Singer Michael Lee Aday and songwriter Jim Steinman began work on their band’s first album, Bat Out of Hell, in 1972. When they shopped the finished project around five years later, it was greeted with blank stares by record executives. The songs, which drew equally on broadway musicals, early 1960s pop and Wagner, performed by a 300 lb frontman with a three-octave vocal range called MeatLoaf, resembled nothing heard on mid-’70s radio. Its climax and proposed first single was an 8-minute operetta, performed by MeatLoaf and background singer Ellen Foley, with recitativo by Phil Rizziuto, about the high school dilema of “going all the way” called “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” When he first heard the demos, Todd Rundgren said no, but its weirdness stuck in his mind, and he eventually agreed to produce and perform on Bat Out of Hell.
Despite Rundgren’s association with the project, the record found no takers, until the small Cleveland International label, having nothing more likely to hand, took a gamble and released it in 1977. The band toured heavily in support of the record. The live performance of “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” teatured MeatLoaf and Karla DeVito acting and belting out the lover’s quarrel. ut anded with the singer lying on the stage in sweat-drenced, ruffled tuxedo shirt, gasping for breath, became a sensation. Trained in theatre and a natural actor MeatLoaf, who had recently appeared as Eddie in the The Rocky Horror Show on broadway and in its screen adaptation, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), tore up the stage, lavishing vocal attention on every note and cliché. His seemingly willingness t6o risk a heart attack by pushing his out-sized body to the limits transformed his weight from a liability into an index of his commitment to his art and fans. When this take-no-prisoners approach was captured in a dramatic Saturday Night Liveappearance in 1978, the single and album went to #1. It didn’t matter that MeatLoaf didn’t sound like anything else on the radio because for the next year, Bat Out of Hell was the radio.