As a child of the 70s, it is of course inevitable that I would be infected by the virus that was “Meat Loaf, Bat Out of Hell”. The original album was a late 70s antidote to Candy Pop, Disco and novelty music that made up so much of the decades music. Heh, I fully embraced all that stuff so that is not a criticism, merely an observation. I knew the singer Meat Loaf from the movies. Yes I was one of those regulars at “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” Saturdays at Midnight. When the inaugural recording project came out, it could not helped but be noticed by the stylized cover art.
Also on the cover was an additional credit, right at the bottom, “Songs by Jim Steinman”. That is where I first heard the name of the mad genius who practically invented the Power Ballad for the next generation of hard rock acts. I remembered reading a story about Steinman who said in the article, that one of the ways he was inspired to write the music for the album was by listening to the complete Ring Cycle by Ricard Wagner, in one sitting. That’s more than 14 hours of opera in a row. I thought that was a great idea so I went to the library to check out recordings of the Wagner Operas. I did not succeed. I listened quite a bit, but not all four operas and not all at one sitting. My failure convinced me that Steinman was crazy and also brilliant. Listening to the music on this album showed me how the scale and scope of an opera piece could be distilled down to a single musical segment (although a heck of a lot longer than most three minute pop songs).
The follow up to the album was complicated by Meat Loaf having vocal issues and some falling out between the two over artistic issues (probably money too). They would reconnect years later, but in the interim, Steinman released a collection of his works that he recorded himself.
I bought the LP while I was in grad school, at the record store in the University Village, right across from college. Once again I was drawn to the overblown passages, soaring melodies and humorously dark lyrics. There is definitely a style that is identifiable as a Jim Steinman work.
This last week, Mr. Steinman passed away at the age of 73. You might think his overblown songs were relics of a particular time, that is until you go to a movie or watch one at home streaming, and suddenly, there they are again, the distinctive building structure or repeated musical runs as they crescendo behind a booming voice that suddenly becomes softer, lulling you in until it slaps you again with an operatic outburst. Steinman’s work lives on in dozens of movies. Frankly, there are many that I have never seen, and some even slipped by that I have seen but I forgot.
In concert with a Roll Your Own Top Five Lambcast, i now present an inventory of Jim Steinman music in films. Let me star with one that I was really surprised about and doesn’t seem to fit with his usual oeuvre.
No Matter What-From Notting Hill
This is a love song, that is smooth and melodic, and soft. It is actually performed by a boyband from the era that I never heard of, Boyzone. They were an Irish singing group that had substantial success in the U.K. and Ireland. The reason the music is atypical is because this was a collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Weber. Steinman is credited with the lyrics. It is an appealing enough song for a rom-com, and the montage of scenes form the movie suggest it was probably used to promote the film. I’ve seen Notting Hill a few times but I had never noticed this credit until this week.
The next three pieces were not written specifically for movies. The first of these is another soft rocker that is atypical of Steinman’s bombast but the lyrics and the sad melody betray him as it’s author. It was in fact a substantial hit in the U.S. for a band from Australia.
Making Love Out of Nothing at All
As you listen to the chorus build, that is the main clue to the authorship of the song. The lyrics have the vaguely sad and empty emotional component that Steinman can be known for.
The song was used in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie action film from 2005. It is apparently used in the Dumb and Dumber prequel that no one saw.
A more appropriate vocal for the Steinman style is found in the Bonnie Tyler version.
Paradise by the Dashboard Light
The ultimate car make out opera was of course a hit from “Bat out of Hell”, so it was not made for the movies but it has been used in them a few times
I have never seen “This is 40”, but this song is apparently used in it and I bet I can imagine how. It also was used in “Leap of Faith” which I have not seen since it came out 1992. I do however remember the brief reference to it which was a little spot on with the lyric, in “Josie and the Pussycats”. It did make me smile however so it was worth it.
Total Eclipse of the Heart
Not technically written as a song for a movie, but Steinman plundered his score for the 1980 film “A Small Circle of Friends”, to make this song’s verse melody. Bonnie Tyler became something of a muse for him when she sang this song and took it to the top of the charts (incidentally keeping the “Air Supply” song listed above from reaching number one).
