Gone when the morning comes

It was the late '70s. The Who had moved on from "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia." Bruce Springsteen, finished with epic tales like "Jungleland" and "Backstreets," was penning three-minute set pieces about getting married and having a family. Who would supply the operatic vision that the rock world craved?

The answer came in an album called "Bat Out of Hell," sung with other-worldly fervor by a big chunky guy named Meat Loaf. It was bombastically orchestrated, lyrically dense, no-holds-barred, at once earnest and funny, and full of angst, especially about cars, sex, and love. Todd Rundgren produced it, members of the E Street Band played on it, and they all had to convince skeptical record company suits to put it out.

Words and music were by a guy named Jim Steinman.

It took a while to catch on, but eventually it did, and the rest is history. More than 50 million copies have been sold. The kids overseas took to it first, then Canada, and finally the United States bought in. The MTV music video era featured "Paradise by the Dashboard Light," a live duet from the album by Loaf and Karla DeVito, and that pretty much sealed the album's fate as an all-time classic. (The female singer on the record was Ellen Foley.)

Who among us boomers can't quote a line or two from "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad"? Who can forget the Phil Rizzuto play-by-play call of getting to third base? Who hasn't found themselves at some time or another praying for the end of time to hurry up and arrive?

I take this journey down Memory Lane because I read last night that Steinman left this world earlier this week at the age of 73. He had many other achievements, and the rest of his works are well worth seeking out. But the pinnacle will always be "Stop right there! I gotta know right now!" and the amazing record that surrounded it.

UPDATE, April 25: A reader writes:

He and I were at Amherst at pretty much the same time; Steinman was one year ahead of me.

He hung out — and made music, very engaging music — with a bunch of my friends. But I didn’t really know him. He was more one of those classic campus mythic figures — and the author of an actually pretty good rock opera: The Dream Engine. That last was what got Joe Papp interested in him, and that led to working with the Loaf that Sings.

To get into college, even in those days, you had to write an essay. Jim’s was about spending the summer walking the hills of Kentucky imagining the opera version of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man. Of course, not a word of that was true. But it was a pretty canny read of what would get him admitted, especially from a New York City boy with average grades. As far as music was concerned, his platonic ideal was a batshit melding of Little Richard and Wagner.