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Meat Loaf vs. Bonnie Tyler In the Jim Steinman Power Ballad Battle

This image says so much about Mr. Steinman.
This image says so much about Mr. Steinman.
Screengrab via Jim Steinman's website.

Allmusic.com describes the work of Jim Steinman as theatrical, visceral and rousing. It also describes it as campy, indulgent, and silly. They're exactly right: His work is all of those things, which is why it's awesome.

A member of the Songwriting Hall of Fame, Steinman is best known as the Bernie Taupin to Meat Loaf's Elton John, although he also wrote hit songs for Air Supply, Celine Dion, and, as we'll get to shortly, Bonnie Tyler.

Recently Steinman turned 65 and rather than the typical deep cuts/greatest hits/Wikipedia rewrite that would be more appropriate for his 50th birthday, I instead feel now is as good a time as any to answer the following question:

What is the greatest power ballad of all time, as written by Jim Steinman?

Tale of the Tape:

Contender No. 1 "Total Eclipse of the Heart" Performed by: Bonnie Tyler From the Album: Faster Than the Speed of Night Released: 1983 Running Time: 7:02 (album), 4:30 (single)

Contender No. 2 "I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)" Performed by: Meat Loaf From the album: Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell Released: 1993 Running Time: 12:01 (album), 5:25 (single)

Round 1: Which track has the better main vocal performance?

Although on the whole she's a great singer, Tyler comes off a bit cold in large parts of this track. The moment she hits "I really need you tonight" near the end of the track it's wonderful, but a lot of her vocals elsewhere in the song are kind of flat.

Meat Loaf is pretty stellar over the duration of his song, emotive the moment he steps up to the microphone. And when he finally hits the big version of the chorus at 7:02? Magic.

"I'd Do Anything": 1 "Total Eclipse": 0

Round 2:

Which track has better backup vocals and instrumentation?

This is a surprisingly close one. Musically I put them at roughly the same level, with "Total Eclipse" having a better melody but "I'd Do Anything" having better production value. It also has the weird but awesome motorcycle intro whereas all "Total Eclipse" has is those weird booms as it goes in to the instrumental break. What really broke the tie here is the other vocalists: Rory Dodd's vocals on the "turn around bright eyes" feel like they clash with the song while Lorraine Crosby holds her own with Meat Loaf in her duet section.

"I'd Do Anything": 2 "Total Eclipse": 0

 

Round 3: Which track is easier to understand?

While its vocals and music are great, "I'd Do Anything" does have one major problem: People seem to have a real hard time comprehending what the song is about. It seems there are many, including whomever wrote the bubbles on Pop-Up Video, that don't know what "that" thing that Meat Loaf wouldn't do is.

You could argue that these people have a point; although the song does explain what "that" is it does so in a pretty roundabout fashion. As for "Total Eclipse," I've never once heard anyone complain that they didn't know what Tyler was singing about. Sometimes you win by not losing.

"I'd Do Anything": 2 "Total Eclipse": 1

Round 4:

Which track would you rather sing?

I've never once heard anyone sing "I'd Do Anything" at karoke. I've never seen anyone cover it. Although I've seen it on a few people's mix CDs I rarely see anyone singing along to it in the car. On the other hand most people seem to love singing "Total Eclipse."

You get someone who thinks they have a decent singing voice, get a little bit of alcohol in them, and start the song and they'll be belting it out like there's no tomorrow. I assume this goes back to the "ease of understanding" thing; because we understand "Total Eclipse" better it's easier for us to sing it.

"I'd Do Anything": 2 "Total Eclipse": 2

Round 5:

Which track makes the best use of its running time?

At 7:02 and 12:01 these songs aren't exactly short. Even the versions released as singles are way longer than the average track that hits radio. I think most people feel that the single release of "Total Eclipse" is the best. It cuts out an entire verse that's unnecessary as evidenced by the fact that no one knows any of the lyrics to it.

This round goes to "I'd Do Anything," because at the end of the day it is Steinman at his most Steinman; it has a mock motorcycle intro that takes up the first 30 seconds of the song, the big version of the hook doesn't hit for seven minutes, and you don't even find out there's a duet part for almost ten. And yet it's perfect just the way it is.

Final Verdict:

While they're both great songs, in the end "I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)" takes the battle three rounds to two, and thus is the best power ballad that Jim Steinman or anyone else has ever written.



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