‘I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) is a timeless anthem. It was written by Jim Steinman and sung and performed by the messiah of operatic rock Meat Loaf. The song features guest vocals by Lorraine Crosby as well. Here is a song that amalgamates the best of every world. The powerful songwriting, memorable hooks, epic musicianship. A ballad laced in the true spirit of prog-rock grandeur. The music video is one of the greatest ever made. It shows a modern telling of Beauty & the Beast.
The Song’s Legacy
The progressive power ballad was a commercial success, reaching number one in 28 countries. The single was certified platinum in the United States and became Meat Loaf’s first and only number-one single on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and the UK Singles Chart, and was the best-selling single of 1993 in the United Kingdom. The song earned Meat Loaf a ‘Grammy Award for Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance: Solo.’
“I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” Lyrics Review
But what is it about? Long have rock fans and music enthusiasts debated what the song means.
The lyrics start with a candid declaration; “And I would do anything for love.” Straight from the heart. To touch the barest soul.
Powerfully romantic and vivid in its promise. The protagonist says there is nothing he wouldn’t do for love. He would race to hell and back and even lie for his one true love.
He then proceeds to tell her that he would never forget the way she feels right now. He professes that he would do anything for love. Then comes the lyrical punch.
“But I won’t do that”
Perhaps one of the greatest controversially penned lines in music lyric history. A line that has confused people and driven them to hell and back debating what that could be.
The protagonist then goes back to wax lyrical, singing that some days don’t come easy and some days don’t come hard. He sings that some days don’t come at all and they are the ones that never seem to end. Then the evocative imagery and metaphoric lyrics that follow the above speak of her dual nature and incomprehensibility. Making it very clear that the woman who he speaks of is one of a kind and truly unique.
He then says that he knows he is crazy. And that she alone can save him from his madness.
Watch “I’d Do Anything For Love” Video by Meat Loaf
He promises to what ends he would go to, to win her affection. He continues then to say that he would do anything for love. But that he won’t do that, again.
And here comes another twist. Anything she has dreamed about the protagonist would do for her. This is lyrical foreplay where he tells her once again how much she means to him.
Then come some of the most poignant and powerful lyrics in the anthem; his constant prayers for “silence,” “soul,” and “god of sex and drums and rock ‘n’ roll.”
He epically ties in musical references punctuated with expressions of silence and soul. It culminates with the divine words of personification citing the god of rock ‘n roll. This is beautifully written as the traditional phrase is ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll’. Here he says sex, drums ‘n rock ‘n roll. But still pays tribute to the same deity. Whether it’s the lifestyle. Whether it’s the attitude and essence of it all. In a way he is going full circle where he is confessing to praying to a higher power. Indicating how he lacks self-control and the will to deal with how he feels.
This unravels with him admitting that he loses control. That his feelings run amok. How he loses all resolve when he watches her dance as the thunder rolls.
There is a shift here then, where he says he is lonely. This depicts that he is not with her. That perhaps she is still unaware of his affection. Of how he feels. But he says that as long as the wheels are turning, as long as the fires are burning, as long as his prayers are answered that she better believe it, that he would do anything for love. He says it’s a fact. That there’s no turning back.
And thereafter comes another change of scene.
“But I’ll never do it better than I do it with you”
This shows a physicality to the lyrics. It changes the entire scenario. Here he confesses that he will never make love to anyone the way he has with her. Even marking the duration saying ‘so long’. So this changes the earlier sequence where he infers he is not with her. So, could it be that they are passionate lovers? Two kindred souls drawn by lust and attraction? Yet despite the physicality in their relationship they lack anything deeper beyond the physical. Perhaps he craves for something more. For something more stable and less primal. For some solidarity and substance.
Once again he professes that he would do anything for love. And the backhand lyrical slap!
“But I won’t do that…”
His declaration continues with sheer consistency for many bars hence. He keeps saying he would do anything for love. He once again says he’d do anything she dreams of. I believe this infers that no matter how wild, exotic, extreme or subtle – he is willing to go the mile for her. The repetition of the lyrics emphasizes the point.
What is very interesting here is the build up to this point. The story arc thus far sees the protagonist expressing the depths and lengths of his love, his infatuation for this woman where he follows certain statements with ‘I won’t do that.’ So what is that exactly?
If we examine the lyrics carefully, we can see that each verse mentions what the singer would do for love, followed by one thing he will not do. So, the repetition of the phrase is a reassertion of that which he will not do for her.
For instance, he says he would do anything for love, even anything she’s been dreaming of… followed by him saying ‘but I just won’t do that.’
I take this to believe that the ‘won’t do that’ varies depending on the context. It means he won’t just do ONLY that, but so much more. But he also professes in areas that there are things he wouldn’t do that would shame or demoralize her, because he loves her far beyond those things that may at face value seem to be important.
I feel that he is confused in his love to the point of conflicted madness. The emotional conundrum forces him to make promises that he immediately contradicts wondering if it would offend her.
Let’s come back to the climax of the song.
It is at this point that the act changes, as does the entire scene.
This is where she breaks her silence. The woman of whom he sings about finally responds to him. There is a back and forth here. The duet heralds the operatic elements. An exchange of diatribes which is very interesting musically as it is thematically. In a way things go full circle as she opens up, acknowledges him and tells him what she truly desires.
Next follows a dialogue between the two; the girl asking several things she expects of him to which he responds positively.
Her final expression is powerful. It is a declaration by her. And for the first time indicates a sense of vulnerability and uncertainty in her part to get hurt and heartbroken. She sings: “Sooner or later you’ll be screwing around”
And in the climax of the song Meat Loaf replies to her:
“I won’t do that
No, I won’t do that”
A culmination and lyrical counterpoint where he tells her that he would not do anything to her or betray her love. And ends by pouring his soul to her once more that he would indeed do anything for love.
But, anything that she would not want, need or desire…. Those things he would never do.
“No, I won’t do that.”
Let us hear what you think about this song in the comments below. Check out the complete lyrics on Genius.