Even a minor chords and major themes guy like me occasionally wants the big notes.
This is one of those songs, you either hear it or you don’t, and personally I can’t hear it loud enough. When it comes on the radio in my Subaru Forester I turn the volume up to 27, the last number before the sound distorts out entirely. I love the mix of romance and suggestiveness in the lyric (“touch me like that,” “things I’d never do again,” “more than your laws allow”), courtesy of that guilty-pleasure factory Jim Steinman (Meatloaf’s songwriter/Svengali). I love the over the top arrangment, how it starts big and gets bigger, how when the lyric mentions “the slamming of the door” there’s an inevitable deep drum boom. I love the Manilow-esque kitsch sincerity of Celine’s vocal, how her slight French Canadian accent gives it an off-kilter oddness that keeps it from being too pretty. That moment about 4 minutes in when Celine lets loose with “Baby, baby, baby”? Sublime.
I’m a big fan of the specific in songwriting, but I have a healthy respect for the general. The best pop songs provide a destination but not a detailed map on how to get there. Here’s a a big, bombastic power ballad about two lovers rekindling their flame after an absence. Steinman claims he drew his inspiration from the scene in “Wuthering Heights” where Heathcliff digs up Cathy’s bones (Happy Valentine’s Day to you, too, Jim Steinman). Meatloaf is on the record as saying the song is about his and Steinman’s relationship, with the kissing stuff thrown in as poetic license. Me, I’ve never had the experience of renewing an obsessive carnal love with someone who’d spurned me in the past, but I’ve had some pretty happy reunions after three or four days of nursing bruised feelings in a cramped apartment. Back in my graduate student days, we used to talk about free-floating signifiers and their slipperiness of meaning, but we talked like that was a bad thing, not exactly when the fun begins. “We see what we want to see”: it’s embedded right there in the lyric of the song. The author can’t control his meaning anymore–let’s party!
(Thanks to the Gigolo Aunts for “minor chords and major themes.”)