The Ballad of Ellen Foley

Photo: Andre Csillag/Rex USA

1. Ellen Foley reserved her place in pop culture’s vast curio cabinet with “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” the 1977 hit by the perspiration machine known as Meat Loaf. Cast as “the Girl” in the song, Foley displayed a silver sledgehammer of a voice totally foreign to today’s pop charts.

Photo: Corbis

2. It should have made her a superstar, but another woman replaced her in the video, lip-synching to her voice; Foley refused to tour with Mr. Loaf: “Who wants to deal with that?”

3. Foley’s debut album, Nightout, produced by Bowie collaborator Mick Ronson, was a cult splash in 1979, and she seemed poised for the solo career that later eluded Debbie Harry. But despite the enthusiasm of Rolling Stone, the album sank in the U.S.

Photo: Caroline Coon/Camera Press/Retna

4. Foley’s second album, produced by boyfriend Mick Jones of the Clash and clotted with Kate Bush–esque experiments such as “The Death of the Psychoanalyst of Salvador Dali,” tanked. Foley and Jones’s relationship followed suit. From that, Jones got the biggest dividend: the worldwide hit and future karaoke mainstay “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” “I should have dated Joe Strummer,” laments Foley.

Photo: NBCU Photo Bank

5. Foley was cast as the public defender for the second season of the Top Ten NBC sitcom Night Court, only to disappear after a year. “I was fired, man!” she says. “Got bumped for Markie Post! Beats me, I don’t know why.”

Photo: Martha Swope

6. She escaped back to New York, playing ingénue Sally in the musical Me and My Girl. She was chosen to originate the role of the Witch in Into the Woods in 1987 but was replaced on Broadway by Bernadette Peters—though she did perform the part at the end of the run. “I have read that I was Sondheim’s favorite Witch,” she says. “On closing night, he gave all of us a signed copy of the score. On mine, he wrote ‘To Ellen: the alpha and the omega.’ ”

Photo: Bruno Cornil

7. Now 57, Foley teaches at the Paul Green School of Rock Music, the basis of Jack Black’s movie. “I’m the elder statesman. I’m getting these kids ready for real performance, not fucking around. I teach them technique and attitude. Attitude is so important.” And she’s got a new band of her own: Dirty Old Men. They play Joe’s Pub on July 23.

The Ballad of Ellen Foley