Bass Transcription: Kasim Sulton’s Bass Line on “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth” by Meat Loaf
Kasim Sulton has had a very long and illustrious career playing with a wide range of artists, and also having success in his own right. He has played on over 100 albums, and worked with Hall & Oates, Blue Oyster Cult, Cheap Trick, Joan Jett, The New Cars and Celine Dion. He is probably best known for his work alongside Todd Rundgren, including collaborating on his solo projects, recording and touring with Utopia, and his studio work with Meatloaf on the multi-million selling album Bat out of Hell.
Sulton was born in Staten Island, New York on 8th December 1955. His early musical influences were shaped by his father, who played guitar for a hobby, and the family would sing folk songs together. Like many others of his generation, seeing The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9th, 1964 prompted a lifelong interest in pop music. By eleven he was certain he wanted to be a musician, and soon started playing guitar. By twelve he had also picked up a bass. He recalls that: “I wanted to be in a band with these two hotshot guitar players from Brooklyn, but they didn’t need another guitarist. They wanted a bass player”. He agreed to join the band and sold a Gretsch semi-acoustic to afford a Gibson EB-0. Sadly, he was fired from the band for not having his own amplifier, but this spurred him to spend the next year practicing his skills.
While he was still at high school, Sulton played in bands on Staten Island, initially working at local school dances and frat parties, but later in clubs and bars in Manhattan. Around this time, Sulton was also gaining valuable studio experience working in Variety Studios on 42nd Street as an assistant engineer. After high school he also taught himself to play piano and when former David Bowie publicist Cherry Vanilla wanted to form her own band in 1974, he successfully auditioned to become her piano player.
This band played in New York’s New Wave clubs such as Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s and were one of the first Punk bands in the U.S. (Cherry Vanilla would later relocate to the UK where she would hire the fledgling Police as her backing band). Cherry introduced Sulton to Michael Kamen, and his friend Earl Slick (who was playing with David Bowie at this time) suggested that Sulton should audition for Todd Rundgren’s band Utopia. Sulton was successful and joined them in 1976.
Utopia were an eclectic band, playing a wide range of styles from progressive rock to new wave, more pop-oriented material, and even an album of Beatles pastiches. Sulton recalls that: “We were always changing…one record we might sound like Zappa and the next record we might sound like Boston. Or it might be that much of a leap on the same record.” The band’s albums were a critical but not a particularly commercial success, but they band developed a cult following that helped them to achieve a top 40 chart position with their 1977 album Adventures in Utopia. This provided the top 30 single “Set Me Free” which was composed by Sulton about his desire to be released from his contract with the band’s label – the song was a hit and he chose to stay in the band.
His connection with Rundgren also led to his appearance on Meatloaf’s debut album Bat Out of Hell (1977). Rundgren was the producer, and Sulton played bass and providing backing vocals on most of the cuts. “Because they didn’t have a band, or any other bass player and I was Todd’s bass player and Todd said: ‘You wanna play bass on the record?’ and I said ‘sure’”. Sulton was initially dismissive of the album, not expecting it to be a success. He recalls that he thought: “This is just the biggest joke that I’ve ever been involved in. I cannot believe that these people got a record deal! This is just crazy. I’ll never hear this record. It’s just a joke. It’s a comedy record.” The album went on to sell 43 million copies worldwide.
After Utopia split up in 1986, he joined Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and played on their album Up Your Alley (1988) and also toured with them. Later, Sulton joined Daryl Hall and John Oates for their tour to support their 1990 album Change of Season – this was a more acoustically slanted collection of songs than previous albums, and Sulton was asked to play double bass on the tour. Sulton recalls that: “For the next eight months I played that beast every night on stage. My left hand cursed me after each show because of the strength it took to fret that bass!”
In 1993 he became part of Meatloaf’s live band, becoming its musical director on world tours in 2005, 2006 and 2008. In between the Meatloaf tours he also toured with Todd Rundgren, and played alongside Elliott Easton and Greg Hawkes when they formed The New Cars in 2005, recording the live hits album It’s Alive! in 2006.
In 2012 he joined the legendary rock band Blue Oyster Cult, replacing Rudy Sarzo, and he played with them until 2017 when he returned to tour with Todd Rundgren. Sulton has recently toured with his own version of Utopia, as well as one led by Rundgren, and he gigs with his own band, and is currently touring with Johnny A.
Apart from his extensive session work, has also recorded four solo albums – Kasim (1982), Quid Pro Quo (2002), 3 (2014), and Live Bootleg (2017) composing most of the songs and playing most of the instruments himself.
Aside from Paul McCartney, Kasim Sulton was initially influenced by British Invasion bass players like John Paul Jones, Ronnie Lane, John Entwistle, and he praised Ronnie Wood’s work in The Jeff Beck Group, but Chris Squire’s technical flair was perhaps the main template for his individual style.
Sulton has played a range of basses including Spector, ESP, Ibanez, Fender, and his Archer signature bass. He has used Euphonic Audio amplification.
You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth
This song was recorded in 1976 for the Bat out of Hell album, although it was written in 1975, at the behest of Meatloaf who asked Jim Steinman to “write a pop song.” It was the first single released from the album, but it did not reach the Billboard top 100 until it was re-released in October 1978. The recording famously features a long, spoken section before the actual song begins; Steinman asks actress Marcia McLean “On a hot summer night would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?.” This was allegedly one of the main aspects that persuaded Cleveland International Records to put out the album – they had been rejected by all the other labels that they had approached.
The bass line begins with some simple root notes around the major chords in the intro, but Sulton includes a slide up to the E in bars 1 and 6 that adds a little movement to the line. In verse 1, Sulton simplifies the line to mainly semibreves, but digs in with a more forceful line at bar 17.
The next verse is more developed rhythmically, and Sulton includes some 9ths to create more movement at the end of every other bar. The end of the second verse section ends with a more syncopated Bm riff and Sulton includes some subtly shortened notes in bar 29.
The bridge (bar 32) includes some more tasteful use of note-length choices, where Sulton uses a quaver rest to give space to the snare drum. This section ends with a very nice run; B C# E and then down an octave to the open E.
The chorus features some higher position playing, which matches the lighter feel at this point in the song, but after six bars the heaviness returns with the scale idea at 48-9. A more forceful chorus follows, with Sulton adding a few more notes to develop the idea – the downwards octave leap on the G note in bar 54 is unexpected.
More verses and choruses follow, much in the same vein as previously, until the interlude at bar 104 where Sulton uses a more melodic idea to play through the simple I-IV shifts. He includes 5th and 6th intervals over the A chords, and 3rds, 5ths and 6ths over the D chords to either descend to, or encircle the next root notes. The intensity builds after bar 112, and by bar 118 Sulton is using quavers to maximise the drive to the end of the bass line on bar 120 where there is a sudden stop to the backing, leaving only vocals and handclaps to the end of the track.
Download the transcription and follow along with the track below.