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May 09

BONNIE TYLER – “Total Eclipse Of The Heart”

FT + Popular109 comments • 7,515 views

#517, 12th March 1983

Pop repeats itself first as the sublime then as the ridiculous. “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” – especially when you watch the gauzy video – comes across as a big budget remake of Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights”. Pianos, crescendos, abstraction, abjection. But bigger isn’t always better.

Or isn’t it? Jim Steinman is pomp rock’s master of scale: why settle for a delicate bas-relief when you could have Mount Rushmore every time? The avowed models for his colossal effects are Springsteen (I’m guessing not “Nebraska”) and Spector, but he takes them very much as pencil sketches for the absurd canvases he wants to create. Inevitably, what’s generally missing is heart: Steinman records have mightily entertained me but very rarely thrilled me in the way “Born To Run” or the Christmas Album have. In “Born To Run”, the record is big because the protagonist’s dreams are big. In “Bat Out Of Hell”, the record is big because it can be.

There’s honour in that, mind you, and when Steinman’s on, he is on. “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” may replace emotion with scale, but at the top end scale is its own emotion. That being “OMG”, and this record’s gasping, OMG, needles-in-the-red moment is when Bonnie shreds herself to pieces on “We’re living in a powder keg and GIVING OFF SPARKS!” before that toweringly preposterous arpeggio and her spent, release-filled “I REALLY NEED YOU TONIGHT!”. And then the planet she’s standing on explodes, or something.

Actually one of the great things about this monstrous balladosaurus is how even Steinman overreaches himself – the record buckles when it hits its climax and I get the (almost poignant!) impression he wanted it go to even bigger. This despite the fact that for the whole of that climactic verse the track already sounds like Zeus using his thunderbolts to play a drumkit made of atom bombs. Tyler herself does a terrific job in riding this song – even though it wastes the smokier gifts heard on “It’s A Heartache”, most other singers would have simply been jetsam flung into insignificance by the production’s bow wave.

A grand folly, then – with a title like “Total Eclipse Of The Heart”, how could it not be? – but a very loveable one. I was awfully tempted to write this post in all caps.

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Comments

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  1. 76
    Malice Cooper on 22 May 2009 #

    I don’t begrudge Bonnie a number one as she made a lot of good songs that didn’t chart at all and she comes across as a lovely person. However I’d be happy never to hear this again.

  2. 77
    DV on 22 May 2009 #

    I bet this is great in karaoke bars.

  3. 78
    Jonathan Bogart on 23 May 2009 #

    I had a comment on this a few days ago, but it seems to have got lost to the spam filter — and in the process I realized I wasn’t registered!

    Anyway, all I had to contribute was to note that my primary association with this song is of a church skit I’ve several times been corraled into performing in, all set to TEOTH. (Something like this.) The year that Old School came out was the year that skit no longer worked for the teenage audience it was aimed at, and we mothballed it gratefully.

  4. 79
    Tom on 23 May 2009 #

    Sorry about yr comment Jonathan! I have done a bit of tinkering with the FAQ this morning to mention the occasional spam filter issues and the reader-votes system. Nobody ever reads the FAQ mind you!

  5. 80
    admin on 23 May 2009 #

    I have a nasty feeling that the ‘login guarantees no spam filter’ promise broke again in a WP upgrade. Will check that

  6. 81
    admin on 23 May 2009 #

    Retrieved your comment – but it’s at #35 and has knocked all the numbered replies out

  7. 82
    David Belbin on 23 May 2009 #

    1983. The year I met my partner (and, shortly afterwards, her friend Mike TD, by then shorn of his Limahl haircut). I played this single a lot (it was before we all came to hate Steinman) and am disappointed to find that somebody has nicked my copy. I had to settle for ‘The Bottle’ by the Tyrrel Corporation just now, a disc I have no recollection of buying and which, two minutes after it ended, I can barely remember. Whereas I’m earworming TEOTH, 26 years on. Weird.

  8. 83
    rosie on 23 May 2009 #

    David Belbin @ 82: But why waste emotional energy on hating JS? Can’t you just settle for disliking? And who is this ‘all’ of whom you speak?

  9. 84
    misschillydisco on 27 May 2009 #

    another defining pop moment for me. i think this may have been my very halcyon pop era. steinman’s work with the sisters of mercy also superlative – HEY NOW! HEY NOW NOW!

