Meat Loaf’s Paradise By The Dashboard Light is one of those songs everyone knows, and almost everyone loves. Like many classic rock songs (and can I just take a moment to be horrified that a song that came out a year after I was born now counts as classic rock?), it’s an institution as much as a song in itself. Meat Loaf made at least three videos for it, from the classic proto-video at the very beginning of the art form:
To the new version made for the Steve Martin vehicle Leap of Faith, at the tail end of MTV’s golden age:
To my favorite version, this live performance from 1994’s Meat Loaf: Bat Out of Hell II – Picture Show:
Along with Footloose, it’s still played at high school dances even today (don’t destroy my happy illusions if I’m wrong), and even if it’s not, it’s still referenced in such contemporary sources as Glee:
And GoPhone ads:
And just about every time someone talks about that song, they always make the same joke: Boy did that girl pick a bad time for a relationship discussion.
And she did. Let’s be honest here: even if a guy is completely honest in that situation, he’s not going to be thinking that clearly. As some comedienne whose name I can’t remember said: “Just give him a pity fuck and talk about it later.”
I mostly prefer to enjoy Paradise on that level – the fun level, the teenage sex comedy level. But if you think about it a little, scratch the neon and chrome surface, there’s something serious beneath.
Some of you may know that Paradise – along with most of Meat Loaf’s other greatest songs, not to mention Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart, Air Supply’s Making Love Out of Nothing At All, Celine Dion’s It’s All Coming Back To Me Now and a number of other Epic Rock hits – was written by Jim Steinman. What you may or may not also know is that Jim Steinman is to Rock & Roll what Quentin Tarantino is to grindhouse movies: a walking library of great works of the past, filling his own work with references to those greats, if only by deliberately breaking the patterns those greats established.
(Exhibit A: Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad – “I want you, I need you, but there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you.”)
So when Jim Steinman wrote Paradise, he almost certainly had songs like this in mind:
But those songs were written from the perspective of the girl, and those songs capture a certain concern of those girls in those gigantic Fifties back seats. Of course they hope that their first teenage love will last forever – doesn’t everyone? – but most have a more specific concern, one that has been a concern of young girls out for their First Time all down human history. Specifically, this concern:
Oh, it’s funny now, and even in 1977. But consider: that song was written in 1977, and it’s set in “Long ago and Far away”. What would count as long ago? Twenty years?
What you may not know is that 1950’s had a rate of teenage pregnancy that has not been equaled since. The free lovin’ Sixties, the decadent Seventies, the selfish Eighties, those dang kids of today – none of them even come close. There was a bit of a spike in the early Nineties, but even that was a pale shade of the Fifties. A lot of “end of times” started with “parkin’ by the lake”. I’m not saying that’s what happened to our protagonists – they might just be strict with their code of honor when it comes to keeping vows – but it happened to a lot of crazy kids just like ’em.
All in all, I think we’re better off living in an era where girls can feel safe in giving in to “the feeling” (or just giving him a pity fuck and talking about it later) instead of hoping “(he’ll) still love me tomorrow”, and ending up with everyone involved prayin’ for the end of time. There are people who want to drag us back to that; let’s not let them.