Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Meat Loaf's Loss Is Someone Else's Gain - Part I: Air Supply

It's 1981. The evening sunlight streams gently into Jim Steinman's apartment. He scribbles some final notes onto the sheet music, and then slams it down onto the top of the piano. "Meat Loaf! Where in God's name is Meat Loaf? Have I got two songs for you!"

Ah, but Meat Loaf - poor Meat Loaf - never did record those two songs. What strange twist of fate intervened and prevented Marvin Lee Aday from performing those two Jim Steinman jewels that were hand-crafted just for him? Well sources differ, but according to Wikipedia, either he rejected them, or his record company refused to pay for Steinman's material. For Meat Loaf's sake, one can only hope it was the latter, but the end result was the same: neither song made it onto his 1983 album, Midnight at the Lost and Found. Instead, Meat Loaf wrote most of the album's material himself. You probably don't need me to tell you that Midnight at the Lost and Found was not terribly successful.

Ah, but Jim Steinman refused to let his precious creations go to waste. In the end, two lucky artists managed to cash in on Meat Loaf's greasy leftovers.

I doubt the first act that came to Jim Steinman's mind as a substitute for Meat Loaf was Air Supply. I believe he referred to them as "two boring idiots from Australia." But hey, everyone needs an image makeover now and then, and it turns out that, for Air Supply, a Jim Steinman power ballad was just the thing. Also, throw in the E Street Band's Max Weinberg and Roy Bittan, and hard rock guitarist (and frequent Weird Al collaborator) Rick Derringer, and Air Supply's new smash single was guaranteed to make all those grannies stain their panties. Anyone familiar with Steinman's later "I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)" will recognize some of his pet rhetorical tricks:
I know just how to whisper
And I know just how to cry
I know just where to find the answers
And I know just how to lie

I know just how to fake it
And I know just how to scheme
I know just when to face the truth
And then I know just when to dream

And I know just where to touch you
And I know just what to prove
I know when to pull you closer
And I know when to let you loose

And I know the night is fading
And I know that time's gonna fly
And I'm never gonna tell you everything I've got to tell you
But I know I've got to give it a try

And I know the roads to riches
And I know the ways to fame
I know all the rules
And then I know how to break 'em
And I always know the name of the game

But I don't know how to leave you
And I'll never let you fall
And I don't know how you do it
Making love out of nothing at all
Out of nothing at all? Doesn't that defy Newton's laws of physics? Well, Steinman never claimed to be much of a scientist, but the man certainly had a PhD in Power Ballad Studies. Thesis #1: the moment, right when Russell sings "And I know the night is fading," where the massively overdubbed backing vocals enter through both stereo channels, like an army of mechanical soft-rock witches. Thesis #2: the way Russell sings "And-I'm-never-gon-na-tell-you-every-thing-I-gotta-tell-you-but-I-know-I've-got-to-give-it-a-try," as if he's struggling to get each syllable out of his supremely sensitive mouth. And how many good Christian Air Supply fans do you think called into the radio station to complain about the band's new direction once they got a taste of Derringer's raunchy guitar solo?

I also must admit I chuckle a bit as I hear Air Supply using football metaphors ("I can make the runner stumble/I can make the final block/And I can make every tackle at the sound of the whistle/I can make all the stadiums rock"). Just picture Russell and Graham tackling somebody. Go ahead, do it. Another nice touch: right after the lines "stadiums rock," Derringer throws in a killer guitar lick into each stereo channel, as if to say, "This is the sound a rocking stadium would make."

Maybe Air Supply's problem wasn't a Jim Steinman power ballad, but a lack of more Jim Steinman power ballads, as "Making Love Out of Nothing at All" ended up being their biggest, and last, major hit. Meat Loaf, however, would live to see another day.

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