Where were you when one of the biggest, most enduring records in rock history burst into popular culture in October of 1977?
I was in grade 10 at Sir James Dunn, still trying to figure out where I fit in in the social hierarchy of the school. The previous summer was a lousy one: cold, wet, and thoroughly disappointing as far as outings or stays out at the camp were concerned. It was a frustrating summer for our Popcorn Man Lou Bernardo, who sold his delicious wares on the streets of our city. According to him, the popcorn went soggy fast in the damp, cool weather. The Sault Star was following the case of a horrible child murder in Elliot Lake, as well as a previously unknown, deadly epidemic that would come to be known as Legionnaire’s Disease. Worst of all, the world lost Elvis Presley that summer — I heard that news over my CB radio, of all places. According to all social indicators at the time, Ontario was on its way to hitting a population of 11.6 million by 2001 (we actually hit 11.4).
When the album hit the Dunn, it hit amidst a first for the school, namely its first female Student Council President. Some of the more fashion-conscious students were ditching their Master John’s platform boots for Earth Shoes, and our Roadrunner flared jeans for those new Levi’s with no back pockets. To the average 15-year-old boy, classic rock — as it has since become known — consisted mainly of three albums: The Dark Side of the Moon, Led Zeppelin IV and Kiss Alive! (for us Canadian kids, maybe add Rush’s 2112). And with the arrival of Bat Out of Hell, there was a new record to add to that auspicious list. But punk was making significant inroads in 1977, with The Clash, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols and The Stranglers releasing albums that would spark the beginning of the Alternative Rock genre and a total change in musical direction for my interests going into university a few years later.
But rock held on, and Meat Loaf proved that he could hold his own with whatever changes were in the offing. The opening chords of Bat Out of Hell’s title song blasted out of speakers and announced that there was a gritty world of teenage love, lust and angst bursting from its two sides (or four tracks, as was the case with my bright red Columbia 8-track). By this time, there was a fair bit of airplay for the first big single, “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad,” and it turned out to be one of those songs that you just had to find a special someone to dance with when the DJ at the school dance played it. The whole album was afire, right down to the Heavy-Metal-comic-like cover. It rocked, it rolled, and it swayed and it strutted like very few albums did.
Something for everyone on that record. Being a budding English major, I loved the puns and wordplay of “You Took The Words Right Out of My Mouth,” and I certainly could certainly relate to the problem at the heart of “All Revved Up with No Place to Go.” We loved to snicker at the clever innuendo in “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”’s baseball play-by-play, and almost everyone I knew held their arms up and belted out “Stop right there!” when Ellen Foley stopped the slide into home and demanded to hear those three magic words before she went “any further.”
Listening to it some 40 years later, the album seems so bombastic and over-produced — how could it have been so popular? But Rolling Stone magazine has it on its list of the greatest albums of all time, and it managed to command music charts all over for hundreds of weeks. To me it sounds like a missing Springsteen record, thanks largely to the presence Roy Bittan — Springsteen’s keyboardist — on piano, or maybe a sequel soundtrack to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I never embraced the album as fully as my friends did, but for most of the fall of that year, it’s the music I heard most outside of my own collection. But I did find that special someone to dance with me to “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” on my first and only appearance at a Sadie Hawkins dance at the Dunn.
That one momentous dance with a girl I adored assured a warm place in my heart for Bat Out of Hell for many, many years to come.