Jim Steinman passed away yesterday at 73 years old, or maybe it would be more appropriate to say that he burst through the veil of mortality surrounded by screaming bats and an explosion of thorny roses on a roaring motorcycle. God, he was amazing.
Though you may not know his name, you certainly know his music, because it has been blowing the hat off of your head for as long as you’ve been alive. There’s a certain quality to a Steinman epic: Whenever you hear a vein-popping power ballad that has the energy of a small nuclear plant, you can be assured it’s one of his.
Total Eclipse of the Heart. Paradise by the Dashboard Lights. It’s All Coming Back to Me Now. The unfairly overlooked masterpiece Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young (eventually adapted into the lunatic "Der Tanz der Vampire”). Making Love Out of Nothing at All. I Would do Anything For Love.
The man’s whole career was erupting volcanos and fiery meteors. Here are the songs you should listen to in tribute:
Start with Total Eclipse of the Heart, the fantastic Bonnie Tyler hit that is a nonsense-assault of wistful growling shrieking that turns into magic thanks to Tyler’s unbelievable vocal skill. This song, I think, distills Steinman’s greatest spell, which is musical tension. The song is not fast; it’s intense. The sheer energy of this song is enough to blast off into the moon, and yet it’s all managed, controlled, shaped. Three minutes in, and a gentle piano gives way to the world’s most meticulous drum machine and Bonnie Tyler’s fire-breathing that is somehow both patient and frantic. The control is just absolutely incredible. Oh and also the music video is bonkers. Bonkers!
Did Steinman also do Holding Out for a Hero, another Bonnie Tyler detonation? Of course he did. Once again, it’s measured and patient and controlled, an unbelievable feat when you have backup singers wailing like banshees. God! The talent here. No wonder it was used in the single greatest drag entrance in history, imitated with hilarious failure on Glee.
And then there’s Faster Than the Speed of Night. Just listen to that opening! Again with the slow steady controlled piano, the patient drums, but also the howling guitar! And what the fuck is that guy in his underwear doing???
And then of course there’s his longtime collaboration with Meatloaf. I mean, talk about iconic. He’s singing about nonsense but it’s the most important nonsense in the world. Bat Out of Hell is like the radioactive bite of a spider, a distillation of pure power. No wonder Mr. Loaf looks like he’s released an entire lake’s worth of sweat by the end of this video.
You know, people make fun of Twilight for being overwrought, but how dare they when videos like I’d Do Anything for Love exists. It’s like the grown-up big sister to Faster Than the Speed of Night, with accompanying visuals that inspired a million AO3 fanfics. Jesus, listen to the song get going just after the three-minute mark (one of Steinman’s great trademarks is the three-minute amp-up). It's like the physical act of love decided to write a song.
Anything for Love pairs nicely with one of the greatest of Steinman’s works, It’s All Coming Back to Me Now. Celine Dion is one of the most talented artists in human history and her Celinity combines perfectly with the Steinman style. The sorrowful belting! The spinning hallway of mirrors! The tender piano — always a piano with Steinman — building with the hyperventilating drums until they explode like a literal motorcycle crash! You will be destroyed!
Each of his songs is, of course, the soundtrack of fucking, but none more so than Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young. I am OBSESSED with this song, written for the flop Streets of Fire. The song is simply too powerful for its own soundtrack.
Of course, it sounds even better in German, with the lyrics changed to be about vampires.
Of all of Steinman’s great works, I think this is the greatest. It presents the finest veneer of calm, and just below the surface throbs the most frantic heart, threatening to explode at any moment, bursting out of its body like a bat out of hell, breaking out of its body and flying away. It is the world's most beautiful scream. Thanks for everything, Jim.