In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, to mark the arrival of Sex Tape in theaters, we’re talking about songs that are meant to be sexy but just aren’t.
Perhaps I would not find Meat Loaf’s “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” so unsexy if the video didn’t exist. It’s just a stylized version of a live performance—Meat Loaf passionately makes love to the microphone, wearing a white blouse open at the collar, his long hair sweaty and stringy. He is wearing suspenders. He is singing about having sex at 17, and it is hard to look at him—older now, flabbier and wrinklier, throwing himself into the song with wild facial expressions and formless near-dancing. Next to him, Karla DeVito is very slender and stately, but her heavy makeup and teased-to-hell hair give her the look of a washed-out party girl more than that of an elegant or glamorous woman. It’s trashy, right down to the lurid red-and-blue lighting and DeVito’s polyester pantsuit. It is not a song that puts you in the mood; it’s a song that makes you want to take a shower.
The lyrics are not much better. Even the title offers an awkward juxtaposition of the idyllic and the cheap: What kind of paradise would you find in a dirty car parked by a lake, lit only by some shitty American-made interior lighting system? Meat Loaf and DeVito’s onstage groping is then intercut with what is the song’s most famous bridge: a radio announcer narrating a baseball game as well as their hookup. It is not hot. It is instead difficult to hear.
The song outlines the sad and disgustingly true nature of the desperate hookup, stripping sex of all the glamor and possibility that makes physical intimacy feel like a good idea; instead it’s sex as an act of desperate, ill-fated connection. It is kind of great, and worth singing along to, but it is not sexy—at all. It’s a deliberate bait and switch: The beginning is a rock anthem about getting laid—as all the best rock anthems are—but Ellen Foley’s vocals (DeVito is lip-syncing in the video), cut through the patter of the sex-baseball announcer to belt “Stop right there!” shifting the melody and tempo, as the song continues to do in a diabolically clever way, taking the listener through climax, conflict, and the messy, tragic conclusion of the love affair.
When Meat Loaf responds with “Let me sleep on it,” his answer is timid and unsatisfying—an anticlimax that doesn’t fit in with the crescendo of Foley’s voice, but perfectly sums up the song’s unsexy nature.