Monday, February 27, 2012

Singing a Song vs. Living a Song

Popular songwriter Jim Steinman has written a large corpus of distinctive works performed by many singers from the 1970s to the present, most notably Meat Loaf (Marvin Aday). His music is just plain fun. Much of it is tongue-in-cheek with witty and even poetic turns of phrase and a big theatric and/or operatic sound to back up the main vocal lines.  His music often avoids falling off the cliff of pretension with some good old-fashioned self-parody and humor.  At the same time, there is much upon which to cogitate.

The Steinman tune "Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through" was a top-40 hit in 1981.  In fact, on the radio in the office of the Superintendent of Akron's pubic schools when my dad drove me over to his office to pick up my high school diploma (I attended Summer school and racked up enough credits to graduate a year early).

The 1981 arrangement and performance that was on the radio (especially Cleveland's legendary WMMS) that summer is reproduced in the first YouTube below (it was released as part of a Jim Steinman solo project, but he was not the vocalist).  It has the characteristic Steinman flair - playful lyrics, operatic chorus, and epic instrumental sound.  The singer is good - especially considering how the song took off on the radio.  But he is only singing the song, not living it.

Jim Steinman's 1981 version...

In 1993, Meat Loaf took the wheel of the vocals as the same tune was re-released as part of his Steinman-authored Bat Out of Hell II project.  Listening to this version is like the former with the intensity cranked up a few notches - if not exponentially - and then ripping the knob off and throwing it away.  I think it's obvious why the decades-long collaboration between lyricist and vocalist has survived and prospered.

The contrast between the two is stunning.  It is as though Meat Loaf said: "Now I will show you how a Steinman song is sung.  Step back, sit down, and get out of the way."  Or as Mrs. H. said, the former is singing the song, whereas Meat Loaf is living the song.  And a piece of music - whether a pop tune or an opera - with lyrics like: "You've been through the fires of hell / And I know you've got the ashes to prove it" ought to be sung with conviction - as one who has been there, done that, and has survived to tell the tale.

Postscript: I blogged about Meat Loaf nearly four years ago here.

Meat Loaf's 1993 version...

1 comment:

rogue evolent said...

Jim Steinman, Meat Loaf, mondo confessional Lutheranism.... golly I love this blog :)