When Ellen (Foley) Met Mick (Jones)

If only the nuns who taught a young Ellen Foley realized she had a voice sent from heaven, perhaps they wouldn’t have wasted her time forcing her to watch movies.  Ellen noted: “I went to Catholic school in St. Louis and was shown lots of films about finding our vocation as a nun saving pagan babies in Africa, but it never took.”

But once she turned 21, Ellen took off for the bright lights of New York City only to wind up a hundred miles from Broadway, acting/singing in a Catskills comedy revue called Tuxedo Junction.  She remembered: “It was corny with me in false eyelashes and the boys in glittery jumpsuits. I was fired. I was too odd.”

After being told to hit the road, she secured a part in the road show of National Lampoon: Lemmings. She recalled: “In the show was Meat Loaf. We were kind of the road team because Gilda Radner, John Belushi, and Bill Murray had done it in New York.”

Ellen and Meat performed well together, starring in a sketch satirizing The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  Ellen summarized the playlet: “I came into my apartment and I threw up my hat and I couldn’t catch it because I was blind. Meat Loaf came in and he was my boyfriend, and he was doing all these terrible things while he was saying really sweet things. He would hump my leg and say it was my dog.”

Accompanying them on piano was musical director Jim Steinman who loved Ellen’s over-the-top voice, calling her “the Maria Callas of rock.”  Her singing perfectly fit into a pop operatic piece he was writing which became “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” part of the Bat Out of Hell opus.  Ellen recalled recording the 8:28 frustrated sex saga: “Meat Loaf comes into the booth with me when I was singing. Sat him in a chair and performed it at him.  Demanded everything from him until he was the weeping puddle on the floor that you hear on the record.”

After that, Ellen appeared in Hair on Broadway and then struck out to England, where she recorded her debut album Night Out with Ian Hunter producing and Bowie’s ex-bandmate Mick Ronson playing.

In a 2023 interview, Ellen stated that Ian was a hands-on producer (and not in a good way): “He’d say ‘Oh, she’s a Broadway singer.’ We had run-ins with the mix.  I’d say ‘more vocals.’  Then Ian literally threw me out of the studio. Which would not happen now. Here I was, a 20-something in the ’70s where the phrase ‘woman in rock’ was still a new thing.”

When Night Out didn’t chart in the US, Ellen went to a London club and met Mick Jones, her future beau.  She recalled: “We were together for about two and a half years and somewhere in the course of that, I was on the Epic label and I needed a second album. And I wanted to be there with Mick and he and the guys just offered to do the album with me.”

The guys were listed as “Mick, Joe, Paul, Topper” on her Spirit of St. Louis album cover but were better known as The Clash. Mick was also credited in the liner notes with, “Produced by my Boyfriend.” Unfortunately, because the Clash wanted to keep a low profile and not let the world know that Joe Strummer/Mick Jones wrote six of the twelve songs, the album only reached #137 in America.  Ellen confessed: “I was going along with the whole Clash ‘Screw the Man’ ethos. My manager came all the way over from America and we wouldn’t even let him in the studio to hear this stuff!  So, I think we did everything to make the record not sell.”

Ellen, who sang with “the guys” on “Hitsville U.K.” from their Sandinista! LP released two more albums with disappointing sales. She bowed out of the rock ‘n’ roll game.

Foley took a role in Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim’s hit musical.  In 1986, Ellen originated the role of the witch at San Diego’s Old Globe Theater, which pleased Sondheim (he called her the “alpha and the omega”).

Today, Ellen wishes she could’ve cast a spell on producers of the 80s hit TV show, Night Court after they reportedly informed her in the second season that they’d rather have someone else play her role.  Ellen joked: “You don’t know pain until you’ve been replaced in a role by Markie Post.”

If there’s any consolation, Ellen’s contribution to Bat Out of Hell has left a much bigger pop culture mark.  Undoubtedly, the first sentence of her obituary will read “singer on ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’ followed by “…and inspired the Clash’s ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go.’”  Mick Jones’ song is rumored to be about whether Mick should keep living with Ellen or leave.

Ellen isn’t sure if she was his big influence, but she didn’t mind getting a big check.  In a 2022 interview, Ellen said: “Fifteen years ago, I got a $10,000 check in my bank account. And in England, it’s called a ‘PPL’ and they pay royalties. I got in touch with the guy. I said, ‘This is nice but I wasn’t on the record.’ He says, ‘Well, we looked it up on Wikipedia and it said the song was written about you and so we’re giving you money.’  I said…Okay!”

-Mark Daponte

Photo montage: Ellen Foley, 2014  (Eddie Janssens via Wikimedia Commons)/Mick Jones (Credit: Copyright (c) 1987 by Nancy J Price via Wikimedia Commons)



Mark Daponte is a copy/blog writer for an advertising company and has published/sold four short stories, three full length screenplays, nine short screenplays (including two animation scripts) and punches up screenplays—because they don’t punch back. He has had six short comedic plays performed by various theater companies, including one in Los Angeles, (Sacred Fools) and Sacramento, CA (Sacramento Actors Theater Company). When he isn’t sinking down to a thirteen-year-old’s level to make his teenaged sons laugh, he can be found seeking signs of intelligent life in his hometown of Brooklyn, NY.

2 comments on “When Ellen (Foley) Met Mick (Jones)

  1. What a great story! I think that’s the first time I’ve heard about someone getting unexpected money from a label. And now I have a name and a face to associate when I hear Hitsville UK.

  2. Mark Hudson

    Shame to hear that Foley and Hunter didn’t get along – they made a cool album though.

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