Wednesday, 21 April 2021

My Top Ten Jim Steinman Songs

The death of Jim Steinman will probably go without much attention to most people, but for me it's a huge hammer blow in a year that keeps on kicking me in the teeth. 
I've written numerous times on this blog about my adoration for Steinman's song-writing, taking the best bits of Chuck Berry, Phil Spector, Born To Run era Springsteen and Richard Wagner, setting them on fire, then adding dynamite. There was little subtlety to Jim's work, but there was plenty of drama, passion, hyperbole, sturm und drang and a savage sense of humour. He didn't just write teenage love songs, he made them into epic mythologies, complete with screeching motorbikes, angels and devils, and hearts ripped literally out of the protagonists' chests. And yet, I never got the impression he took it seriously - yes, the work itself, he took very seriously, hence the perfectionism of his arrangements and the huge rows with his collaborators. But the storytelling... there was a tongue-in-cheek quality to the melodramas he crafted that suggested Jim knew how ridiculous it all was - how ridiculous the very medium was - but that was why he adored it so much.

Putting together a Top Ten Jim Steinman Songs was, for me, an impossible task. There are so many I want to take with me to the grave. But if they bury me with headphones on and these ten tracks playing on eternal loop... I could die reasonably happy. I think Jim would appreciate that imagery.

Not a song so much as an intense, Steinman-voiced monologue; this first appeared on Jim's only solo album, Bad For Good, originally intended for Meat Loaf, though the Loaf was having throat problems at the time. It was then re-used on Bat Out Of Hell II, still voiced by Steinman. 
I could recite the words to this by heart. To me, it defines the importance of rock n roll in our lives, builds the tension to a frightening climax, and then throws it all away with a stupid gag that never fails to make me smile.

It should come as no surprise that Jim Steinman's favourite story was Peter Pan, as it deals with a group of boys who never grow up. That, to him, was what rock n roll represented - the chance to remain young forever. The title track of Steinman's solo album (later re-recorded by Meat - who was undeniably a far better singer than Jim, although I still have great affection for Steinman's own recordings) was originally written for a never-finished rock n roll musical based on the Peter Pan story. It's a classic example of Steinman's way of piling image on image, metaphor on metaphor, repeating and building long after other songwriters would have cut back to the chorus. That very excess was what I loved about Jim.

The sea is whipping the sky
The sky is whipping the sea
You can hide away forever from the storm
But you'll never hide away from me
The icy cold will cut us like a knife in the dark
And we may lose everything in the wind
But the Northern Lights are burning
And they're giving off sparks
I want to wrap myself around you like a winter skin

I read a review that described this song as "a melancholic middle-aged man reminiscing about his youth".

'Nuff said.

Another song close to the heart of this blog. Look at the Springsteen quote at the top of the page, then compare it to this...

Think of how we'd lay down together
We'd be listening to the radio so loud and so strong.
Every golden nugget coming like a gift of the gods.
Someone must have blessed us when he gave us those songs

Another song from the ill-fated solo album, later re-recorded (and, in this case, bettered) by Meat. It also contains the quintessential Steinman line...

You've been through the fires of hell
And I know you've got the ashes to prove it.

In what world does Dead Ringer - arguably the ultimate rock n roll duet* - only rank at #6? Like a demonic outtake from the Grease soundtrack. Perfection.

A man he doesn't live by rock 'n roll and brew alone

It opens with another irresistibly OTT Steinman monologue, incorporating werewolves, blood, passion and a corny gag at the end... then it kicks into a full-blooded power ballad where teenage lust is expressed in pure hyperbole. Taking it's cue from 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) - another tale of teenage romance on the beach, late at night - this builds into an explosion of passion through trembling bodies, weak knees, licked lips and a kiss so powerful it steals your soul. To listen to this song is to relive full-blooded teenage lust afresh... even if you never experienced it the first time. (Clue: I never did, but Jim helped me through that.)

Bonnie Tyler's biggest hit was originally written for Meat Loaf, but he had that bad throat year and this was another casualty. In many ways, I find it hard to believe that this was a Number One single, since it's so ridiculously over the top, I'm surprised it connected with such a large audience. Then again, look at Bohemian Rhapsody. It's a song about yearning and desperation, those are the best words I can find. And it contain another quintessentially Steinman line...

