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Sep 10

BANGLES – “Eternal Flame”

Popular82 comments • 5,204 views

#626, 15th April 1989

“Eternal Flame” is absurdly top-heavy, all the treble in the strings and Susanna Hoffs’ voice teetering like a gyroscope on a single looping point of rhythm. As someone on Twitter said, the triangle on this track is something you can never un-hear once you notice it.

The spindliness of “Eternal Flame”‘s bottom end gives the song a necessary fragility: the singer feels certain this is the real thing, but can’t quite be certain, and even considering the question leaves her exposed: the catch in Hoffs’ voice on “my whole life, so lonely” is the first time the song breaks out of its charming drowsiness and it’s when I really feel there might be something behind the fairly rote sentiments. When the other Bangles come in it’s a reassurance, but in conjunction with the ramped-up arrangement they also overload the track, tipping it into the full-on ballad it’s only flirted with becoming.

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  1. 51
    Alfred on 9 Sep 2010 #

    All Over The Place is more than very good: a marvelous little record, full of unexpected melodic and tempo shifts, tough lyrics sprinkled with references to Matthew Arnold and Eliot, and vocals compelling enough to press the fiction that they could do this for three or four albums (at least).

  2. 52
    vinylscot on 9 Sep 2010 #

    A bit like the Pussycat Dolls later, I always thought the Bangles (with the obvious exception of Susanna Hoffs and her eyes, especially in the “Egyptian” video) just had the look of rather poor drag act.

    There was never any debate about who was the “hottest” because there was only Susanna.

    As with many other posters, this was not my favourite Bangles single; it would get a 6; I would have much preferred “Manic Monday” or “Going Down to Liverpool”, or “Walk Like an Egyptian” which was delightfully off-the-wall. (anyone remember the parody? – “Walk With An Erection” by the Swinging Erudites – it wasn’t very good.)

    Oh, and one of the Cherry Red labels is about to start a re-issue of Bangles albums, from the beginning.

  3. 53
    Erithian on 9 Sep 2010 #

    The harmonies and the backing vocals are where this song peaks as a production, with the suggestive images on the video of fireworks exploding and waves crashing on the beach as it builds to a, er, climax. The lead vocal is quirky and uncertain, but works for precisely that reason.

    Another vote for “Goin’ Down To Liverpool” from here btw.

  4. 54
    Tracer Hand on 12 Sep 2010 #

    I love this song but after hearing Frisky and Mannish do a parody version of it I can “never unhear” that now.. Just imagine the lyrics as sung by a stalker with a fixed and maniacal grin. Oh yes.

    I believe… it’s meant to be, darling
    I watch when you are sleeping
    YOU BELONG TO ME
    Do you feel the same? Or am I only dreaming????
    Or is this BURNING, an eternal flame??

    SAY MY NAME!!!
    (sun shines through the rain )
    A whole life SO LONELY
    and then you come and ease the pain (*giggle*)
    I don’t want to lose this feeling ….!!!

  5. 55
    Lena on 15 Sep 2010 #

    Romantic songs of yearning from California are, well, nearly perpetual; one of my favorite songs of this year (“Boyfriend” by Best Coast) is all about longing for someone who may or may not even know of the other’s existence. That it sounds not a million miles away from how the Bangles must have when they started (only a bit fuzzier) is maybe a marker as to how I see this song – as a perhaps cleaned-up version of this ever-changing and yet fixed mode of music that Californians seem particularly adept at; and yet “Eternal Flame” sits at a very particular spot in this genre as being a song that seems to be sure enough of itself and yet also scared (all those questions to something so simple…) This is a song sung by a woman who isn’t sure; even when she is sure, her confidence is swamped by doubts. Will he say yes? Does he want to be her girlfriend? And all the while, the clicking tick-tock of the clock, as if this is the time, the only time this could be broached, that she has just enough courage now (for whatever reason) and that some kind of resolution and conclusion is about to be reckoned. Even as the song fades the questions keep being asked, though through the song you know he will give her his hand and say yes, it is about how she feels, her question that maybe she has been avoiding until now…