  10. 86
    Tom Lawrence on 4 Jun 2009 #

    @Rory: Oh so very yes! I saw that a few days back and LOVED it. There are a number of others, many just as good.

    “Mullet with headlights” hahahahah

  11. 87
    Matt DC on 19 Jun 2009 #

    It should not go unremarked that this is the most fun song in the world to sing when very drunk.

  12. 88
    DV on 12 Aug 2009 #

    also, has anyone ever done a mashup with Art Garfunkel’s ‘Bright Eyes’?

  13. 89
    punctum on 24 Sep 2009 #

    Turnaround.

    It isn’t about being “too shy.” It’s about having the will – both the will to give and accept real love, and the iron will needed to avoid the fatal illusion of complete perfection.

    Every now and then I get a little bit nervous that the best of all the years have gone by.

    Because perfection, as with pop music, is only ever aimed at the young and still can’t quite get used to ageing, or to the death of desire. Those songs she heard in 1964, Dusty, Sandie, Cilla – all troubled to varying degrees, yet balanced by this shining baton of hope; knowing that it was her time, so why can’t it be again?

    I get a little bit restless and I dream of something wild.

    They all had to grow up, just as she has done; to experience pain, rejection, illness, frustration, ecstasy and loss. She has grown up, but she needs that umbilical link, craves that initial radiant blast of new passion, since its absence may unmask and unravel the child who continues to cower.

    I get a little bit helpless and I’m lying like a child in your arms.

    The piano, single notes played with slow deliberation by Roy Bittan, and bittan as a made-up word would very accurately sum up the impotent raindrops plunking against her darkened bedroom window; bittan also like her tears.

    Every now and then I fall apart.

    She keeps trying to break out of the cycle, and at the same stage in each cycle she sees

    the look in your eyes

    terrified that she’ll fall off the cycle and spin endlessly through a blackened hole of sterile compromise. There is the hint of ascent, but still she gazes through that blank window and the clap of thunder nearly splits her mind apart as she falls back to square one. But still she climbs, until she gains a toehold on sanity and identity and cries:

    And I need you now tonight
    And I need you more than ever

    Grasp at the bulb, so there might be enlightenment, and yes,

    Forever’s gonna start tonight

    – she runs ecstatically to

    the end of the line

    but finds only a mirror, which sings back at her:

    Once upon a time I was falling in love
    But now I’m only falling apart

    It is a quietened battle being fought between light and darkness, and she doesn’t know who represents which –

    Your love is like a shadow on me all of the time

    – and is therefore uncertain about who she really is. And therefore her heart cannot feel because she has forgotten how it feels to come into the light.

    The piano comes down in slow, gathering avalanche and Max Weinberg’s drums thrash at the heart’s boundaries; halls redolent of hurtful memories of past joys (those sleighbells, Larry Fast’s monstrous avenue of synthesisers – all truer to the core of Trevor Horn than any feeble British impersonation)…

    …but of course there is this other voice all the way through the lament, at times overpowering her own – is this her conscience, or is it him, as desperate as she to break back through?

    Turnaround.

    She faces him and sees it from his perspective.

    I know you’ll never be the boy you always wanted to be.

    Perfection. The façade sold to us through so many pictures and too many damnable pop records. Be as good, or better, than what I’m being told is possible.

    But every now and then I know you’ll always be the only boy who wanted me the way that I am!

    She is trembling at her thoughts of him – she gives a truly poignant sob to the “u” of “universe” (and naturally makes it sound like “you”) when she says:

    I know there’s no one in the universe as magical and wondrous as you.

    – and further –

    I know there’s nothing any better
    (is she resentful?)
    There’s nothing that I just wouldn’t do.

    “I’d do anything for love, but I won’t do that!”

    But then, she cries, screams, for all the Almas and Rubys who came before her, the Sandies, Dustys and Lulus still compromised, the woman’s voice still taken and condemned for granted, even her own when she bettered Rod in the throaty late seventies, and now – and you can tell that she has waited the entirety of her life to sing this song – and now she is singing for all of them, including those yet to be conceived, as she proclaims

    EVERY NOW AND THEN I FALL APART

    On the repeat of that line she holds onto that last “part” as a loosening toenail might cling to a cliff face as she again pleads for him to hold her tight:

    We’ll be holding on forever
    (to the same crumbling rock?).

