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Jim Steinman, composer of hit records for Meat Loaf, dies at 73

Jim Steinman, right, with Meat Loaf in 1977.
Jim Steinman, right, with Meat Loaf in 1977. (mpi09/MediaPunch/IPx/AP)
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Jim Steinman, a songwriter who composed chart-topping hits for Celine Dion and Bonnie Tyler, but was best-known for creating the grandiose music for Meat Loaf’s popular “Bat Out of Hell” recordings, died April 19 in Danbury, Conn. He was 73.

The death was confirmed by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Connecticut, which did not provide additional details. A brother, Bill Steinman, told the Associated Press that the cause of death was kidney failure after strokes.

Mr. Steinman, nothing if not eccentric, woke up late in the day and worked all night, writing songs that combined the power of opera, Broadway extravaganzas and the rock-and-roll wall of sound of producer Phil Spector.

He was a protege of theatrical producer Joseph Papp, and his songs often had the dramatic presence of miniature plays, with lavish arrangements featuring keyboards, thundering guitars and, most memorably, the dynamic voice of Meat Loaf, a heavyset singer who rode Mr. Steinman’s songs to fame.

The singer and songwriter first met in 1974, when Mr. Steinman had written an off-Broadway musical, “More Than You Deserve,” in which Meat Loaf — whose original name was Marvin Aday — was a member of the cast. Meat Loaf, who appeared in the 1975 cult film “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” impressed Mr. Steinman with his operatic singing voice and uninhibited performing style. Part of Meat Loaf’s appeal was that he didn’t look like a typical rock star of the era.

“He was an absolutely mesmerizing, wonderful presence,” Mr. Steinman said of Meat Loaf in a 1997 Washington Post interview. “His pupils would roll up into his head, and you’d see the whites of his eyes, and his hands would clutch. It was really powerful. He was extraordinary.”

During an on-and-off professional partnership of more than 40 years, Mr. Steinman wrote most of Meat Loaf’s best-remembered songs, including the 10-minute title track of the 1977 album “Bat Out of Hell,” which became one of the best-selling rock recordings in history after it was turned down by more than two dozen record labels.

Mr. Steinman conceived of “Bat Out of Hell” as an operatic story about things that mattered to teenagers: lust, cars, motorcycle wrecks and flirting with danger.

“All the characters in Wagner operas and Verdi operas — the operas that I love — are teenagers,” he told the Dallas Morning News in 1994, “and that’s what makes it so feverish and intense.”

Perhaps the most memorable track on the album was “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” an epic, 8½-minute song about a pair of teenagers making out in the back seat of a car. It rumbles from Elvis-like rockabilly to an argument between a boy and girl and culminates in questions of existential doubt.

“I never feel like I’m writing about the lyrical light side of love,” Mr. Steinman said. “I’m more interested in the darker whirlpool that sucks you in and you’re never seen again — the Bermuda Triangle of love.”

The middle part of “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” consists of a play-by-play account — written by Mr. Steinman — of a dramatic moment in a baseball game, narrated by former New York Yankees player and broadcaster Phil Rizzuto. When Rizzuto learned that his description of a player stealing a base, then scoring by sliding into home was meant for a song about teen sex, he called Mr. Steinman and Meat Loaf “huckleberries.”

After “Bat Out of Hell” was released in October 1977 by Cleveland International Records, an independent label, the album received a zero-star review from Rolling Stone. It never rose higher than No. 14 on the Billboard album chart, but it slowly gained a following and made Meat Loaf a star. More than 50 million copies have been sold worldwide.

Mr. Steinman played keyboards on Meat Loaf’s first “Bat Out of Hell” tour, but he seldom performed in public again. He preferred the studio, where he became known for his obsessive perfectionism.

“I would do almost anything for what I create,” he told The Post. “I don’t know if I would kill someone, but I would consider it.”

Mr. Steinman wrote the music for Meat Loaf’s 1981 album, “Dead Ringer,” and the same year released the only album under his name, “Bad for Good.” Neither was a major hit, and Meat Loaf and Mr. Steinman fell into the first of many disputes, marked by resentment, perceived slights and lawsuits.

Meat Loaf struggled for the next decade, declaring bankruptcy and watching his career ebb away before reuniting with Mr. Steinman in 1993 for “Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell,” Mr. Steinman produced the album and wrote all 11 songs, including “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That),” which became a No. 1 single. The album, which showcased Mr. Steinman’s bombastic style and elaborate, enigmatic lyrics, quickly rose to No. 1, selling more than 10 million copies.

Since the 1980s, Mr. Steinman had been writing songs for other performers, including Bonnie Tyler, who had a No. 1 hit with his “Total Eclipse of the Heart” in 1983. At the same time, Air Supply was at No. 2 on the Billboard pop chart with Mr. Steinman’s “Making Love Out of Nothing at All.”

His song “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” became a major hit in 1996 for Celine Dion and was included on her album “Falling Into You,” which won Grammy Awards for best pop album and album of the year.

Meat Loaf and Mr. Steinman traded lawsuits over copyrights and use of the name “Bat Out of Hell,” but they never completely severed ties. In 2012, when Mr. Steinman was named to the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Meat Loaf said, “I can never repay him. He has been such an influence, in fact, the biggest influence on my life, and I learned so much from him that there would be no way I could ever repay Mr. Jim Steinman.”

James Richard Steinman was born Nov. 1, 1947, in New York City and grew up on Long Island. His father owned a warehouse; his mother was a teacher.

Mr. Steinman became preoccupied with music at an early age.

“When I was a kid, I used to play Little Richard back to back with Wagner,” he told the Associated Press in 1996. “And it never occurred to me that was off the wall. I just think that they’re very connected — both highly stylized, amplified, extreme and kind of glorious and silly at the same time.”

He also began a lifelong habit of keeping what he called “vampire-like” hours, waking in the evening to begin his day.

When he applied to Amherst College in Massachusetts, Mr. Steinman wrote that he had spent the summer hiking through the mountains of Kentucky while writing an opera based on James Joyce’s novel “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” Not a word of the application was true, but before his graduation in 1969 he wrote a musical play that impressed Papp, the founder of the New York Shakespeare Festival. He worked with Papp for about five years.

Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose” (2006) included several songs by Mr. Steinman, who did not work on the album. Their final collaboration came in 2016 with the album “Braver Than We Are.”

Mr. Steinman wrote the lyrics for an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, “Whistle Down the Wind,” and in 2017 “Bat Out of Hell” was staged as a musical play in London.

He lived in Ridgefield, Conn. Survivors include a brother.

Mr. Steinman was aware that his music was an exercise in excess, and he didn’t want it any other way.

“I’ve been called over the top,” he once told The Post. “How silly. If you don’t go over the top, you can’t see what’s on the other side.”

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