The backing vocals are credited to other singers but if you listen to the first “turn around bright eyes” it sure sounds like Steinman from “Bad for Good”. He also said he started it as a song for a musical version of Nosferatu. So while it was not written for a specific film it has been used prolifically in a hell of a lot of movies, including:
Harold and Kumar go to White Castle
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Some Days are Better Than Others
Dead Snow 2 Red v. Dead
The remaining songs for this post were all tailored for the movies.
Original Sin-The Shadow
As was typical in the 90s (and probably still is) a pop song was desired to play over the closing credits of a movie. “The Shadow” was a less than successful, although highly watchable take on the pulp character from the 1930 radio show and comics. The score from the film was by the great Jerry Goldsmith, with a big orchestra supplemented by synthesizers. It includes the usual innovative sounds of a Goldsmith work. The pop song for the credits is completely separate from that except that it has some of the same dark, lush melodies that might be found in the score. No Bonnie Tyler here, instead the song was performed by dance music diva Taylor Dane.
Holding Out for A Hero-Footloose
Dean Pitchford who is the screenwriter for the movie Footloose, has a writing credit on every song in the movie, including this one. I can’t say what his contributions were, but I can say the song is unmistakably a Jim Steinman epic.
Wikipedia quotes The A.V. Club’s William Hughes as stating that the song “displays some of the worst of its decade’s (and composer’s) typical excesses: The lyrics are laughable, and the heavy-handed synths and piano riffs come dangerously close to cheese”, but adds, “The sum of those parts transcends their limitations, hooking directly into pure emotional need like only the greatest of torch songs can.
So even harsh critics can see the transcendent nature of a Steinman song’s passion.
Once again, Bonnie Tyler is the muse that brings Jim’s song to [larger than]life.
Tyler’s original version has featured on several soundtracks, including Footloose, Short Circuit 2, Who’s Harry Crumb?, Bandits, Regular Show , The Way Way Back and The Angry Birds Movie 2.
Jennifer Saunders recorded a version for Shrek 2.
The last two songs I’m going to mention are both from the same movie.
Nowhere Fast-Streets of Fire
This may be my favorite song on the list (at least until I listen to the next one).
Streets of Fire is a film that was a misfire from a narrative point of view but from a stylized visual perspective it is absolute genius.
The chorus is pure Steinman
“You and me are going nowhere slowly
and we’ve gotta get away from the past
There’s nothing wrong with going nowhere, baby
But we should be goin’ Nowhere Fast”
The song was performed by a studio group called Fire Inc. with Laurie Sargent as the lead vocalist. Diane lane is the on screen singer Ellen Aim, the lead of her own band. This is the dramatic opening song for the movie. It has a hard driving intro and takes off from there. The last song in the movie goes the other direction.
Tonight Is What It Means to be Young-Streets of Fire
The song is led into by the big single from the film [Not a Steinman song, “I Can Dream About You”] but you can tell it is the climax of the film. The story is that the film makers expected to get the rights to the Bruce Springsteen song “Streets of Fire” and they even shot an ending featuring that tune, but the rights to use that song were denied. Steinman was asked to come up with something quickly and he gave them this song which he wrote in two days.
According to the wiki version:
So I wrote this song that I loved and I sent it to them and he and Joel, I remember, left me a great message saying, I hate you, you bastard, I love this song. We’re gonna have to do it. We’re gonna have to re-build the Wiltern Theater, which they had taken down, it was a million dollars to re-do the ending… and I felt all his hostility for Universal. A guy named Sean Daniels, who was head of production, one day said to me, well there is hostility because we understand you waited about eight months to come up with that final song and you never did it. I said, where’d you hear that? I did it in two days. He said, Jimmy Iovine. So I went to Jimmy Iovine and I said all that to his, yeah it’s true, I know. I blamed you but you can’t be upset with me. I’m not like a writer. I’ve gotta make my way with these people. I had to have a scapegoat.
Regardless of it’s origins, it’s a great song, again by the studio band this time with vocals by Holly Sherwood. She had a solo career in the seventies and sang backup vocals on many Steinman projects.
So there you have it, a list of some great songs from movies by an artist who was incredibly successful but was not the frontman for most of his career. His Wagnerian brand of Rock music calls to mind certain emotions that mesh well with a lot of films as you can see.
Today Jim Steinman is the angel on the beach, his hair flying out in ribbons of gold and his touch has the power to stun.