Hear

Jim Steinman: 10 Of His Greatest Lyrics

Jim Steinman with Meat Loaf courtesy of Getty Images

When Jim Steinman passed away on April 19, he left behind one of the most unique catalogs in rock and pop music. Very few artists wrote in such an identifiable way, inasmuch that you could usually tell a song came from his pen no matter what artist performed it. While best-known for his musical partnership with Meat Loaf, Steinman’s ability to fuse gothic drama, tongue-in-cheek humor, and go-for-broke wordplay put him in high demand for big voices in search of a splashy single.

Related: “Bad for Good: The Ballad of Jim Steinman”

Steinman’s catalog isn’t an easy one to corral, as he was known for repurposing material from earlier stages of his career for new projects; you’ll definitely have bouts of déjà vu while listening to the different albums and singles he penned. But we’re here to tell you about the ten best lyrical snippets. Some you likely know well, and some may have slipped through the cracks a bit. In any case, they’re an indication of his singular talent that will be sorely missed.

10) “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that” (from “I Would Do Anything For Love”)

This song hasn’t aged all that well, as it belabors its point far longer than the repetitive music can sustain. But the refrain still carries an irresistible hook, especially since Steinman hides what the narrator won’t do until the song’s closing moments. When we find out that what he won’t do is get tired of his lover and cheat on her, it’s a clever undercut because just the fact that she brought it up makes him look guilty of betraying his lofty pronouncements.

9) “We gotta be fast, we were born out of time/Born out of time and alone/And we’ll never be as young as we are right now/Running away and running for home” (from “Lost Boys And Golden Girls”)

The dramatic overtures of youth were a common theme of Steinman’s songwriting. Rarely was he more trenchant about their desperation to get it right than on this track, which he first released on his underrated solo record Bad For Good in 1981. Steinman lent his younger characters a kind of nobility that was largely born out of his own eloquence, and they had a self-awareness about them that wasn’t heard too often then but is much more common in pop culture depictions of teenagers now.

8) “Who needs the self-appointed prophets waving banners in the bloodshot sky?/Who needs the young when we’re spending all the rest of our wonderful lives waiting to die?” (from “Who Needs The Young?”)

In terms of late-period Meat Loaf, 2016’s Braver Than We Are is a much better approximation of his classic collaborations with Steinman than the third Bat Out Of Hell album. In part, it’s because they dusted off this Brechtian mini-operetta that Steinman had written about 45 years earlier about an old man who takes out his frustration with his own aging failings on the same types of glorious youngsters that he and Meat once celebrated.

7) “You were licking your lips and your lipstick shining/I was dying just to ask for a taste/We were lying together in a silver lining/You know there’s not another moment to waste” (from “You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)”)

Bat Out Of Hell remains the definitive statement of Steinman’s writing career, and it deserves more credit than it usually gets. Yes, some of it is overblown — so was a lot of rock from that era. But there are also sure pop shots like this one, which finds a sweet spot between its Spectorian production and Steinman’s lovingly detailed depiction of a teenage hookup. Notice how much he conveys in those two lines, from the sights to the emotions.

6) “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” (from “Making Love Out Of Nothing At All”)

For a wonderful week in 1982, Steinman ruled over the pop charts with the top two songs in the nation. We’ll get to #1 later in the list. But #2 was this bombastic tale of romantic amazement that Steinman handed off to Australian soft-rockers Air Supply. It probably seemed like an odd fit, at least until Russell Hitchcock’s acrobatic vocals took aim at wonderfully wacky couplets like the one above. It turned out to be one of the best non-Loaf interpretations of his work.

5) “Well I could tell you ‘goodbye’ or maybe ‘see you around’ with just a touch of a sarcastic ‘thanks’/We started out with a bang and at the top of the world/But now the guns are exhausted and the bullets are blanks” (from “Read ‘Em And Weep”)

Meat Loaf took a shot at this song on his belated follow-up to Bat Out Of Hell but didn’t quite nail the melody’s delicate twists and turns. In fact, the definitive version belonged to Barry Manilow, who tore into it with all the gusto you might expect from a guy who never shied away from high drama in his songs. The lines above show Steinman’s propensity for unexpected rhymes and his fearless way with metaphor.

