What is “That” in the Meatloaf Song “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)”?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about music and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.

MUSIC URBAN LEGEND: It is a mystery as to what “that” is in the hit Meatloaf song, “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)”

This is a bit of a goofier legend than normal, but reader Erica wrote in to say that she was reading AllMusic and saw a review of the song that stated:

The lyrics build suspense by portraying a romance-consumed lover who pledges to do anything in the name of love except ‘that,’ a mysterious thing that he will not specify. This mystery becomes clear in the second part, where the woman he loves prophesizes that once the glow of love wears off that “you’ll see that its time to move on” and “sooner or later you’ll be screwing around,” an accusation that prompts him to give his titular pledge one last time.

iddoanythingforlove

She thought that there was a legend here about how people don’t really know what the song is about. After Erica wrote me about it, I noticed that there were actually a few other notable reviewers over the years who WERE confused about what “that” was in the song. Enough that I began to think that this might actually be worthy of writing about. So what the heck, it may be a bit silly, but I’ll tackle the “legend” of what the “that” in “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” is! Truly the most important legend of all-time!

The issue is that most people (not counting those who think the song is just never explained period) follow the train of thought of the AllMusic reviewer. They think that the song, which is about a man professing his love in the hopes of having sex (basically the same plot of the famous Meatloaf song, “Paradise By The Dashboard Lights” – both songs were written by Jim Steinman) and saying he’ll do anything (except for that, of course) for the woman until it becomes a duet where the woman begins to directly ask him questions, with him answering yes or no (yes to cater to every fantasy she’s got but no to screwing around on her). So the thought is that the “that” is not explained until her questions at the end, where she expresses her fears before agreeing to have sex with him. She says:

After a while you’ll forget everything
It was a brief interlude and a midsummer night’s fling
And you’ll see that it’s time to move on

He replies:

I won’t do that
I won’t do that

She says:

I know the territory, I’ve been around
It’ll all turn to dust and we’ll all fall down
Sooner or later you’ll be screwing around

He replies:

I won’t do that
No, I won’t do that

Her fears allayed, she agrees to have sex with him.

However, in actuality, each verse of the song BEFORE the duet part of the song begins has a DIFFERENT “that” that the singer won’t do. In the first verse, he explains that he “never forget the way you feel right now.” So he will do anything for love, but he won’t ever forget the way that she feels right now. In the second verse, he explains that he will never forgive himself if they don’t go all the way (again, the whole song is just about the guy trying to get the woman to agree to have sex with him). So he will do anything for love, but he won’t ever forgive himself if they don’t go all the way. In the third verse, he explains that he will never do any better than he does it with her (one track mind here! He also adds, “So long. So long.” Wishful thinking). So he will do anything for love, but he won’t ever do it any better than he does it with her. In the fourth verse (it’s a long song), he explains that he’ll never stop dreaming about her every night of his life. So he would do anything for love, but he won’t stop dreaming about her every (specifically he drops the second e, so it’s just “ev’ry”) night of his life.

So, in total, there are six things in the song THAT he won’t do.

“forget the way you feel right now”
“forgive myself if we don’t go all the way tonight”
“do it better than I do it with you”
“stop dreaming of you ev’ry night of my life”
“forget everything”
“screwing around”

(Also in the first verse, he notes that he will never lie to her, so I suppose there’s seven things he WON’T do, but only six of them are specifically referred to as “that”).

I imagine that the thing that really confuses people is that the song uses the word “but” and people are trained to think that there can be only ONE thing for you to interject the “but” about, and honestly, that might actually be true (how can you do anything for love but forget the way you feel right now AND also do anything for love but forgive yourself if you don’t go all the way”?). BUT the song does it six times, instead.

Anyhow, the legend is…

STATUS: False

Thanks to Erica for this silly, but fun, legend!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is [email protected]

Tags: , , ,

8 Responses to “What is “That” in the Meatloaf Song “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)”?”

  1. When we saw Meat Loaf in Las Vegas a few years ago he discussed this song. Steinman and Meat Loaf had a bet on whether or not the fans would know what it is about. After being asked frequently what it was about Meat Loaf realized he lost the bet and paid Steinman. Meat Loaf then said he wouldn’t say what it was about but he did say there are panties for sale in lobby that had stenciled on the front ‘I would do anything for love’ and on the back had ‘But I won’t do that’.

  2. That’s hilarious marketing.

    And yeah, I always get a blast from people debating beforehand, “They’ll get what we’re saying, right?” 🙂

  3. Here’s Mr. Loaf himself explaining it on VH1 Storytellers:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxX3Jc8hveQ&t=255s

    I agree with Brian, I think what really trips people up is that they are expecting the “that” to be the SOLE exception, when in fact “that” is at least 6 different promises.

  4. ParanoidObsessive on September 14th, 2016 at 1:56 pm

    “And yeah, I always get a blast from people debating beforehand, ‘They’ll get what we’re saying, right?'”

    I always find it more amusing when someone assumes that EVERYONE knows something or will immediately understand a reference, to the point where they feel it’s barely worth bringing up at all – only to be shocked when a ton of people admit they’ve never heard of it before.

    Sort of like when you say “I wasn’t even going to bring this legend up because everyone already knows it and it’s pretty much common knowledge”, and then a bunch of people chime in “I never knew that!” (I am usually one of those people). I always find it amazing how, after following comics and comic industry culture for 30+ years, there are still so many stories that a lot of people seem to consider common knowledge that I’ve never heard of before.

  5. Sort of like when you say “I wasn’t even going to bring this legend up because everyone already knows it and it’s pretty much common knowledge”, and then a bunch of people chime in “I never knew that!” (I am usually one of those people). I always find it amazing how, after following comics and comic industry culture for 30+ years, there are still so many stories that a lot of people seem to consider common knowledge that I’ve never heard of before.

    The counter to that is when I do a legend and the responses are, “I knew that.” 🙂

    Heck, I’ve gotten plenty of responses to THIS legend on social media that say some variation of that.

  6. Most people I’ve seen complain about IWDAFL reject either the simplified or full versions of this explanation, because that’s stuff he wouldn’t do for love (of her), therefor it can’t possibly be the ‘but’.

  7. The song should have been called ‘I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That, That, That, That, That and That)”.

  8. I remember Meatloaf appearing on British morning television show “The Big Breakfast” to promote this song. He was set a series of ridiculous challenges to see what he wouldn’t do for love, much to his bemusement. Lifting a heavy weight was the first, I don’t recall what the others were.

Leave a Reply