  6. 56
    logged-out Tracer Hand on 15 Sep 2010 #

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6tMgYq1ZfQ

  7. 57
    swanstep on 16 Sep 2010 #

    @Lena, 55. Thanks for the heads up about Best Coast – I like that Boyfriend song a lot. I still don’t find quite as much to like about EF as you do, but the more I think about EF’s lineage in the Cali pop sound the more forgiving I become of it. I had a soft-spot for Wilson Phillips shortly after this time, so I guess I’m just susceptible to this sort of stuff and its associated imagery. WP had multiple #1s in the US, but, checking now, it appears that they won’t be troubling either Popular or your own #2 blog, which is too bad.

  8. 58
    MichaelH on 17 Sep 2010 #

    I always thought this sounded like a tidied and digitised version of the Left Banke – I can almost hear Steve Martin’s voice stretching for the higher notes.

  9. 59
    wichita lineman on 18 Sep 2010 #

    Good spot. It could really do with gaining a harpsichord and losing a triangle. It isn’t hard to hear the Brian Wilson influence on those great leaps on the vocal line – which Susanna Hoffs struggles with, endearingly. I thought this was an instant classic the first time I heard it and remember them talking about the parent album as if they’d pulled off Odesssy And Oracle. Given the gear in late 80s studios it would have been close to impossible to get the Pet Sounds production they were after, so the end result was closer to a half-cocked power ballad. Still, not exactly Whitney Houston material is it?

  10. 60
    RobB on 21 Sep 2010 #

    This one’s an 8 for me.
    I always thought it was a lovely and, you know, sexy record. I loved the Bangles as they seemed like the cool, indie girls from the US you’d love to meet and this is Susanna’s ultimate moment of sultry pop gold. I am now going to play it one more time. . .

  11. 61
    punctum on 22 Sep 2010 #

    Sultry Pop Gold from K-Tel; available in Woolworths, Rumbelows, John Menzies…

  12. 62
    wichita lineman on 22 Sep 2010 #

    … and Owen Owen.

    Where was Owen Owen? I only heard their name on Ronco ads. No branches in Surrey from which I could buy Sultry Pop Gold, or even a Hair Magician.

  13. 63
    Steve Mannion on 22 Sep 2010 #

    There was an Owen Owen in Uxbridge, until the early-mid 90s at least.

  14. 64
    MichaelH on 22 Sep 2010 #

    And one in Slough, too.

  15. 65
    rosie on 23 Sep 2010 #

    Owen Owen was a major department store in Liverpool. I remember it very well from my childhood because my parents were definitely Owen Owen’s people (as opposed to Lewis’s, George Henry Lee’s, Blacklers or Hendersons). I loved riding to the top (accounts department and café) on several flights of escalators – the first escalators I ever knew.

    The Liverpool operation was the flagship but there were Owen Owens all over the north – certainly one in Manchester and one in Doncaster, probably Leeds as well. There was a smaller one in Birkenhead and I’m sure there was one in Chester too. They may well have spread south.

    The best department store of my childhood was definitely Robb’s of Birkenhead. What it lacked in escalators it made up for in its old-fashioned ambience complete with pneumatic tubes and a huge clock on the staircase.

  16. 66
    rosie on 23 Sep 2010 #

    And now I’m reminded of a traditional Liverpool joke, referring to Jacob Epstein’s ‘Liverpool Resurgent’ statue over the main entrance to Lewis’s.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Liverpool_Resurgent_Epstein.jpg

    Two Welsh ladies visit Liverpool on a shopping trip. As they pass the Adelphi hotel, Bronwen points across the road and says, “Is that Lewis’s?”. And Myfanwy replies, “Looks more like Owen Owen’s to me”.

  17. 67
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 23 Sep 2010 #

    There was certainly an Owen Owen in Shrewsbury when I was a kid, though i don’t recall were.

  18. 68
    punctum on 23 Sep 2010 #

    None up in Glasgow, although didn’t Owen Owen have something to do with TJ Hughes, a branch of which survives in Trongate to this day?

