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Fabulous Flip Sides of Ellen Foley

Ellen Foley discusses her new album “Fighting Words” and her early days at Steve Popovich’s Cleveland International Records, including Meat Loaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” written by Jim Steinman, from the album “Bat Out of Hell”
Ellen Foley main

GOLDMINE: When Meat Loaf came to Cleveland in 1978, for the platinum selling celebration concert for Bat Out of Hell, you were committed to Hair, so Karla DeVito was on the tour. Now you have Karla and a Bat Out of Hell song on your new album Fighting Words. If Steve Popovich were still with us, he would call this a “Bat Reunion.” I remember one Saturday night he visited me at Peaches Records & Tapes with a handful of cassettes of artists that he was planning on for his Cleveland International Records label. He lived just a few miles from our store. The next afternoon I returned the cassettes at his house, including your demo for “We Belong to the Night,” and I told Steve, “This is the one!”

ELLEN FOLEY: That’s great. Oh my God! I was there at his home, too, during that era.

GM: Before we look back further, let’s begin with some of your new songs from Fighting Words. “I’m Just Happy to Be Here,” which you recorded with Karla DeVito, is up-tempo fun, reminding me of Tracey Ullman’s version of “Breakaway.” There is a line in your song that is so Jim Steinman-like, “When we were bad, we were good at it.”

EF: It does sound like something Steinman would write. Paul Foglino, who wrote most of the album, came up with that line. Paul is in his own world and probably didn’t listen to much Meat Loaf at all. He was in a band called 5 Chinese Brothers. It is quite coincidental that he came up with a lyric like Steinman. Karla and I had fun putting this together, long distance. The whole record was done remotely. Paul got together with drummer Steve Goulding, who was with Elvis Costello and a lot of English bands, added the drum track, and sent it around, building upon that. He brought the music to my house in New York, and we sent the track to Karla. She and her husband Robby Benson have a studio, and she did her part there on the west coast.

GM: Over the years, you have taught me a few songs. On this collection it is “I Found a Love,” which I missed in early 1967 by Wilson Pickett. Your version is soulful, reminding me a bit of “I Knew You When,” and I love how you have interpreted this song.

EF: Thank you. It was a piece of cake to record because I have done it live so much and it is a killer to perform live, like a James Brown moment. If I didn’t have terrible knees, I’d probably be throwing myself to the ground, but I do everything short of that.

GM: You co-wrote “This Won’t Last Forever” with Paul, and that is a great steady pop song.

EF: I love that song and think that it would be a good single. This one contains the couplet, “I remember death or glory. It was mostly purgatory.” That’s another Steinman sounding phrase and it refers to my time with The Clash.

GM: That song stands out on its own, where I really can’t draw any obvious comparisons, but now I will with a couple of songs reminding me of Linda Ronstadt in the 1970s. “I’ll Be True” is edgy pop-rock, like what Linda Ronstadt brought to The Rolling Stones’ “Tumbling Dice.”

EF: I am a major Rolling Stones fan, and the guitar introduction does sound a bit like what Keith Richards may do.

GM: The other Linda Ronstadt reference is her version of Warren Zevon’s “Poor Poor Pitiful Me.” That is what I am reminded of when I listen to “Leave Him Janie,” another catchy number.

EF: Of course. It is thematically alike about a relationship that goes bad. What I like about “Leave Him Janie” is the message that you don’t have to live in an abusive relationship or endure heartache. It is like me as an elder statesman saying to get out of there. Woman to woman advice that there are better relationships.

GM: Which you have found with Doug for decades. The album ends beautifully with “Heaven Can Wait,” your version of one of the seven Bat Out of Hell songs. My daughter Brianna is a big Meat Loaf fan and says that she loves how you have inserted the delay between “I never would have run away” and “from my home.” She says that it makes it so much more impactful.

EF: Please tell Brianna that I said, “thank you.” It is another song that I have done live forever and that pause came from whatever was going on with me emotionally, which was a lot, because of Jim Steinman and the sublime beauty of his song. At one point I just put that pause in and it just stuck. I love it. That track was originally done for an independent movie I was in a few years ago, Lies I Told My Little Sister and it was played during the closing credits. The sound is bit different from the rest of the album, with strings and a big arrangement, so I consider it a bonus track. I had to have it sometime in my lifetime on a record. Andy Williams’ son produced that track.

