This stunning debut album, Bat Out Of Hell, was released on October 21, 1977, that’s 46 years ago this week. It was a massive worldwide hit for Meat Loaf and producer Jim Steinman. That happened despite heavy resistance to the work from many record labels, including the one it was released by!
Bat Out Of Hell started out as a rock musical Neverland, a version of the Peter Pan story, which Steinman wrote in 1974. He was working with Meat Loaf at that time and the pair began to plan an album from the songs Stenman had written. They spent most of 1975 finalising the now iconic album, rewriting songs, writing more and recording them, with Todd Rundgren producing and arranging.
That’s where it started to get difficult, they now had an album, but couldn't get a record deal. The songs were trailed around lots of labels but the rejections were coming thick and fast. Meat Loaf later reckoned they spent two and a half years chasing down a record contract, longer than it took to create the record.
Bat Out of Hell - Meat Loaf all revved up and somewhere to go
Eventually, through a connection with Stephen Van Zandt from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street band, a deal was agreed with Cleveland International Records. But their struggles weren't yet over. Although the boss at Cleveland was heavily behind the album, he was under pressure to convince his then parent labels, Epic and CBS, where it's reported that the album was hated. This later led to claims of the album being poorly promoted in its early days of release.
In the UK though there was a growing interest in the album. The BBC rock TV show Old Grey Whistle Test had a habit of breaking new bands to the public. The host, Bob Harris, played a long video clip of the title track being played live. The response was so great that Harris played it again the following week. The album went on to be a huge success there and in 2022 was revealed as the biggest-selling debut album in the UK.
Meat Loaf and 'Bat Out Of Hell' start to soar
Back in the US though sales were still slow and any promotion was still very low key. The attention switched to Canada instead. A series of promoter connections and heavy radio airplay led to CBS Canada getting behind the record. Eventually the US had to play catch up as interest started to grow quickly. Over time the momentum increased and helped the album reach No. 14 on the US Billboard 200 in 1978.
The record continued to sell for years afterward. It’s estimated to have reached around 40m sales worldwide, around 14m of those in the US. Bat Out Of Hell regularly features in charts for greatest albums and has picked up many awards. It did of course launch the musical careers of Steinman and Meat Loaf and has been a favourite and oft-played album in many record collections over the years, my own very much included. It's astonishing now to think it took so much time and effort to reach those millions of listeners.