What we can learn from Meatloaf about writing with clarity
?What is the thing you won?t do for love?? ? it?s the question Meatloaf gets asked the most. By all accounts, it still drives him up the bloody wall.
Why does it get him so vexed? Because the answer is in the song, it?s right there people! Did you realise?
No time to watch the video? I?ll explain.
?That? refers to a series of statements he makes in the verses of the song. For example ?I?ll never forget the way I feel right now?, ?I?ll never forgive myself if we don?t go all the way?, ?I?ll never do it better than I do it with you? plus some more equally skin-crawling propositions. Those are the things that he won?t do.
Simple. Or at least, Meatloaf thinks it is.
Where the song goes wrong
I disagree, and I think there?s a real lesson all writers can learn from writer Jim Steinman?s lyrical fudge. The original meaning of the word ?that? is so buried in the verse that it?s barely comprehensible. No wonder we?re left scratching our heads.
Let?s look at it on the page.
And I would do anything for love I?d run right into hell and back I would do anything for love I?d never lie to you and that?s a fact But I?ll never forget the way you feel right now Oh no, no way And I would do anything for love Oh I would do anything for love I would do anything for love, but I won?t do that No, I won?t do that
Reading the lyrics, instead of listening to it ? and now knowing what we?re looking for ? it makes a little more sense. That?s because reading this section takes us a couple of seconds at most.
However, when we listen to the song, the line ?But I?ll never forget the way you feel right now? is seeded at the end of the first verse. We then have to sit for an unbelievable sixteen seconds, through the overwrought chorus, to get to the pay-off line ??but I won?t do that?.
For pop music listeners, with our tiny weeny attention spans, this is a temporal chasm that simply cannot be bridged.
As a copywriter, I feel it is my duty to take this goddamn song that has tortured everyone for years and make it comprehensible.
Whilst simultaneously proving that we should leave art to the artists by crushing every ounce of sentiment from the lyrics.
Hold onto your frilly shirts, here we go:
The copywriter?s hot take
First problem, the contrast between the things that he will do ?
?I?d run right into hell and back/I?d never lie to you and that?s a fact?
? and the things he won?t do ?
?I?ll never forget the way you feel right now?
? are way too muddy. There are two ?never?s in there for a start.
And ?I?ll never forget the way you feel right now? ? what does that even mean? How do you even know what the other person is feeling? Surely it?s the ?way I feel right now?? I don?t know, Meatloaf, I?m not sure it?s working for me. The things that you will do for love are mushy wushy feelings, and the thing that you won?t do has a very similar vibe. You?re already confusing us, and we haven?t even got to the chorus.
We need to think of something else that he doesn?t want to do for love, a much clearer and more memorable action (note: action not feeling), that will extend the line well into the chorus, so that by the time we get to ?I won?t do that? we still have a vague recollection of what he?s banging on about.
And so, lo, here we have my greatly improved version:
And I would do anything for love I?d run right into hell and back I would do anything for love I?d never lie to you and that?s a fact But I won?t open the oven when I?m cooking a cheese souffl, no way And I would do anything for love Oh I would do anything for love I would do anything for love, but I won?t do that ? – it would come out flat.
We have now soundly anchored the meaning of ?that? by doing the following:
- We?ve created a clear and memorable action that he WON?T DO so it stands out from the list of things he WILL do.
- We?ve painted a clear picture in the audience?s mind (of Meatloaf opening an oven door), also memorable.
- We?ve extended the line into the chorus (the word ?souffl? replaces ?oh no?) ? more chance we?ll recall it as those seconds roll by.
- Critically, we remind the listener of what Meatloaf won?t do for love yet again in the very final line by explaining quite clearly what would happen if he did. Dinner would be a disaster.
Problem solved thoroughly and comprehensively, I think you?ll agree. I am available for all major hit rewrites, please visit my website which is linked below.
This post is part of the #write52 project. You can find out more and sign up to the newsletter on the #write52 website.
Hi there! I?m Penny, a freelance copywriter. Available for food-themed or indeed any other themed rewrites of songs past and present. My website is here.
You can also follow me on Twitter, where election chat is now officially breaking my brain, and Instagram where I sometimes post pictures of my coffee cup when I?m procrastinating about work.