    Best dep store there was the late, lamented Goldbergs in Candleriggs with its bizarre but very welcome record department whence my dad purchased things like George Crumb’s Ancient Voices Of Children and Xenakis’ Electric/Acoustic Music for £2.99. This next to racks of remaindered Val Doonican/Matt Monro/Glen Daly et al.

  19. 69
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 23 Sep 2010 #

    Favourite in terms of family history was the legendary “Welwyn Stores” — its tidy little sticker’s still in scores of mum’s old books — which my grandparents lived five minutes from in the 50s and early 60s: now owned by John Lewis.

    It was decided that it was in the town’s best interest if Welwyn Garden City Limited built and controlled its own store“: love that passive construction…

  20. 70
    rosie on 23 Sep 2010 #

    Oh my! Welwyn Stores, where I bought all my records in my teen years! And where, if you hung out in the record department for long enough on a Saturday, you eventually met most of your friends (you met the rest by going to the Frying Pan café afterwards.

    Owen Owen bought out T J Hughes sometime in the 1950s to get TJ’s central Liverpool premises. They kept the name T J Hughes though, because they were shifted to Owen Owens old premises in London Road. I suspect that after the swap TJs was sold on.

  21. 71
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 23 Sep 2010 #

    My grandad pretty much used it as a corner shop — he would pop over five or six times a day, for single items. When they moved to Shrewsbury in 1966, they arrived at the same time as the very first Safeway in the UK, which was just across the road. So then that was his corner shop!

  22. 72
    Dominic on 24 Sep 2010 #

    Welwyn owning its own store.

    That is at least the right way round.

    Compared with Walmart/Asda owning most of the centre of South Woodham Ferrers, say.

  23. 73
    rosie on 24 Sep 2010 #

    I think the original intention was for the town to own the store but by the time I got there in 1965 it was owned by Fine Fare of all things. The food hall was very much upmarket of Fine Fare supermarkets.

    And yes, it was very much a huge and comprehensive corner shop. It had a little sister too, the Peartree stores in the Peartree Lane area of the town.

  24. 74
    Billy Smart on 28 Dec 2010 #

    MMWatch Part I: Everett True, February 18 1989;

    “A-side is the standard throw-away-sob-your-heart-out-by-numbers fare we’ve come to dread from the increasingly soporific foursome. But skip to the flip of the 12-inch instead, and, oh joy unconfined! One finds a 15-minute “hit mix” of five fine old Bangles nosetwisters – ‘Manic Monday’, ‘If She Knew What She Wants’, ‘Walking Down Your Street’, ‘Going Down To Liverpool’ and ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’. Jaunty, brassy, sassy, *fun* – everything, in fact that seems to be anathema to their current pop sensibilities. No crap disco beat in the background, either. Well, not much of one. “I’m going down to Liverpool/ To do nothing all the days of my life.” GENIUS!”

    True awarded single of the week to the double A-side ‘Touch Me I’m Sick’ Sonic Youth b/w ‘Halloween’ Mudhoney. Also reviewed that week;

    Nirvana – Love Buzz
    Throwing Muses – Dizzy
    Jesus Jones – Info Freako
    Depeche Mode – Everything Counts (Live)
    Simple Minds – Ballad Of The Streets EP
    S’Express – Hey Music Lover
    Fuzzbox – International Rescue
    The Style Council – Promised Land
    Bananarama & Lananeeneenoonoo – Help!
    Michael Jackson – Leave Me Alone

  25. 75
    Billy Smart on 28 Dec 2010 #

    MMWatch Part II: Caren Myers, January 28 1989;

    “I don’t think Susannah Hoffs has ever sung as badly as she does on this limp MOR ballad. The timely backing vocals are a relief, but it seems strange that a foursome that was once fresh and forthright has become the female REO Speedwagon.”

