If you take a very traditional pop song and put it on the most powerful steroids money can buy, you end up with “Dead Ringer For Love”.
Jim Steinman, who wrote “Dead Ringer For Love”, together with every other Meat Loaf song you can sing along with, had a gift for writing and producing a series of chart-topping over-the-top songs. And Meat Loaf had just as much talent at showcasing them to their fullest theatrical potential.
Having started out as a stage actor, Meat Loaf knew how to work an audience and his flamboyant live shows were “must see” events.
Although hard rock purists tended to think Meat Loaf was a bit too much pop and not enough rock, I’m sure that didn’t bother Meat Loaf or Jim Steinman too much. Over 40 years after its release, “Bat Out Of Hell” is still one of the best-selling albums of all time and Meat Loaf has sustained a long musical career based on his own highly theatrical brand of rock and roll.
And theatrical is certainly the word to use when it comes to describing “Dead Ringer For Love”. This is a song that sounds like it was written as the sing-along finale for a raucous musical extravaganza in the West End or on Broadway.
For reasons I can’t work out…although I suspect it has something to do with lawyers, as that’s usually why…one of the most theatrical elements of “Dead Ringer For Love” is, surprisingly, the only low-profile element of the whole enterprise.
And that’s the presence of Cher as the female lead vocalist.
Then, as now, she was a big star with global name recognition. She doesn’t get a credit in the song’s title. Her name doesn’t even appear on the 45’s label. Although, if you look very carefully, you’ll see her name buried deep down inside the album credits as a “guest vocalist”.
In fact, it wasn’t until I saw the video for “Dead Ringer For Love” some years after the song first came out that I realised it was Cher on the record at all. Of course it sounded like her, but I just thought it was someone else singing in her style…after all who would have Cher singing on their record and not even mention it, for goodness’ sake…?
It seems the answer is Meat Loaf…or perhaps his lawyers…
That apart, as normal for a Jim Steinman/Meat Loaf collaboration, everything else is completely over-the-top.
Out the starting gate, “Dead Ringer For Love” sets off at a million miles an hour, pausing only momentarily for a breather part-way through, before resuming its former trajectory and finishing in a climatic fashion with a deafening cacophony of brass, cymbals and electric guitars.
In many ways, that parallels the story of the song, which is about a young guy who’s mainly been interested in music, beer and his mates up to that point, until he spots Cher across the bar…
Every night I grab some money and I go down to the bar
I got my buddies and a beer, I got a dream, I need a car
You got me begging on my knees, c’mon and throw a dog a bone
A man doesn’t live by rock ‘n roll and brew alone
In fairness, this might be the brew talking. Meat Loaf is certainly very taken by the sight of Cher…although who wouldn’t be?
She, on the other hand, is a good deal less excited by the prospect…and let’s face it, who could blame her?
Over the years I imagine she’s had more than her fair share of over-excited blokes smelling of beer trying to work their way into her life, purely for their own advantage. So she makes it very clear who’s in charge…
You got a lotta nerve to come on to me
You got the kinda lips that do more than drink
You got the kind of mind that does less than think
That’s a very fair observation. If there’s one thing that men in bars are traditionally not very good at after a few drinks, it’s thinking. The brain shuts down after the first couple and poor judgement takes over from that point on, usually on a geometric progression as their alcohol consumption increases.
However this is Meat Loaf’s lucky night. Normally Cher would have dismissed him with the sort of glance that would send most young men scurrying back home to hide behind their mother’s skirts, but tonight she’s open to the possibility…albeit strictly on her terms…
But since I’m feeling kinda lonely and my defences are low
Why don’t you give it a shot and get it ready to go
I’m looking for anonymous and fleeting satisfaction
And I want to tell my daddy I’ll be missing in action
It’s not love, but it’ll do for tonight…and that’s OK. Tonight they each get what they’re looking for and that’s a deal everyone’s happy with.
“Dead Ringer For Love” wouldn’t have been nearly as much a piece of musical pageantry without some amazing musicians to squeeze every last drop of overblown theatricality out of it.
Guitar on “Dead Ringer For Love” is by Davey Johnstone, well known for several decades as one of the keystones of Elton John’s band. Mick Ronson…formerly one of David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars…is in there too.
As is hard-hitting Liberty DeVitto, best known as Billy Joel’s drummer, but a session drummer of considerable renown in his own right and a man who can make the sort of noise on the drums with two hands that ordinary mortals would struggle to make with three or four.
The horn section is something else too…I’m not as familiar with them as individual musicians, but between them Lou Del Gatto, Tom Malone, Lou Marini and Alan Rubin really deliver the goods. They’re slick and tight and really lift the piece…opening up full throttle when they need to, providing some more restrained light and shade when that’s what’s called for instead.
The only thing that’s not anonymous about the fleeting satisfaction of “Dead Ringer For Love” is the noise it makes…this is one of those songs best played at the sort of volume that has people living three streets away calling the police.
Here’s Meat Loaf and Cher, vamping their theatrical way through a textbook over-the-top Jim Steinman composition, accompanied by the sort of musicians you’d give your eye teeth to play with…it’s Meat Loaf, and the surprisingly under-credited Cher, with “Dead Ringer For Love”…
If you’ve read this far, thank you for spending a few moments in the company of one of my favourite songs. The video is below, but if you prefer listening to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s track here… https://open.spotify.com/track/42fWVeJE1fcefKhXi6SJSn