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Any discussion of Bat Out of Hell has to begin with this image. The others are optional, but I believe some version of each is integral to the experience, and we will be returning to mine before too long.

But we start here, because some books really can be judged by their cover. This tells you almost everything you need to know about the record: there will be sex, death, and motorcycles; it will all be overwrought; and at least one actual bat will make an appearance.

I knew this cover was powerful the day I got the record because my grandmother, who bought it for me at the local Korvettes, complained about it all the way to the cash register. Importantly, she didn’t refuse to buy it—she just asked me to explain the picture, which I couldn’t, beyond saying it was awesome. And since she couldn’t articulate why it bothered her, even though it looked like it should, I got it.

Years passed before I noticed the other important thing about this album cover: Jim Steinman, the composer, gets his own credit. By the time this got reissued on CD, his name would be almost as big as the singer’s, but here on my 32-year old LP it’s at the bottom, obscured by the motorcycle’s orgasm.

The motorcycle might be coming, but the entire cover is a picture of its own, larger orgasm. Please note the rider’s ecstatic position, and also his lack of clothes.

So, we’ve got orgasms within orgasms, and we haven’t even dropped the needle on the vinyl. As it happens, that’s a reasonably apt description of the music we’ll hear once we do.

We’re not there yet, though. Because this paper is more about what the music thinks than how it sounds, and it turns out this cover is no accident. It’s important enough to the music it encloses that songwriter Jim Steinman gets a credit for “cover concept” in the liner notes above the illustrator, Richard Corben. Yet Corben wasn’t just a hired hand —he was an artist Steinman fought for. “They were going to use the guy who does the KISS stuff,” he told an interviewer at the time. “But I hated it. Like all the KISS covers, the stuff he came up with was cheap and tacky” (Smith 1978).

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