Jim Steinman: Flamboyant songwriter who penned ‘Bat Out of Hell’

The musician found global success with Meat Loaf and composed hits for big names such as Bonnie Tyler and Celine Dion

Anthony Hayward
Monday 10 May 2021 00:00
<p>Steinman performing at a Meat Loaf concert in Philadelphia in 1978</p>

Steinman performing at a Meat Loaf concert in Philadelphia in 1978

Jim Steinman, who has died of kidney failure aged 73, was a flamboyant songwriter who used his background in musical theatre to write over-the-top rock numbers and haunting ballads.

He took the music world by storm in 1977 with his songs for Meat Loaf’s first album, Bat Out of Hell. The eight-minute title track was the ultimate rock symphony, going through a succession of dramatic passages – from driving to lilting – accompanied by a promotional video featuring motorbikes, graveyards and screaming guitars.

Steinman – once described as “the Richard Wagner of rock’n’roll” by the Los Angeles Times – also picked Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band member Roy Bittan to play the distinctive piano line, which switches from pounding to mellifluous in style.

“My songs are anthems to the essence of rock’n’roll, to a world that despises inaction and loves passion and rebellion,” the songwriter told Rolling Stone in 1978.

“They’re anthems to the kind of feeling you get listening to ‘Be My Baby’, by The Ronettes. That’s what I love about anthems – the fury, the melody and the passion.”

Bat Out of Hell evolved out of Neverland, an unfinished 1977 musical that Steinman had written based on the Peter Pan story, with three compositions that would be included on the album, which took off in Britain after a screening of the title song’s video on the BBC Two show The Old Grey Whistle Test.

The LP reached No 9 in the charts, although it peaked at 14 in the US, and became a classic, eventually selling more than 50 million copies worldwide, including 3.3 million in Britain, where it has charted for more than 500 weeks.

Steinman worked with Meat Loaf on four other studio albums, including 1981’s Dead Ringer and two more LPs in the Bat Out of Hell trilogy. The power ballad “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” (1993) became the star’s only single to reach No 1 in Britain.

Beyond Bat Out of Hell, Steinman wrote Bonnie Tyler’s two biggest singles chart successes, the power ballad “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (No 1 in 1983) and the anthemic “Holding Out for a Hero”, co-written with Dean Pitchford for the film Footloose, starring Kevin Bacon (No 2 in 1985).

Another female singer to benefit from Steinman’s theatrics was Celine Dion, who reached No 1 in the US with “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now”, a 1996 power ballad promoted by a video that begins with a storm and motorcyclist crashing to his death as lightning fells a tree in front of him.

Steinman said the “passionate, romantic” song was inspired by Wuthering Heights, while Meat Loaf claimed he had wanted to record it earlier but was forbidden from doing so until he and Marion Raven duetted on his 2006 Bat Out of Hell III LP.

Steinman finally achieved his ambition to work on a big stage musical when Andrew Lloyd Webber asked him to write lyrics to his melodies for Whistle Down the Wind, based on the 1961 film.

Although a planned Broadway run was cancelled after the 1996 American premiere in Washington was slated, it was reworked by Steinman and Lloyd Webber, and ran for three years at the Aldwych Theatre in London’s West End (1998-2001). There were later touring versions on both sides of the Atlantic.

James Richard Steinman was born in Hewlett, Long Island, in 1947 to Eleanor (nee Blefeld), a Latin teacher, and Louis Steinman, the owner of a steel distribution warehouse, and attended George W Hewlett High School.

While studying at Amherst College, Massachusetts, he wrote a musical, The Dream Engine, about teenage rebellion, in 1969.

Four years later, “Happy Ending” became the first Steinman song to be professionally recorded, by Yvonne Elliman on her album 1973 Food of Love.

Then, the composer met performer Marvin Lee Aday (who became Meat Loaf) in a production of his musical More Than You Deserve, co-written with Michael Weller and performed at New York’s Public Theatre (1973-74).

Later, as a producer, Steinman made Bonnie Tyler’s LP Faster Than the Speed of Night (1983), Celine Dion’s Falling into You (1996) – winning him a Grammy Award – and Air Supply’s US No 2 single “Making Love Out of Nothing at All”.

He also wrote the theme song for the 1979 television sitcom Delta House and the score for the 1980 film A Small Circle of Friends.

In 1998, the stage musical Dance of the Vampires, an adaptation of director Roman Polanski’s 1967 film, began as a German-language version in Austria with Steinman’s score, Michael Kunze’s lyrics and Steve Barton in the lead role.

He translated and reshaped it for a Broadway production that starred Michael Crawford, opened in December 2002, took a critical battering and ended the following month after just 56 performances, but the show continued to be performed around the world.

The songwriter finally brought his retelling of Peter Pan, set in post-apocalyptic Manhattan and featuring his Meat Loaf songs, to large audiences in Bat Out of Hell: The Musical, which ran at the Opera House, Manchester (2017), and in London at the Coliseum Theatre (2017) and Dominion Theatre (2018).

Steinman is survived by his brother Bill.

Jim Steinman, composer and producer, born 1 November 1947, died 19 April 2021