    Myers awarded single of the week to Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians ‘What I Am’. Also reviewed that week;

    REM – Stand
    The Go-Betweens – Love Goes On
    XTC – The Mayor Of Simpleton
    Yazz – Fine Time
    Sam Brown – Stop

  26. 76
    DanH on 2 Feb 2014 #

    @12: Actually, the Barenaked Ladies had the ‘one song naked’ per album that they upheld for years. Don’t think TMBG ever did that.

    EF is not a favorite of mine. I still gotta go with “If She Knew What She Wants” as my favorite Bangles track. Much like “Deadbeat Club,” it was a song that I heard a lot very young, but was struck by its pure pop perfection later on. Never liked “Walk Like an Egyptian,” and mixed on “Manic Monday.”

    And yes, a vote for the lovely Susanna. Then and now :-)

  27. 77
    hectorthebat on 1 Mar 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Paul Morley (UK) – Words and Music, 210 Greatest Pop Singles of All Time (2003)
    Theater van het Sentiment, Radio 2 (NL) – Top 40 Songs by Year 1969-2000 (2013) 9
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    Record Mirror (UK) – Singles of the Year 7

  28. 78
    Mark M on 3 Feb 2016 #

    Possibly futilely, I’m going to attempt to swing the discussion of The Bangles back here from the Atomic Kitten/Eternal Flame page.

    The thing that bugs me in a few (not most) of the comments is the equation of having power as a singer* with being good as a singer. As assorted people have argued, one of the virtues that The Bangles’ Eternal Flame has is that Hoffs isn’t a belter.

    Among my favourite Hoffs performances are those with Paisley Underground ‘supergroup’ Rainy Day, who put out one of album of admittedly very obvious covers (Dylan, Velvets, Neil Young, Big Star), including what I think might be the best version of I’ll Keep It With Mine.

    And I’ve discovered that while Spotify annoyingly doesn’t seem to have All Over The Place, it does have the post-reforming albums, the latest of which on early listening is all right. AND it has Ladies And Gentleman… The Bangles, which is the pre-All Over The Place stuff, when they had a slight over-obsession with the Taxman riff. It includes a couple of excellent magazine/radio station jingles they did, too.

    *Fairly crucial before the microphone, sure.

  29. 79
    Girl with Curious Hair on 21 Mar 2016 #

    One thing that always got me about the production of this song was the snare, when it kicks in near the end. Even for a song in the 80s (when reverb’d snares were IN just as much as pastel sports jackets and stealing schoolchildrens’ milk), that’s a mighty big gate. Eternal flame? Eternal snare more like.

    I do like this song a lot though, and agree with other people that Susanna Hoffs’s voice is perfectly suited for it. (Disclaimer: I do have something of a crush on 80s Susanna Hoffs so there is maybe a conflict of interest here) Imagine how cloying and insincere it’d sound with a more bombast singer… in fact, just listen to the Atomic Kitten version. Ugh.

    Incidentally – great blog and this is my first post here. Looking forward to catching up on other songs, though as I write this you’re just getting into 2001, and I think it’s going to get pretty ugly for a few years at this point on…

  30. 80
    Erithian on 21 Mar 2016 #

    A very warm welcome, and by all means comment on as many songs as possible – things might be getting ugly but you already have nearly 50 years to choose from!

  31. 81
    Lazarus on 22 Mar 2016 #

    We’re 80 posts in – and I haven’t mentioned before that this was the ‘first dance’ that Mrs Laz and I danced to at our wedding, it being #1 at the time. We had intended to ask for ‘My Love’ by Wings, a longtime favourite – not suspecting that the DJ might not have a 16-year-old 45 to hand.

  32. 82
    Girl with Curious Hair on 23 Mar 2016 #

    @Erithian: thanks! I’m acually looking forward to seeing what lies ahead; I was born in 1991, so we’re just about at the point where I had an interest in the charts and some pocket money to back that interest up. Sorry to say that I might have contributed to some of the ugliness ahead…

    @Lazarus congratulations on nearly 28 years! Eternal Flame does seem like a good first dance song now I think about it. The Atomic Kitten version might not have been quite such a good omen though…

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