It’s accepted music lore that Meat Loaf ripped through popular music on the back of a silver black phantom bike like a bat out of hell with his solo debut, appropriately titled Bat Out Of Hell. It was a work of massive, lusty hubris, composed by master songwriter and closet freak Jim Steinman, and it married 1960s adolescent yearning to a Spector-esque wall of sound – complete with horns, resplendent grand pianos, wall-to-wall vocals, and charmingly pretentious spoken-word excerpts – and Meat Loaf Aday’s gasping, fervent tenor. It’s awesome, and I believe our society has arrived at an appropriate level of appreciation for theatrical kitsch to almost-unanimously agree on how awesome it is.
Except it wasn’t necessarily Meat Loaf’s first record. That honor – some would describe it as “dubious” – goes to 1971’s Stoney and Meatloaf, released on Motown subsidiary Rare Earth, and existing as a strange document of Meatloaf as one-half of an r&b duo instead of a plus-sized rock n’ roll savior. Meatloaf and friend Cheryl Murphy trade vocals over string-heavy songwriter-for-hire instrumentals and souped-up traditionals, and it’s an interesting listen.
After all, Meat Loaf is not a songwriter, and has never been. His best records have been curated under the strict involvement of mercurial madman Steinman, and his worst have been tepid affairs featuring a (garden) variety of songwriters all attempting to write their interpretation of what a Meat Loaf song sounds like. But that’s precisely why Stoney and Meatloaf sticks out – whatever the case, most of these songwriters have written songs specifically for Meatloaf to sing, most of which are based on the singular sound he pioneered with Steinman at his side. On this here early record, Meat’s signature sound hadn’t been developed yet, so no one knew how to write for him; though Stoney and Meat try valiantly to interpret the material with panache, they still sound like songs that could have been written for any-old-body.
And that’s why Stoney and Meatloaf isn’t a particularly good album: there’s no artistic identity here. In fact, both participants sound severely out-of-place when it comes to the material; Meat Loaf white-bread and overly emoting, Stoney like a precursor to Joss Stone’s calculated, raspy approximation of what soul music should sound like. Lyrics like “you can’t make me do right, but you can make me do wrong”; “it takes all, all kinds of people, the young, the old, the rich & the poor”; and “I’m so in love in you that I don’t know what to do” aren’t doing anybody any favors. It’s the sort of generic songwriting swill that any old lovelorn teenager with a Facebook currently spits out on a daily basis. The results are grating as often as they are fly-by-night; half of these tunes are faceless enough that they’re hard to truly remember, even after multiple spins, but “All Kinds of People” and Stoney’s tepid funk kiss-off “Game Of Love” lodge in the brain in the worst way.
It would take a full six years before Meat Loaf would find his voice; 1977’s Bat Out Of Hell remains a rock landmark, spawning two not-half-bad sequels and inspiring fervent devotion in anyone who finds themselves caught between arena-rock and sock-hop pop. Stoney and Meatloaf, however, remains for collector’s only, a remembrance of a time when there was no such thing as a signature Meat Loaf style, and when songwriters found themselves scratching their chins at the mere thought of turning this plus-sized tenor into a hitmaker.
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