    An organ rises to meet her climactic cry of:

    We’re living in a powder keg and giving off sparks.

    Again, however, the mirror cools, again and finally she returns to the shadows:

    Once upon a time there was light in my life,
    But now there’s only love in the dark.

    His voice – Rory Dodds, let’s give him his name and his dues – has previously been an octave above hers when singing (or intoning) the title, but now they sing at equal height, and Steve Buslowe’s bass rises compassionate to cushion the tears of the last chord change. All that stays is the piano rain, the thunderstorm now spent –

    I believe above a storm the smallest prayer can still be heard.

    – merging into the empty wind –

    Johnny, remember me.

    – the voice on the other side of the door, smaller but closer.

    Cathy, it’s me, Heathcliff. Come home.

  14. 90
    Josh Wyatt on 25 Sep 2009 #

    This is probably my favourite song of all time (ALL OF THE TIME)
    Yes ‘sparks’ is probably the most awesome of this songs lines.
    I was born in the early 90s, so don’t know what the mood was like when it was released, but to me the big hair, the huge emotions and the – let’s face it – friggin’ awesome vocals seem just like the 80s I’ve been told about.
    As for ‘Wuthering Heights’, I think that is what the video was based on (as well as some weird 80s twin peaks style thing or something)
    I personally love it.
    I wish it could be number 1 forever.
    Keep your eyes out for the re-release!

    P.S. let’s think for a moment of Rory Dodd, the man who gave us the back up vocals.

  15. 92
    lonepilgrim on 5 May 2010 #

    yet more pop grist for the Glee mill (Ep.17)

  16. 93
    john c on 31 Aug 2012 #

    I agree with the reviewer: “A grand folly, then – with a title like ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’, how could it not be? – but a very loveable one.”

    It’s a huge production, which I usually love, but . . . I would have better feelings about this song if the guy who lived across the tiny hallway from me in a rooming house where I lived in 1983 & 1984 had not bought this single. It was one of six singles he owned, and he played them over, and over, and over, everyday at about 5:30 pm . . . That can ruin even the greatest, most loveable pop folly, even for people like me who love pop follies.

  17. 94
    mintness on 7 Mar 2013 #

    Our 2013 Eurovision entrant, there.

  18. 95
    Jimmy the Swede on 18 May 2013 #

    So it’s good luck to cheesy ol’ Bonnie tonight in Malmo. She won’t win, of course, but winning this thing has not really been realistically within the UK’s reach since the turn of the millenium. So just enjoy the nonsense. And let’s have St Etts next time!

  19. 96
    Lazarus on 19 May 2013 #

    First 20 seconds killed it, I think … she sounded nervous and the understated, low-register beginning didn’t exactly grab the attention. Finished an underwhelming 19th. But does it matter?

  20. 97
    thefatgit on 19 May 2013 #

    Every now and then she gets a little bit nervous, I guess.

  21. 98
    enitharmon on 19 May 2013 #

    thefatgit @97

    It’s just as well the competition wasn’t held in France this year.

  22. 99
    Jimmy the Swede on 20 May 2013 #

    Poor ol’ Bonnie’s performance was strangled at birth but it didn’t matter really. She got totally eclipsed.

    Best moment of the evening was when Petra, the wonderfully witty (as well as tasty) compere said: “Standing directly around me are the real hardcore fans. The real essence of the Eurovision Song Contest. And to you I have just one thing to say – You just haven’t met the right girl yet!” Just wonderful but I think it’s true to say that had that presenter have been in the UK, he or she would be facing charges for hate crimes this morning.

  23. 100
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 20 May 2013 #

    I am still grumpy that the Truth and Reconciliation Committee absolved Terry Wogan of his hatecrimes against Eurovision. NEVER FORGET! >:(

    Probably we will not win until he is in pokey. Ditto Eire, apparently.

  24. 101
    Jimmy the Swede on 20 May 2013 #

    Norton and Bruce are not exactly deferential towards the contest either. The great joy of Wogan, though, was that he went that crucial few yards (not metres) further. I can’t really agree that the Wogan Effect, which certainly did antagonise some sensitive souls on the continent, has been the reason we haven’t won since ’97 and Ireland the year before. I’d imagine that Terry would be tickled pink if he thought that it was.