We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks

(At this point, I should mention one of the other big Steinman tunes that Bonnie brought to life, another great duet with frequent Steinman collaborator and BOOH producer Todd Rundgren, Loving You's a Dirty Job but Somebody's Gotta Do It. It wasn't a hit, but damn, it should have been.)

*Above, while writing about Dead Ringer, I placed an asterisk next to the phrase "the ultimate rock n roll duet*", because... well, there's this. It is a duet, with Ellen Foley giving as good as she gets from Meat (although it's Karla DeVito in the video), but it's much more besides. The term "rock opera" gets thrown around far too liberally, but this is the real deal. Like many Steinman songs, it veers dangerously towards the ten minute mark, but there's so much going on in its three act structure, it's hard to get bored... or even catch a breath. Boy meets girl. Boy tries to get girl to go all the way. Girl says she will if he promises to love her forever. They go back and forth on this until the boy is whipped up into such a frenzy that he'd agree to anything... and then immediately wishes he hadn't. Classic Steinman twist, made even more exciting through the use of a metaphorical baseball game to symbolise the consummation.

Frankly, if you don't love this record, you don't love life.

What is there to say about Bat Out Of Hell that hasn't already been said? (Other than why isn't it Number One?) The only thing I will say is that you should never, ever, ever listen to the radio edit. It is pure blasphemy... and also a pretty shocking edit that even I, with my crude music editing skills, could have done a better hack job on. 

No, you really need the full 9 minutes and 52 seconds to appreciate this tune in all its pomp and glory.

1. More Than You Deserve

Probably the least known track on this list, and you probably think I'm being all muso for putting it at Number One, but More Than You Deserve has long had a special place in my heart. I knew I'd written about it before, but I had to dig into the archive of my old blog to find what I wrote. Excuse the youthful exuberance...

I swear that in the future, there will come a critical reappraisal of the songwriting genius of Jim Steinman, and I will be vindicated. As with every subject Steinman tackles, this is infidelity turned up to eleven - hell, twelve! - and only the melodramatic madness of vintage Loaf could do it justice. The song begins with a simple betrayal...

From the very first moment I saw you, 
I knew our love would be so strong 
And the very first moment I kissed you, 
I knew our joy would last so long 
And then I saw you making love to my best friend, 
I didn't know whatever to say 
I saw you making love to my best friend 
So I looked him right in his eyes and I said - listen boy... 

Won't you take some more, it's what you came for 
And don't mind me, I won't throw you no curves 
Have yourself a ball with my good woman 
Won't you take some more boy, it's more than you deserve!

But of course, in Steinman world everything is always louder than everything else, and so by the end of the song things are so much worse...

Now I think I'm gonna have to leave you 
Because I'm feeling much too weak to share 
And the pie, oh it's cut in too many pieces 
The flavour that I crave is no longer there 
Then I saw you making love to two of my best friends 
I didn't know whatever to say 
I saw you making love to a group of my best friends 
So I looked them right in their eyes and I said - listen here, group! 
Won't you take some more boys, it's more than you deserve!

Nothing succeeds like excess!
Oh, and I'd forgotten the video too. The video is an absolute hoot...
This is the first Top Ten I've ever written without having to listen to any of the songs. So indelibly ingrained into my subconscious are they. Rest in peace, Jim, buddy.  I think somebody somewhere must be tolling a bell...


  1. I thought you might do this today. Yes, somebody somewhere must be tolling a bell.

  2. Sad news Rol
    You were the first person I thought of when I heard it.
    I once saw two girls doing a tremendous karaoke version of Paradise by the Dashboard Light in Kelly's bar in Cleland

    1. You've gotta have some pretty powerful lungs to take on that at karaoke.

  3. What about "Two out of three ain't bad"?!?!??!

    1. 9 out of 10 ain't bad?

      There were many others I could have included, but I went with a kind of gut instinct thing and wanted to mix the big hits with some lesser known tunes that still mean a lot to me.

  4. Thanks for mentioning Todd Rundgren's small branch on this big tree. He's a huge favorite of mine.


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