Angsty, hormone-fueled pop songs about teenage love and lust were a dime a dozen during FM radio’s salad days, in the 1970s and ‘80s, but “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” — sung by the artist Meat Loaf, who died last week — was in a category by itself.
If you remember the song, you remember why.
If not, I’ll save you a trip to Spotify and explain.
Albums (and 8-track cassettes, our usual format) back in my high school days didn’t carry an “E” label if they had “explicit content,” and even by today’s standards I doubt “Paradise” would. In fact, I don’t remember any songs with what now would be considered explicit content on the radio in those days. And as for “Paradise,” there’s no profanity, unless you want to count the song’s album title, “Bat Out of Hell.”
But the song’s unabashedly suggestive lyrics were just the start of what made it so unusual for the time. It was pretty pornographic for a 1978 radio staple, even at a time when songs with titles like “Hot Blooded,” “Kiss You All Over” and “Sharing the Night Together” were sharing spots with it on the Billboard singles charts that fall.
The lyrics didn’t just paint a picture; in a way, they served as sort of an instruction manual. And not much was left to the imagination. Listen closely and you can hear why, on the album’s liner notes, writer Jim Steinman was credited with both keyboards and “lascivious effects.”
Then there was the length: at 8 minutes, 28 seconds, it rivaled Don McLean’s parabolic 1971 hit single “American Pie” (8 minutes, 42 seconds) for airplay time, and weighing in at 1,036 words, the song’s lyrics were three times those of the rock staple “Stairway to Heaven.”
And it was memorable, too, for something else that never failed to intrigue me when I heard the song: a full 53 seconds of “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” featured the play-by-play call from an imaginary late-inning baseball rally done by iconic New York Yankees shortstop-turned-broadcaster Phil Rizzuto, replete with the Hall of Famer’s “holy cow!” catchphrase.
“OK, here we go, we got a real pressure cooker going here,” Rizzuto begins after Meat Loaf and his duet partner, Ellen Foley, sing about going “all the way tonight.”
“Two down, nobody on, no score, bottom of the ninth. There’s the windup, and there it is — a line shot up the middle. Look at him go. This boy can really fly! He’s rounding first and really turning it on now; he’s not letting up at all. He’s gonna try for second!”
At this point, of course, the metaphor was in full bloom. The only question left to settle was whether the runner would make it past third base and all the way to home for a score.
The song — or the lyrics, rather — does not provide a happy ending. Steinman’s objective — to write “the ultimate car song,” he said later, “in which everything goes horribly wrong in the end” — was most decidedly achieved when the soon-to-be husband/wife characters in the song later found themselves in a very unhappy marriage, with Meat Loaf wrapping it up by “praying for the end of time.”
But it didn’t hurt sales: the album sold more than 43 million copies worldwide and made Meat Loaf — the actor-turned-singer who made that rock opera work — into a star. After his death last week at age 74, the man whose real name was Michael Lee Aday was back on the charts again as sales of “Bat” and “Paradise” and other albums and songs he recorded scored thousands of downloads from new and nostalgic fans.
I never owned the album or the single. At age 15, I spent what little money I had on Cat Stevens albums. Besides, nearly every person I knew had the “Bat” 8-track and “Paradise” played continually on the radio.
As many times as I heard it, though, it wasn’t until this week that I realized there’s an error hidden within Rizzuto’s portion of the song: with two outs and the runner on third, the batter in Rizzuto’s play-by-play bunts — what’s known in baseball parlance as the suicide, or sacrifice, squeeze play. Only in baseball, however, a sacrifice play with two outs is nonsensical.
It wouldn’t happen in real life.
No matter. Meat Loaf got plenty of mileage out of it anyway.
Bill Horner III can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @billthethird.
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