In 2011, a 22-year-old boy (or a man depending on your perspective) from Delhi was going through a list of English songs, on his personal laptop, trying to find the right song to impress a girl he was crushing on for months, who finally agreed to go out for a cup of coffee with him. He wanted the song to be perfect, and after impatiently going through about 300 songs, he reached out to a friend, asking for the perfect song, if there was any. “Have you heard Meat Loaf’s ‘I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)? That should be the right song,’ was his friend’s advice.
Excited, he quickly googled the lyrics of the song and had almost pulled out his acoustic guitar from the dusty old bag to learn the song, when in his stomach, he sensed that familiar feeling of dilemma, if she would really appreciate the song. All because of one line, which is also a part of the title: “But I Won’t Do That”.
What Is ‘THAT’? He is saying he will do anything for love. He will run ‘right to hell and back’, in fact. Looking for answers, the Dilliwala reopened his laptop, and like any other curious youngster, “googled” about what the song’s singer Meat Loaf, or its songwriter-composer Jim Steinman meant, when they said they would do anything for love, but ‘THAT’.
Turns out it wasn’t just the youngster from Delhi, who had been looking for answers. The track was released in 1993, and by the time it was 1998, Meat Loaf was already saying things like, “I get that question all the time,” and even proceeded to use a blackboard explain to a room full of audience, finally clearing the ambiguity, once and for all.
“It’s the line before every chorus,” Meat Loaf explained in the video.
But I'll never forget the way you feel right now,
Oh no, no way.
And I would do anything for love,
But I won't do that
No, I won't do that
This is one example. As it turns out, there were a total of four promises made in the song which Meat Loaf won't ever do. “But I'll never forgive myself if we don't go all the way”, “Anything you've been dreaming of”, “But I'll never do it better than I do it with you” and “never stop dreaming of you”, are the four promises he sings before the chorus, and through the course of the nearly eight-minute-long song (studio version), are the only things that he won’t do.
It made sense that listeners were confused, regarding the ambiguity of the lyrics as Meat Loaf confessed in an interview in 2014 that Steinman too, was not sure if people would understand the lyrics. “When we were recording it, Jim [Steinman] brings up the thing — he says, ‘People aren’t gonna know what that is,’” Meat Loaf once recalled in a 2014 interview with Yahoo. “I said, ‘Of course they are. How can they not know?’ He goes, ‘They’re not gonna',” he recalled.
A bit more research shows that the use of the word “but”, instead of “and”, is what adds to the confusion. “It sort of is a little puzzle and I guess it goes by - but they're all great things. 'I won't stop doing beautiful things and I won't do bad things.' It's very noble. I'm very proud of that song because it's very much like out of the world of Excalibur. To me, it's like Sir Lancelot or something - very noble and chivalrous. That's my favourite song on the record - it's very ambitious,” he had said in an interview in 1993, during a promotional event for the album.
Despite the clarifications and the explanations, there are various forums where people have tried to come out with their own versions of what they think the protagonist in the song is referring to, when he sings, he “won’t do that”. Thanks to its cleverly-structured lyrics, which might not have been the intention of the creators from the start, a song that was created nearly 30 years ago continues to fuel the imagination of its listeners, but who project their own thoughts, values, and concerns onto the meaning of the song, just like the 22-year-old from Delhi, which is exactly why the song will be an evergreen classic. 10 years later, things with the girl didn’t work out, sadly, but the song remains one of the most played songs in his playlist.