May 09

BONNIE TYLER – “Total Eclipse Of The Heart”

FT + Popular114 comments • 10,713 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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  1. 92
    lonepilgrim on 5 May 2010 #

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

  2. 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.

  3. 94
    mintness on 7 Mar 2013 #

    Our 2013 Eurovision entrant, there.

  4. 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!

  5. 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?

  6. 97
    thefatgit on 19 May 2013 #

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

  7. 98
    enitharmon on 19 May 2013 #

    thefatgit @97

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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

  12. 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…)

  13. 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.

  14. 105
    punctum on 20 May 2013 #

    or, if not a country, then an establishment.

  15. 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.

  16. 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

  17. 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)

  18. 110
    AMZ1981 on 19 May 2017 #

    Just having a dig around the Popular archives. Although Bonnie’s Eurovision tilt was mentioned, nobody noticed how this gave her yet another connection to Nikki French. Although the UK has been represented at Eurovision by many prolific performers and interpreters of song (and many obscurities as well) this appears to be the one example of two Eurovision entrants scoring a top ten hit with the same song.

  19. 111
    benson_79 on 23 Aug 2020 #

    Ken Bruce still gives the full-length version of this a regular spin in the post-Popmaster slot, but sadly it leaps over the line into self-indulgence (who’d’ve thought it of Steinman eh?); the radio edit is far superior.

  20. 112
    enitharmon on 20 Apr 2021 #

    So it’s goodbye Jim Steinman, totally eclipsed by a “sudden medical emergency”, which sounds like he went out the way he would have wished. Maybe his heart was eclipsed, maybe his head.

    RIP Jim, if rest is what you seek, and I hope you catch up with the Bad Girls.

  21. 113
    Maria Adebola on 26 Apr 2021 #

    Agree with Billy’s comment (#6) I would have preferred Sweet Dreams to reach the top. Echoing Enitharmon’s post (above) RIP Jim Steinman.

  22. 114
    Gareth Parker on 7 May 2021 #

    No more than a 4/10 I’m afraid. The song’s OK, but Bonnie’s singing style is just not for me.

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