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 music urban legends featured so far.
MUSIC LEGEND: Phil Rizzuto didn’t realize that the play-by-play that he contributed to “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights” was about sex.
The hit song, “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights” by Meat Loaf (written by Jim Steinman) had a really cool bit in with Yankees announcer Phil Rizzuto doing play-by-play for nominally a baseball game, but really the teen guy in the song trying to have sex with his girlfriend.
“OK, here we go, we got a real pressure cooker going here. Two down, nobody on, no score, bottom of the ninth. There’s the windup, and there it is. A line shot up the middle, look at him go. This boy can really fly. He’s rounding first and really turning it on now. He’s not letting up at all, he’s gonna try for second. The ball is bobbled out in the center. And here’s the throw and what a throw. He’s gonna slide in head first. Here he comes, he’s out. No, wait, safe, safe at second base. This kid really makes things happen out there. Batter steps up to the plate. Here’s the pitch, he’s going. And what a jump he’s got. He’s trying for third. Here’s the throw. It’s in the dirt, safe a third. Holy cow, stolen base. He’s taking a pretty big lead out there. Almost daring them to pick him off. The pitcher glances over, winds up and it’s bunted. Bunted down the third-base line. The suicide squeeze is on. Here he comes, squeeze play, it’s gonna be close. Here’s the throw, here’s the play at the plate. Holy cow, I think he’s gonna make it!”
(Note that it’s not a squeeze play with two outs, so just assume that the guy was bunting for a base hit).
Anyhow, when the song came out, Rizzuto made a big to do about how he didn’t know that it was a song about sex. This sounds a lot like a legend I did about Patti LaBelle claiming she didn’t know that “Lady Marmalade” was about a prostitute and just like that one, come on, let’s be serious, obviously he knew.
Meat Loaf was asked about it when Rizzuto passed away in 2009 and he explained:
Privately, Meat Loaf said he understands the truth.
“Phil was no dummy — he knew exactly what was going on, and he told me such,” Meat Loaf said. “He was just getting some heat from a priest and felt like he had to do something. I totally understood. But I believe Phil was proud of that song and his participation.”
The late Meat Loaf explained how Rizzuto was hired:
Meat Loaf warmly remembered the first time he and Steinman reached out to Rizzuto. The future Hall of Famer was represented by former Met Art Shamsky, who told Meat Loaf that, “Phil will do it, but he wants to know if people have to get high to listen to it.”
“No,” Meat Loaf replied. “You can be sober and enjoy it, too.”
Rizzuto arrived at Manhattan’s The Hit Factory one day in 1976, met with Meat Loaf and Steinman and read over his lines. He initially expected to sing something (“I love to sing,” Rizzuto once told the National Post. “All Italians love to sing. We’re not all good, but most of us are good.”), then asked why every play was so close. When he finally recorded, Rizzuto’s delivery was flat and wooden. “Just do it like it’s a game,” Meat Loaf advised.
The second take was perfect.
Jim Steinman noted that Rizzuto was paid a flat $1,000, no royalties (Steinem, though, thought that Rizzto legitimately didn’t know the song was dirty)…
Meat Loaf repeated his version to Rich Eisen in 2016, “Don’t believe all those stories that he came up with. I called him out on it at least three times with [Yankees broadcaster] Bobby Murcer on the air.”
I find it hard to believe that Rizzuto wouldn’t know what he signed up for, so I tend to believe Meat Loaf, so I’m going with the legend as…
Thanks to Jeff Pearlman and the sadly now late Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman.
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