched Steinman’s own, and the pair worked together on a touring show put together by satirical magazine National Lampoon, while Steinman began work on Bat Out of Hell.


Record companies were initially resistant to Steinman’s musical excesses, and it took several years before a label took a chance on Bat Out of Hell. When the record was finally released, a wide-screen video for the eight-minute long title track shown on British music TV show, The Old Grey Whistle Test, and other places changed everything. The album held a place in the UK charts for the next decade.


Steinman went on to release his own Bad for Good (1981) album, and wrote a second belated Meat Loaf album, Dead Ringer, the same year. As his sound became the antithesis of 1980s indie-pop, Steinman went on to produce This Corrosion (1987) with The Sisters of Mercy. 


In 1993, Steinman and Meat Loaf reconvened for Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell (1993). The album featured hit single I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That), and sold in quantities as vast as its predecessor. Three years later, Steinman collaborated with Andrew Lloyd Webber on a stage musical of Mary Hayley Bell’s novel, Whistle Down the Wind, which had previously been made into a successful film. While the success of Steinman and Lloyd Webber’s stage version was comparatively modest, it nevertheless yielded a hit later for Boyzone with their version of No Matter What, taken from the show.


The following year, Steinman collaborated with film director Roman Polanski on Dance of the Vampires, adapted from Polanski’s film, The Fearless Vampire Killers. Other increasingly ambitious projects were stymied after Steinman suffered the first of several strokes in 2004. While Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose (2006), featured songs by Steinman, he wasn’t involved in the record’s production. 


He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2012, and in 2017, Bat Out of Hell: The Musical saw his defining work find its natural home with a largesse that saw its creator go out as grandly he came in.

The Herald, April 28th 2021





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