Revisiting the Rock Ballad Decades Later

The other night, I was watching a video of the singer Meatloaf and a rendition of “Paradise By the Dashboard Light”. This is a song he made famous with Ellen Foley, and in case you missed the 1970s and the next few decades after, it tells the story of a young couple who are on a date in the guy’s car, and he starts to get a bit randy. And then he tries to go all the way. When he tries, it goes into baseball metaphors, and then there’s a huge confrontational scene where she makes him pledge his love for her before they can “go any further”. It ends like most love stories do: They can’t stand each other and are stuck with each other for life. Okay, maybe not like all love stories, but you get the idea.

When this song was first released, Meatloaf was fresh from the oven at about 26 years old. At the time, he could kind of get away with being a teenager, as the song suggests. And she was pretty young, too. So, it made a lot of sense.

The song basically became a metaphor for that date that goes a bit too far (or the one that caused dating to turn into something much more significant). It’s a great song opera and tells an awesome story.

So, why am I talking about it?

Well, we’ve slow forwarded to many decades later, and Meatloaf is now 71 years old. And last night, I caught a remake of the song where he performs with Patti Russo, who is much younger. Personally, I think the original version is so much better as Ellen Foley really has a voice that just brings home that song while Patti Russo seems to be more of an accomplished singer but seems more focused on sounding good rather than being as gritty as the original singer.

But what really gets to me is the sort of criticism I sometimes have when an old band or singer continues to sing old songs that are more relevant to that performer being much younger. Like Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll”. When she first sang it, it was a great song, and I could see a young Joan Jett picking up a 17 year old kid in a bar. But now, with her being somewhat beyond Cougar-age, her cruising for 17 year old boys seems a bit out of place.

And that’s the sense I get when I think about Meatloaf on his sexual conquest of high school kids. It’s really hard to watch him sing this song, realizing that he’s been receiving Social Security for the last six years. But then, I sometimes have to remember that the point of the song sometimes gets lost on me, and that it’s really about an older person reminiscing about a date in a car when he was a young man. When I think of it that way, it’s fine. But when watching a video with a 71 year old guy and a woman who looks like she just got out high school (although, for the record, I’m pretty sure she’s at least in her twenties during that video), it probably doesn’t help that her “costume” in that video happens to be an attempt at a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader outfit. That pretty much reminded me that it’s no longer a geriatric memory but some old guy with some very young girl. And that just makes it somewhat uncomfortable.

But it’s a good song. I digress.

duaneRevisiting the Rock Ballad Decades Later

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