NEW YORK (Billboard) - By his own estimation, Meat Loaf has turned down offers to appear in five movies, six episodes of the new TV hit "Heroes" and a guest-starring stint on "CSI" this year.
If he wanted, the rock veteran could be working like, well, a bat out of hell. But come to think of it ... he is anyway. The monster that Meat Loaf helped create in 1977 has been unleashed again, and it's chewing up all his time and energy -- with his full and willing cooperation.
Virgin Records releases "Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose" on October 31, adding a new chapter to the biggest and best-known album serial in rock 'n' roll history. Its two predecessors -- 1977's "Bat Out of Hell" and 1993's "Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell" -- have sold nearly 50 million copies combined, and Meat Loaf is well aware that the anticipation for the threequel is as much, if not more, about the "Bat" than it is about him.
"'Bat Out of Hell' are not Meat Loaf's records," the singer says. "'Bat Out of Hell' is bigger than me. It's bigger than any of us who are involved. Meat Loaf becomes the spoke in the wheel of an event, and it's the event that takes over."
The "Bat" experience started in the mid-'70s. Back then, Meat Loaf, a one-time high school football player born Marvin Lee Aday in Dallas, had established credits on stage ("Hair") and screen ("The Rocky Horror Picture Show"), recorded an album for Motown in 1971 with "hair" colleague Shaun "Stoney" Murphy and sang on Ted Nugent's "Free for All" album in 1976.
Meat Loaf met Jim Steinman when the singer performed in the composer's musical "More Than You Deserve." The two were part of a tour for the National Lampoon Road Show. While Steinman was working on what Meat Loaf calls "a futuristic Peter Pan story" called "Neverland," he came up with the idea for the first "Bat Out of Hell" album, enlisting his friend to sing. All melodrama and bombast -- Phil Spector meets Tod Browning -- the Todd Rundgren-produced album became a late-'70s sensation, spawning three hits ("Two Out of Three Ain't Bad," "You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth" and "Paradise by the Dashboard Light") and logging an 82-week stay on the Billboard 200.
A second "Bat" project was planned to follow immediately, but Meat Loaf suffered a psychosomatic voice loss he now chalks up to simply being unready to take the plunge again.
"I thought it was way too early," he says. "My intuition said, 'You don't want to do this. "Bat Out of Hell" is still selling this many copies a week. Why do you want to squash this? Why not let it just run its course? Come back in five years and do it.'
"If that record came out when they wanted to bring it out, I wouldn't be sitting here talking about 'Bat III."'
Instead, Steinman recorded the songs himself as 1981's "Bad for Good," which didn't come close to equaling the success of "Bat." But a dozen years later, "Bat II" hit pay dirt, winging to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and pushing Meat Loaf toward a Grammy Award for best male rock vocal performance for the chart-topping single "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)."
"Bat III" went through a little hell before it became a reality, too. Meat Loaf and Steinman started working on it in late 2001, but the composer suffered some health setbacks, including a heart attack, forcing Meat Loaf to make the difficult decision to move forward without him.
"I told Jim I wouldn't do 'Bat II' without him, and I had no intention of doing that," Meat Loaf says, adding that "lawyers worked for over a year putting together a contract for him to do 'Bat Out of Hell III.' It was one of the best producer's contracts in the history of the record business."
Meat Loaf acknowledges that his decision to sideline Steinman -- who still composed seven of the tracks on "Bat III" -- "was absolutely selfish on my part. He had a heart attack and two strokes; his health was the main concern for me. I know the stamina that it takes to put together a 'Bat Out of Hell' record, and the intensity. I just did not believe he was healthy enough to sustain it.
"The decision not to use Steinman has taken its toll on me. It was not easy, because I am a really loyal person. But I had to make the decision that was right. I couldn't sit around and wait."
Steinman would not comment on the issue to Billboard, but his manager, David Sonenberg, says that "Jim's health is excellent. That's not the reason he didn't participate in ("Bat III"). He had some meaningful health problems about four years ago, but he's been totally healthy the last couple of years. His health in no way impacted on his involvement in the 'Bat Out of Hell' project."
Sonenberg says Steinman is in the midst of working on a "Bat" theater piece, which probably will debut in England.
Meat Loaf subsequently wound up going to court earlier this year to wrest from his collaborator the "Bat" trademark, which the singer says Steinman had acquired through an attorney's "clerical error." The $50 million matter was settled out of court. Steinman received profit percentage points on the record, which Meat Loaf says is "fine. ... That kind of makes up for me not using him" to produce it.
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Meat Loaf chose Desmond Child, a hitmaker with plenty of hard rock credits (Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Kiss) and a burning desire to be part of the "Bat" story.
Child -- who began recording sessions by playing Slipknot CDs to get the assembled musicians in the mood -- had plenty of help bringing "Bat III" to life. Rundgren returned to help arrange backing vocals. Motley Crue's Nikki Sixx, former Marilyn Manson and current Rob Zombie guitarist John5, Steve Vai and James Michael contributed to the songwriting, while Vai, John5, Grammy-winning producer John Shanks and Queen's Brian May were part of the album's guitar army.
"I didn't just want to bring in rock players -- I wanted to go to extreme rock people," Meat Loaf says. The result, he adds, is an album that "has all the touches of the other two 'Bats,' but it's much more of a rock album."
Nevertheless, the album's first single, a duet with Marion Raven on "It's All Coming Back to Me Now," falls decidedly on the pop and even adult contemporary side of the spectrum. The song, a Steinman-penned hit for Celine Dion in 1996, originally was slated for "Bat II," and Meat Loaf is still disappointed ("I'd use a stronger adjective," he says with a laugh) that he didn't get first crack at it.
The "Bat III" campaign, however, started with the hard-rocking title track. Honing in on Meat Loaf's association with Major League Baseball -- dating back to the spoken segment on "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" by Hall of Fame broadcaster Phil Rizzuto -- Virgin took "The Monster Is Loose" to the league for play at ballparks during broadcasts.
Meat Loaf's appearance in the upcoming Tenacious D film "The Pick of Destiny" should also be a boost for "Bat." And on Halloween night, Pillar Entertainment will present a "Bat III" release event in more than 100 theaters across the country, which will include footage from the recording sessions and the video for "It's All Coming Back to Me Now."
Meat Loaf is planning a "Bat III" world tour that begins in March in Florida. He staged a special concert showcasing all three albums October 16 at London's Royal Albert Hall, with a "Bat on Broadway" performance slated for November 2 at New York's Palace Theater. He'll also perform the show in Toronto, Atlantic City, N.J.; Uncasville, Conn.; and Mexico City.
"I'll tell you what ties (the albums) together," Meat Loaf says. "They're all very funny. They're all tongue-in-cheek. It's all these high, tense, emotional songs that are way over the top, and that's what makes them 'Bat Out of Hell' ".
He adds, "Maybe that's what makes them so difficult to make."