Even the most ardent aficionado of the whole Meat Loaf/Jim Steinman body of work will admit that the 1981 album Bad For Good is one that is hard to love. The cycle of songs that was reportedly supposed to form the second Meat Loaf album, the follow-up to the global smash hit Bat Out Of Hell, but the project had been beset by so many delays that its writer and producer despaired of the singer ever finding the time to actually make the record. More pertinently the label was becoming restless.
So Steinman recorded the album himself. A prospect that strayed on the wrong side of tantalising thanks to the simple truth that though a writer and musician of some considerable merit, as a singer he could do little more than yowl with all the soul of a recently trodden on a cat. In all fairness, he knew that himself, pitching the arrangements on many of the tracks on Bad For Good carefully so he never quite has to stretch his reedy tones into the realms of ludicrousness. For those tracks when the tune was clearly beyond him he enlisted longtime backing singer Rory Dodd (he of “turn around, bright eyes” fame on a certain 1983 Number One hit) to supply the vocals instead. Even this was however very much a case of making do and on the album’s most famous cut, the original version of Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through, Dodd too demonstrates just why he plied his trade for years as the bloke in the background singing “oooh” and “aaah” in the most dramatic fashion he can muster.
Yet for all its vocal flaws Bad For Good remains an oddly compelling listen, an important step along the musical journey that would spawn both the 1989 Pandora’s Box album Original Sin and Meat Loaf’s own triumphant 1993 behemoth Bat Out Of Hell II. These are still ludicrous, bombastic yet oddly moving and romantic rock songs, all taking place in a universe where everyone is a horny teenager forever and where music and sex are intertwined as part of the same spiritual goal. All part of a package which was ultimately only let down by its final presentation.
One of those songs, however, is one which I’ve come to regard as something of a forgotten classic. A bold, breathless and insanely entertaining epic which unlike many of the album’s other songs has never been reworked or re-appropriated by any other act. Conventional wisdom (and Wikipedia) has it that the only official single lifted from Bad For Good was the aforementioned Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through. But there was actually a second, one which had a lavishly staged video filmed for it and which YouTube has preserved for us in full.
Dance In My Pants was singled out by reviewers of the album in rather negative terms for it was essentially a reworking of Paradise By The Dashboard Light on Bat Out Of Hell: a battle of the sexes male and female duet, dressed up in a rock and roll romp and long enough to be divided into several movements as if a core part of the libretto of a musical. Yet it is actually one of the better tracks from the album as it is by and large driven by someone who can actually sing the melody put in front of her.
Karla DeVito had begun her career working in musical theatre in Chicago, performing as part of the casts of Godspell and Hair. She joined the Steinman circus during the early promotion for Bat Out Of Hell, singing backing vocals and indeed she appears in the promotional videos for many of the songs, lip syncing (not always to great success) to the vocals performed by Ellen Foley on the record. DeVito was also at Meat’s side for the famous set he performed live on BBC Television for the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1978. She was, therefore, the perfect choice to step into Ellen Foley’s shoes for the only female lead vocal on the follow-up.
For Dance In My Pants Karla is the protagonist. A chirpy, enthusiastic character so enchanted by music and dancing that she simply has no time for lovers of any kind.
There’s a drummer going at it,
Way down in the core of my soul,
There’s no escaping the music,
And I’m psyching up my feet
And they’re telling me we’re ready to roll.
Quintessential Steinman in the opening lines of the song, working his common theme that music is a deep, primal and all-enveloping passion which can move you on a spiritual as well as a physical level.
Karla explains how she started the day feeling depressed and blue, but the music lifted her and now there is just no stopping the feeling inside.
I got dance in my pants,
Every time I feel the power of a radio wave,
I turn it up all the way
We continue in this vein for three minutes and all is well with the world. Apart from in Jim’s world. Because at this point he enters the song and makes it plain he has other things on his mind.
I’m a lover not a dancer,
Don’t want to be on my feet when I can be on my back,
Don’t want to be on the floor when I can be in the sack,
I’m a lover not a dancer, baby,
And baby let me prove it to you.
The pair proceed to dance around each other, both lyrically and physically as Karla suggests the ways they can be together in dance and Jim returns to his blunt attempts at seduction.
It is at this point in the song that the parallels to Paradise By The Dashboard Light kick in as it enters an extended instrumental break punctuated by a back and forth narrative between the pair as Karla persuades Jim that all he needs is a little practice whilst embarking on what we are left to presume is a blizzard of dance moves which finally brings him round to her way of thinking. We emerge, breathless into another rendition of the chorus, performed by both together this time as the seduction – her of him – is complete.
The song appears to be starting to wind down at this point as Karla returns to the melody (unused since) of the opening lines:
When they decide that I’m gone,
I know they’ll try to put me to rest,
But I won’t be afraid,
Because I know that there’s dance after dance.
This is the cue for the song’s euphoric coda as Steinman turns to another of his favourite lyrical themes and sticks two fingers in the face of death. Both boy and girl pledge to each other that they will end their days dancing.
I don’t ever wanna be rescued,
And I don’t ever wanna be saved,
I got a feeling that I’m gonna be alive forever,
Dancing on the edge of the grave.
Paradise By The Dashboard Light ended with the protagonists stranded together forever in loveless torment. Dance In My Pants ends in euphoric joy as they race together into the sunset filled with a love of music, dancing and we presume each other. It goes almost unnoticed that early in the song Karla acknowledges “sooner or later, we’ll get around to the love” – so in truth there was never any doubt that randy old Jim was going to get what he was after. He just needed to earn it first.
The single of Dance In My Pants was only ever issued in Britain and The Netherlands at the tail end of 1981 but failed to chart in either, hence you suspect its status as being forgotten by history – although it has been known to appear in Meat Loaf live sets over the years, despite the star never having recorded his own version on any of his own albums. Jim Steinman subsequently retreated from the microphone, reuniting with Meat Loaf that same year for the Dead Ringer album which was released almost contemporaneously with the final unsuccessful single from his own work. Karla DeVito also released her own solo album in 1981 before returning to the stage. She succeeded Linda Ronstadt in The Pirates Of Penzance on Broadway where she was cast opposite her future husband Robby Benson. After impressing Sarah Brightman she screen tested for the lead role in a then mooted film version of Evita and would have indeed played the part had the film not taken another 15 years to be made. After becoming a mother she took a step back from performing but has been active again in recording and producing since the turn of the century.
One of the best things about the new social media age is that it is possible to reach out to the stars and your idols and tell them how much you appreciate the parts of their work that others might have forgotten. So it was that last year I was inspired to contact DeVito herself and tell her:
And to my joy she replied:
The best music is that which somehow reaches deep into your soul, lifts you into joy out of even the bleakest darkness and makes you yearn to sing or dance yourself or even just to perform and express that joy physically and vocally. Karla DeVito and Jim Steinman made such a record once, one which is now buried deep in the grooves of a half-forgotten and hard to love album. I’m glad to have the chance to shine a light on it just a little here.