1979 publicity photo by Benno Friedman

1979 publicity photo by Benno Friedman

GM: You end the album so gently with this song, like you did with “Don’t Let Go” in 1979 on Nightout, your Cleveland International Records debut album.

EF: That was another emotional moment for me, being in the studio with just the pianist Tommy Mandel. It really got to me. I was thinking about my mom. I started crying during the recording, which is always a good thing. Ha ha. You get the juices going. It is very moving and an incredible song that Ian Hunter wrote. I was so close to my mom, Virginia, who passed away in 2004, and she was alive when I recorded that song. She went with me on tour. We were in Cleveland, at Swingo’s hotel, where I am sure you remember all the different rock and roll rooms. Someone came up to us and my mother said surprisingly, “We’re rock and roll people,” versus a mom and daughter with St. Louis roots.

GM: In addition to “We Belong to the Night,” the charting single from the album, in the U.S., was “What’s a Matter Baby,” another one you taught me. I did not know that Timi Yuro song. What a lively version, almost sounding like “All Revved Up with No Place to Go,” with the guitar part.

EF: It was a great find to record that one. It is really a singer’s song. I really got to let go on it, enjoy the range, hit the notes, hold the notes, and talk at the end, which is always my thing, ever since “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.”

Ellen Foley Paradise

GM: The flip side of “What’s a Matter Baby” was “Hideaway,” which is intense, with prominent drumming by Hilly Michaels from Sparks.

EF: If “What’s a Matter Baby” reminds you a bit of “All Revved Up with No Place to Go” in part, “Hideaway” captures that urgency throughout the whole song, with rock and roll angst.

Ellen Foley Hideaway

Ellen Foley

Flip side: Hideaway

A side: What’s a Matter Baby

Top 100 debut: November 17, 1979

Peak position: No. 92

Cleveland International/Epic 9-50770

GM: The following decade I was so pleased to see you on Night Court, part of NBC’s Thursday night’s lineup, with Harry Anderson and the rest of the ensemble.

EF: Night Court was something entirely new to me, so it was quite an education. The cast were such pros and I learned so much. That being said, my condolences to Markie Post’s family, who we just lost.

Ellen Foley and Harry Anderson, “Night Court” 1985

Ellen Foley and Harry Anderson, “Night Court” 1985

GM: Earlier, you mentioned an independent film. I remember my wife Donna and I going to a major release in 1979, the film version of Hair with you singing a couple of those numbers, too, like “Black Boys” and “Let the Sunshine In.”

EF: Yes, for “Black Boys” I was part of a trio, singing a solo line. Twyla Tharp choreographed it. It was filmed in Central Park, and I would say that was one of the top days of my life. It was so much fun. Oh my God, it was so cool. The movie was different from the play with the Claude character going to Vietnam and had traded places with Berger, who was the wild and crazy character, and that is where “Let the Sunshine In” was used, which was really impactful in the movie, but that song always was strong. In the Broadway show, the people in a straight line sing it.

GM: Speaking about musical plays, will Club Dada be coming back?

EF: I hope so. We are working on it, still. We are adding some songs. Charlie Roth, who is on my new album, is our music director and pianist. We are doing a mash up of “Rebel Rebel” and “Lola.”

GM: Donna and Brianna would both love that!

EF: We had a two day run in March 2020, and then everything shut down, so we look forward to returning. I hope your family can come to New York and see the show. You and I have some shared history. Not only did we lose Jim Steinman this year, but you reminded me that this summer is the tenth anniversary of us losing our mutual friend Steve Popovich. Bat Out of Hell would have never been created without Steve Popovich’s insight, passion, and love of music. Jim Steinman gave me three words which changed my life, “Stop right there!” Thank you so much and I send my best to your family.

Karla DeVito, Ellen Foley, and Jim Steinman, 2015 photo courtesy of Ellen Foley

Karla DeVito, Ellen Foley, and Jim Steinman, 2015 photo courtesy of Ellen Foley

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