4) “Though it’s cold and lonely in the deep, dark night/I can see paradise by the dashboard light” (from “Paradise By The Dashboard Light”)

It’s an epic that maybe overstays its welcome a bit, as the humor is somewhat cheesy and some of the later sections get a bit tedious. But the early part of the song still has the goods, aided by one of Meat Loaf’s best vocals and the everlasting wisdom of the couplet above. C’mon, let’s admit it, if Springsteen had written those words, critics would have been fawning over them for decades. Steinman deserves credit for creating that indelible image.

3) “Once upon a time was a backbeat/Once upon a time all the chords came to life/And all the angels had guitars even before they had wings/If you hold onto a chorus, you can get through the night” (from “Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through”)

For a guy who often strained against the limitations of the genre, Steinman penned one of the all-time great odes to rock with this one. Note that the title is “Come Through” and not “Come True.” That’s an important distinction to make. He seems to be suggesting that whether the dreams come true or not isn’t the important part. What’s important is that you can fall back on those them “when you really, really need it the most.”

2) “I want you, I need you/But there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you/Now don’t be sad/’Cause two out of three ain’t bad” (from “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad”)

One of Steinman’s go-to moves was to take a well-known phrase and set the song up around it in a clever way. His masterstroke with this technique was this big hit single, which owes a debt to Eagles ballads like “Wasted Time.” It’s all about consolation, which is all you can take since the ideals of romance are rarely ever met. What gives it depth is when the narrator, after having told his current fling about his reluctance to fall in love, reveals that he was once on the wrong end of that statement.

1) ”I don’t know what to do and I’m always in the dark/We’re living in a powder keg and giving off sparks” (from “Total Eclipse Of The Heart”)

You could make an argument for several of the lines in this song to be all-timers. It helped that Bonnie Tyler sold them to the heavens when she recorded it in 1982 and took it to the top of the charts. The couplet above just feels like the right choice because it somehow seems to encapsulate what Jim Steinman’s best work was able to do, in that it lit up the radio, too often populated by the drab and formulaic, with a strange and wonderful glow.

-Jim Beviglia

Photo Credit: American songwriter and producer Jim Steinman (left) posed together with singer Meat Loaf in USA, March 1978. Steinman and Meat Loaf collaborated with producer Todd Rundgren on the 1977 album Bat Out of Hell. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Other Posts You Might Like

6 comments on “Jim Steinman: 10 Of His Greatest Lyrics

  1. Two Out of Three… is one of my go to songs when I am generally bummed. Meatloaf does a great version but Jamey Johnson’s version with his deep country voice brings me to tears.

  2. Dan Beck

    Very nice and enjoyable analysis!

  3. P Dan Rose

    Nice article.
    However, Making Love and Total Eclipse came out in 1983 reaching number 2 and number 1 respectively on Billboard hot 100.

  4. Blonde Avenger

    “I Would Do Anything For Love” lists 7 things he won’t do. Maybe listen again. 1) I’ll never lie to you and that’s a fact 2)I’ll never forget the way you feel right now 3) I’ll never forgive myself if we don’t go all the way tonight 4) I’ll never do it better then I do it with you 5) I’ll never stop dreaming of you every night of my life 6) After a while to forget everything
    It was a brief interlude and a midsummer night’s fling And you’ll see that its time to move on 7) And sooner or later you’ll be screwing around

    No, I won’t do that

  5. I would have included something from “Life is a Lemon and I Want my Money Back.” Either of these:

    There’s desperation
    There’s desperation in the air
    It leaves a stain on all your clothes
    And no detergent gets it out

    OR

    What about your childhood?
    It’s defective
    It’s dead and buried in the past
    What about your future?
    It’s defective
    And you can shove it up your ass

  6. Timothy J. Bezpiaty

    >Beth
    Your first example fairly (Macgillycuddy’s) reeks of Warren Zevon.

Leave a Reply (and please be kind!)

Love the Beatles? Get this eBook FREE when you subscribe.

It turns out there's a lot to say. Just say "yes" to get yours.