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The mad genius of Jim Steinman in seven glorious songs

Meat Loaf - I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) (1993)
(Image credit: Terry Lott/Sony Music Archive via Getty Images)

Jim Steinman has died, and the world is suddenly a less epic place. The powerhouse songwriter/producer/occasional singer joined the dots between rock’n’roll and Broadway, hitching the fantasy rebellion of the former to the grand drama of the latter. Bat Out Of Hell was his crowning glory, of course: The Rocky Horror Picture Show written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and a cultural phenomenon that would turn Meat Loaf into a global superstar and establish Steinman as one of rock’s great maverick visionaries. But he would work his magic with a head-spinning array of other artists too, from Bonnie Tyler to The Sisters Of Mercy, always in the spotlight without being at the front of the stage. Here are seven songs that prove his genius beyond doubt…

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Meat Loaf – Bat Out Of Hell (1977)

The greatest rock opera ever created was the product of three genius minds colliding: Meat Loaf, producer Todd Rundgren and Jim Steinman. But the vision was all Steinman’s: a wild fever-dream of sex and fantasy embodied by the title track, a nine-minute Wagnerian death-ride that took the escapist rush of Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run and played it through Valhalla’s own sound system. If you judge the brilliance of music by how over-the-top it is – and you should – then it was all downhill for rock’n’roll after this.

Jim Steinman - Bad For Good (1981)

Like a couple in a bad marriage, Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf couldn't live with each other and couldn't live without each other. Their first major bust-up resulted in Steinman recording a Meat Loaf album without Meat Loaf.

That record, Bad For Good, is the greatest hymn to the heavenly glories of rock’n’roll that anyone in the history of humankind has ever created, despite the fact that Steinman was to singing what his old sparring partner was to aerial gymnastics. But egomania triumphs talent every time, and his amateur vocal performance on the otherwise perfect title track only adds to the death-or-glory heroism of it all (the album also features the beyond-batshit spoken word piece Love And Death And An American Guitar, which is hands down the most Jim Steinman thing Jim Steinman ever did).

Meat Loaf – Dead Ringer For Love (1981)

Seconds out: round two. Steinman and Meat reunited for Bat Out Of Hell follow-up Deadringer, a record that could never hope to match its predecessor but, goddammit, was going to die trying. The title track, a duet between a frilly-shirted Meat and Cher, is the world’s most OTT Tinder date set to music: two people verbally duking it out amid the pool tables of a Hollywood biker bar, him sweating like a cart horse at the knacker's yard, her the epitome of gum-chewing, finger-popping cool. The mess of tangled limbs and sexual tension it all ended in was pure Steinman.

Bonnie Tyler – Holding Out For A Hero (1986)

Like a car mechanic who constructs a gleaming new hot-rod from the spare parts he has lying around the garage floor, Steinman was the king of repurposing bits of his old songs and gifting them to others.

Bonnie Tyler’s second most famous hit* lifted elements of a Steinman solo track titled Stark Raving Love (itself a work of boggle-eyed brilliance), but once the producer had retooled it completely and let the Welsh Whirlwind wrap her Force 12 tonsils around the result, it was transformed into the musical equivalent of sticking your head out of a car window as it travels at 1000mph down a racetrack. Four minutes of pure 1980s disco-rock exhilaration, in all its Syndrumming, blow-dried, shoulder-padded glory.  

(*After Total Eclipse Of The Heart, also written by one J. Steinman, esq).

Pandora’s Box - It’s All Coming Back To Me Now (1989)

Steinman was basically Phil Spector without the homicidal tendencies, and, like Spector, some of his finest work was with female artists. Case in point: Original Sin, the sole album from Pandora’s Box, which brought four crack session singers together like the Avengers in ornate frocks. The album’s crowning glory was this outrageously over-cooked ballad, which was basically the sound of someone dropping a thousand pianos from the side of a very tall building all at once while an orchestra played Wagner’s Ring Cycle over the top of it. Celine Dion recorded a killer version of it too. Yeah, Celine Dion. What of it?

The Sisters Of Mercy – This Corrosion (1987)

The Grand Vizier Of Goth he may be, but Sisters Of Mercy mastermind Andrew Eldritch was always in love with the grandiosity of rock’n’roll. And when he wanted to kick the Sisters to the next level of opulence, Eldritch knew there was only one man to call: Jim Steinman.

Steinman only produced two tracks on the Sisters’ second album, Floodland, but his personality was stamped all over them - not least this staggering, gothic wedding cake of a song, which kicked off with the massed ranks of a full choir and only got more outrageous as it progressed. Eldritch once described This Corrosion as “the high-point of a Borgia’s disco evening.” He wasn’t wrong.

Meat Loaf - I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) (1993)

The belated sequel to Bat Out Of Hell could never match the unadulterated greatness of the original, but, sweet shit, Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell came close with its first single. I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) was the whole of human experience captured in 12 titanic minutes: love, loss, heartbreak, fury, redemption. Meat Loaf sang like he’d never sang before, as always the perfect avatar for the unknowable storms inside Jim Steinman’s head. This was more than just rock’n’roll as musical theatre: this was the history of Broadway in one song.