    I repeat. We want St Etts next time. Come on, Bob, what do you say? Humiliate yourself for your country, mate!

  25. 102

    I’m not a vast fan of Graham Norton—Ana Matronic and Scott Mills handled the semis far more effectively—but (judging by my non-gritted teeth these days) he’s nowhere near so amazingly smugly boneheaded as Wogan had increasingly become, especially after the arrival of the many Easterlings, whose ambition and staging style immeasurably improved the competition and upped the ante. He was forever piffling on about voting blocks: yes I doubt he’s actually the reason we do badly, but I do think he’s part of the same whiny entitlement complacency.

    WHY NOT—you know—RISE TO THE CHALLENGE OF MAKING MUSIC THAT OTHER COUNTRIES ENJOY AND ARE AMAZED BY? Instead of spatchcock stunts with hasbeens (I <3 Boonie but the song didn't even bother to try to play to her quite specific strengths) followed by butthurt tantrums rooted in stupid and ignorant contempt. Grrrrr...

    [Edit: "tantrums" isn't at all referring to you here, Jimmy -- and actually I haven't encountered any yet. But I do kind of avoid reading the places they turn up.]

    (In fairness, Ireland did actually essay a kind of Ruslana-meets-U2 oiled-up pagan firedrum thing, but the U2 element was some way past its sell-by. It did badly because Jedward were grebt last year and everyone wanted them back to give them more votes.)

    Disappointing final result aside (TURBOMONTENEGRO I LOVE YOOOOU), this was seriously one of the best Eurovisions for some time—the overall level was pretty high—and the Swedes did a terrific job hosting it, particularly Petra in her evermore scary parade of couture architectonics. [Except for their pet comedienne, who was a bit of a trial...]

    Little Boots seemed to be floating the idea that she was up for it next year, which is at least in synch with the current Caliguloid convergence.

  26. 103

    It’s particularly maddening in a year where something like half the entries were cheerfully dubstep-inflected so it’s not as we’re not making music here that doesn’t excite Europeans north south east. Drops and VWORPS everywhere — the Sound of South London!

    (Also Ms Matronic correctly cited Klaus Nomi as a precursor for the Romanian falsetto extravaganza: obviously it’s easier to crowbar a little euroscholarship and related wisdom into the semis anyway, and knowing what you’re talking about isn’t what we hire Graham Norton for, but I don’t see why this is a virtue…)

  27. 104
    punctum on 20 May 2013 #

    On the UK side, nothing is going to change unless Eurovision is wrested away from Radio 2 and their 1985 idea of the type of music people want. If Radio 1 took it on they’d be perceived as tacky, so it’s a literal no-win situation*.

    *we listened to it on the radio, with Ken Bruce’s cheery, casual racism and philistinism evident throughout. Nearly three decades since Bronski Beat now and the stupid old battles are still being fought by a country which probably needs to be cattle-prodded into the future.

  28. 105
    punctum on 20 May 2013 #

    or, if not a country, then an establishment.

  29. 106
    Pete on 20 May 2013 #

    Maybe BBC3 could be the solution to the problem, rather than Radio. I thought the semi’s were presented well, and perhaps in line with their other documentary strands we could see a return of A Song For Europe in the guise of Britain’s Best Young Songwriters or something of that ilk. But I certainly don’t see us winning, or doing all that well, again unless we ourselves think the song is any good. It would have been nice to have a Matronic/Mills commentary on the red button. That said Eurovision seems to go in waves (cheers Katrina!) and all it will take is a half decent bounceback. That said it does strike me that dodging the Semi’s does seem to put us at a disadvantage. The “big five” all did pretty badly, and I went into the final knowing which I would vote for fromt he semi’s.

  30. 107
    punctum on 9 Jan 2014 #

    TPL on the parent album, an OK early eighties AoR record with a monolith of a single at its centre: http://nobilliards.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/bonnie-tyler-faster-than-speed-of-night.html

  31. 109
    hectorthebat on 8 Nov 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Blender (USA) – Top 500 Songs of the 80s-00s (2005) 386
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    VH-1 (USA) – Nominations for the 100 Greatest 80s Songs (2006)
    Dave Thompson (UK) – 1000 Songs that Rock Your World (2011) 327
    Wanadoo (UK) – The 20 Best Songs of the 80s
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

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