Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Meat Loaf: Bat Out Of Hell (I - III)

I have to say that there is no other artist out there today who has consistently produced as amazing album covers as Meat Loaf, particularly the Bat into Hell Trilogy. I have to also say it makes me feel a little bit like a Lord of the Rings geek that I love these album covers so much, but there is no denying that they are really magnificent.

The covers are epic, they are tortured. They depict a moment at the end of the world, through the ashes of what has come before. They depict moments that are all-or-nothing, now-or-never, kill-or-be-killed. Just looking at them inspires me as a writer.

The first Bat out of Hell was released in 1977 and has gone on to sell approximately 43 million copies, including 200,000 per year to this day. It is just a classic album that really spans the generations, in my opinion. Plus songs like "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" and "You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth" are still played constantly on classic rock stations. This album cover was illustrated by Richard Corben.

Again, Bat out of Hell II (released in 1993) was a wildly successful album which sold 14 million copies and won Meat Loaf a Grammy for probably the best song of his career "I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)". Michael Whelan was the artist for this cover.

Julie Bell designed this album cover for the third installment of the Bat out of Hell trilogy, released in 2006. Interestingly, probably due to the changing radio station formatting and rise of illegal downloads, and just the collapse of the music industry in general, this album only sold 500,000 copies in the US, a far cry from the first two albums' sales. There was far more of a market for this type of unusual album in decades prior.

Yet this was the only album of the three not to feature Jim Steinman as producer of the album. Desmond Child (who has famously worked with Bon Jovi and many other successful groups) took over that role. However the album includes several previously written Jim Steinman songs.

Jim Steinman may be a little bit crazy, but he is also a genius. And his lyrics remain the most epic, most elaborate, and most over-the-top that I have ever enjoyed reading.

And behind these album covers is perhaps the perfect place to house his lyrics, coupled with Meat Loaf's always theatrical and dramatic voice and style of singing.

Best songs of the trilogy:

"I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)"
"Rock 'N Roll Dreams Come Through"
"Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad"
"Paradise by the Dashboard Light"
"You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth"

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bad Albums or Cheap Consumers?

Is the music industry a case of the chicken or the egg? In other words - does the poor quality of music these days cause consumers to only purchase a song or two off the album from Itunes? Or is it the consumers who have contributed to the low sales of albums by only buying a few songs instead of a full album?

So which came first: bad albums or cheap consumers?

Interestingly, the cost of a CD seems to be at an all time low. (In my not so scientific opinion, based on purchasing CDs since 1995, at the ripe age of 9)'s easy to find certain albums for $8 or $9. Yes, even new releases. I don't think I've paid more than $11 for a new release in the past few years...usually more like $9.99. It wasn't so long ago that I was willing to pay $15 or even - god forbid - $18 for an album by one of my favorite artists. Now I shop around on Amazon, WalMart, and Circuit City (by far the 3 cheapest places to buy a CD - FYE is a joke with ridiculous "sales", like $5 off an item everyone else has for $20 less...Best Buy, on the other hand, is tolerable).

I'm not sure I have an sales are the way of the future I guess. And established artists like The Eagles are still doing very well for themselves. How did "Long Road out of Eden" go on to sell 7 million copies in the past year, in a year when album sales are down by 25% (even used the word "whopping" in reference to this percentage)? Probably because fans of The Eagles tend to be older (although they do have fans of all ages I am sure) and older fans are more likely to want a physical copy rather than digital downloads. What 60 year old do you know with an Ipod?

How was the "High School Musical" soundtrack with 3.6 million copies sold the best selling album of 2006? Interestingly - that album was the first at the time to be a best selling album of the year with less than 4 million copies. Again, it comes back to the fans - who is buying the album? Parents for their kids and probably kids themselves (and 22 year old teenyboppers like me - actually I downloaded it. Whoops....). Parents and younger kids are not likely to download the music off websites or go to Itunes to buy the songs.

From Wikipedia, here are some interesting facts:
Josh Groban?? Who bought that album? Apparently 4 million people in 11 weeks. I never even knew he released a Christmas album, but I think the Oprah viewers went out to buy it in droves after watching the "Oprah's Favorite Things" episode he performed on. Never underestimate the power of Oprah. I don't.

So in closing, I will leave you with part of the lyrics to Bon Jovi's song "Last Man Standing":

His songs were more than music
They were pictures from the soul
So keep your pseudo-punk, hip-hop, pop-rock junk
And your digital downloads

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Declining Album Sales?

Searching through Billboard's website today, I noticed a question and answer column where a reader had inquired about the album sales of a few notable female artists. The response was:

That said, here are the to-date U.S. sales, through Sept. 7, of the most recent albums released by the artists listed above, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Duffy, "Rockferry" (462,000)
Estelle, "Shine" (110,000)
M.I.A., "Kala" (302,000)
Leona Lewis, "Spirit" (1,064,000)
Natasha Bedingfield, "Pocketful of Sunshine" (411,000)

If this was 10 years ago, or maybe even 5, the album sales would look more like this:

Duffy - 1 million

Duffy has that British soul singer appeal that is unparalleled in recent years. Oddly a crop of similar soul singers has emerged lately (ie: Amy Winehouse, Adele) but Duffy is by far the most appealing in appearance and voice. Although her performance of "Mercy" on a recent late night show (either Letterman or Leno) was absolutely horrible. She has an awesome voice but she desperately needs some stage presence.

Estelle - 500,000

Estelle is hardly a household name but in the past her album would have easily gone gold just based on the success of her song "American Boy" with Kanye West. It remains to be seen if she will prove herself with a second successful single.

M.I.A. - 500,000 at least

M.I.A.'s song "Paper Planes" forced her out of retirement when it became a hit (largely from its inclusion in the Pineapple Express trailer). In the past, a Top 10 single like M.I.A.'s largely guaranteed at least a gold album. It is actually hilarious that such a politically charged song would end up in a stoner movie, maybe because of the word "weed" being repeated a few times throughout the song.

Leona Lewis - 4 million

Leona Lewis has already had two huge songs - "Bleeding Love" (who could escape this song, even if they wanted to, which I certainly did) and the much more listenable "Better In Time". Of this group of new female artists, she has had the most success, but her album has barely gone platinum so far. 10 years ago, she would have sold at LEAST 4 million albums, maybe even 5 on the success of these two songs and all the buzz surrounding her. Her album became the first debut album by a British solo artist to debut at #1 on the Billboard chart.

Interestingly, the single "Bleeding Love" is certified 3x platinum by Billboard. Therefore 10 years ago 1 million physical album sales + 3 million digital sales = 4 million physical album sales...potentially.

Natasha Bedingfield - 3 million

"Love Like This" with Sean Kingston (a fairly catchy song) went to #11 on the Billboard chart. And the hideously irritating "Pocketful of Sunshine" went to #5 inexplicably. So two (basically) Top 10 singles, but the album has not even gone gold. At least these songs are better than "These Words" or "Unwritten" - a beloved song for drunken sorority girls to scream the lyrics to, drink clutched in one hand, at the latest dingy college club. Usually in my ear.