The producer and composer Jim Steinman passed away on Monday (19 April) from kidney failure at the age of 73. He leaves behind a legacy of huge hits with big production that are known throughout the world – from Meatloaf's Bat Out Of Hell to Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse Of The Heart, Holding Out For A Hero and more.
An old classmate of Steinman's once said, "Jim knew what it meant to be cool and he knew that he wasn't." But he chased something bigger, and these songs deliver it…
1. Meatloaf – Bat Out Of Hell (Bat Out Of Hell, 1977)
Let's start with the third best-selling album of all time with over 50 million copies sold. It put Meatloaf on the map as a world star.
If it sounds like a rock opera, it was designed that way – starting out as The Dream Engine in the late 60s, Steinman's idea for an opus went on to become a blueprint for a rock musical referencing Peter Pan that he developed in 1974. Meeting Meat Loaf on the National Lampoon show saw the project develop again into a rock album.
The composer worked with producer Todd Rundgren to align the worlds of Springsteen, Pete Townshend, wall of sound production and grandiose classical movements. Bold and misunderstood by the industry, Steinman's vision proved to be huge hit with listeners.
"It's amazing on a intuitive level," Steinman said of his muse, Meatloaf, "the fact just that he understands these songs. We have such different backgrounds, he and I. Such different lifestyles. We are totally different people - completely. But somehow, within the music, we connect on a level that's pretty strange - because we're so different...Meat is a performer serving a song - and he'd be the first to say that. That's one of the reasons he's such a great performer. He does put the song, at his best, above his own personality or ego or anything."
2. Meatloaf - I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That) (Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell, 1993)
How do you top Bat Out Of Hell? Well you wait a long time, and then you take everything over the top with a ludicrous video to match and a song title that will be quoted for years to come.
Steinman manages to sell the seven-minute 48-second single by going straight in with the chords – canny. The album version is 12 minutes long.
It's nearly six minutes before we even hear from Lorraine Crosby on this duet because when the Loaf is in full flow, he cannot be stopped.
So what is "that"? " What he 'won't do' is said about six times in the song very specifically," Steinman reflected (opens in new tab) in 1993. "It's sort of is a little puzzle and I guess it goes by - but they're all great things. 'I won't stop doing beautiful things and I won't do bad things.' It's very noble. I'm very proud of that song because it's very much like out of the world of Excalibur. To me, it's like Sir Lancelot or something - very noble and chivalrous. That's my favourite song on the record - it's very ambitious."
Just a bit!
3. The Sisters Of Mercy – This Corrosion (Floodland, 1987)
Initially a strange pairing on paper, Andrew Eldritch and Jim Steinman produced black magic on the Sisters' second album following a period of lineup challenges. Steinman is credited on this and opener Dominion / Mother Russian and they're both beautifully grandiose gothic statements that still thrill today.
After working up demos in a Hamburg flat with his Casio CZ-101 (opens in new tab), Eldritch was ready to build a "very clear vision" for Floodland. He already had This Corrosion in the pot and immediately thought of Steinman. It was a conscious decision to go big or go home for that song.
"People thought that with the second album we were completely Steinman-ised, but it’s untrue," Eldritch told Classic Rock in 2016. "This Corrosion is ridiculous. It’s supposed to be ridiculous. It’s a song about ridiculousness. So I called Steinman and explained that we needed something that sounded like a disco party run by the Borgias. And that’s what we got."
Steinman would go on to co-write and co-produce More with Eldritch for the follow-up (and currently last Sisters studio album) Vision Thing in 1990.
4. Bonnie Tyler – Total Eclipse Of The Heart (Faster Than The Speed Of Night, 1983)
It's a tricky choice between this and 1984's Holding Out For A Hero but the chorus here… who else can write melodies like this nowadays?! We salute you Jim, and anyone who steps into the karaoke spotlight to try and emulate the Welsh Wonder Tyler's pipeage on this classic.
The video is a forewarning of what Meatloaf would return with but the possessed choirmen in pants dancing around Tyler is pretty out there, even for the early '80s.
1983 would prove to be a vintage one for Steinman when Total Eclipse of the Heart hit number one in the US with another writing credit, Air Supply's Making Love Out Of Nothing At All, sat at number two.
The singer from Skewen in Wales paid tribute to Steinman as a "funny, kind, supportive, and deeply caring human being". For his part, the writer of her biggest songs was equally complimentary when he was interviewed in 1983 in the video above.
“I was primarily known for doing records for Meat Loaf and my own records, which were these thunderous, Wagnerian, almost heavy metal, epic, stormy records,” Steinman said. “I was a little bit surprised they would ask me, but my second thought it was a real challenge because of that. And I thought she had one of the most passionate voices I’d ever heard in rock and roll since Janis Joplin.”
But Tyler wouldn't be the last female powerhouse vocalist Steinman would gift an epic ballad to…
5. Céline Dion – It's All Coming Back To Me Now (Falling Into You, 1996)
Sometimes a song can take a while before it finds the home to become hits. So it was with this. For his part, Steinman was so intent on a woman singing it that he legally prevented Meatloaf from recording it (the singer eventually got his way (opens in new tab)) and Steinman originally tracked it with Elaine Caswell for his all-female vocal project Pandora's Box in 1989. But it wasn't until seven years later that it became a worldwide smash complete with wonderfully OTT mansion-set video with a ghost cameo.
Steinman called his Bat Out Of Hell backing vocal dream team of Todd Rundgren, Eric Troyer, Rory Dodd, Glen Burtnick and Kasim Sulton when he produced the song again, this time for Canadian Céline Dion's fourth English-language album. This time song reached the (Wuthering) Heights its writer had intended for it.
"This isn't the Wuthering Heights of Kate Bush—that little fanciful Wuthering Heights," Steinman said of the original, somewhat grim inspiration for the song. "The scene they always cut out is the scene when Heathcliff digs up Catherine's body and dances in the moonlight and on the beach with it. I think you can't get much more operatic or passionate than that.
"I was trying to write a song about dead things coming to life," Steinman reasoned. "I was trying to write a song about being enslaved and obsessed by love, not just enchanted and happy with it. It was about the dark side of love; about the ability to be resurrected by it... I just tried to put everything I could into it, and I'm real proud of it.
That pride was amplified when Dion recorded a seven and a half-minute version as Falling Into You's opener. "Céline's performance was basically the utopian dream of every songwriter," Steinman admitted in the video above.