May 09

BONNIE TYLER – “Total Eclipse Of The Heart”

FT + Popular114 comments • 10,559 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. 1
    Tom on 20 May 2009 #

    I actually love this record more than “Billie Jean” even though I don’t think it’s as good. I have disgraced myself to it at Club Popular on occasion too I believe.

  2. 2
    peter goodlaws on 20 May 2009 #

    “Turn around…” for a rare case of stadium rock from a girlie, albeit a bit of a scary one. As Tom suggests, this is a good production and smoky old Bonnie really flings herself into it. For me it lacks the class of “Wuthering Heights” but this is a mighty fine blast from “the female Rod Stewart” so that one is not minded to attempt to chase this woman back over the Severn Bridge from whence she came (unlike many other artists from the Principality, past and present) and many hard men would probably not have the balls to try anyway.

  3. 3
    poohugh on 20 May 2009 #

    This is a brilliant song! You won’t have reviewed or will review a song on this blog that has such an insane structure. There isn’t really a verse or a chorus it’s one massive Caps Lock. Wuthering Heights begins, middles, bridges, and ends; Total Eclipse…. explodes then explodes again, then shrapnel rains down, then it explodes again. 9

  4. 4
    Billy Smart on 20 May 2009 #

    Hm, yes, I can see how you might admire the gargantuan scale of Steinman’s creations, but they just sound so UGLY to me! Caterwauling vocals and thumping and booming.

    I suppose that I can find the comic overreach in the lyrics alone, which have got a pleasing join the dots lunatic escalation of metaphor and larger and larger delivery (falling in love/ falling apart!/ “Once upon a time there was light in my life/But now there’s only love in the dark!”/ total – eclipse – OF THE HEART!”. But this is always overwhelmed by the sheer discomfort of having to actually listen to it.

    The only times when I can really find value in what Steinman does is when he’s orchestrating the work of somebody else with some sort of artistic vision of the world that I can engage with, be that Andrew Eldrich or Gary Barlow (‘This Corrosion’ may be my favourite hit of the eighties).

    I slightly prefered the nineties rave version of this by Nikki French, if only because it seemed to wind up rock purists.

  5. 5
    lonepilgrim on 20 May 2009 #

    I think I hated this at the time (on principle) but having watched the video again for the first time in ages I quite enjoyed it in a ‘I ♡ the 80s’ kind of way. The video has big hair, shoulder pads and images of privileged youth with glowing eyes which epitomise a decade of excess.

  6. 6
    Billy Smart on 20 May 2009 #

    #2 Watch: A week of Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams’. A bit over-familiar, but certainly preferable to my ears.

  7. 7
    Tom on 20 May 2009 #

    I absolutely LOATHED this at the time, by the way. The first of quite a few records I’ve come around 180 on.

    Nikki French is great too!

  8. 8
    wildheartedoutsider on 20 May 2009 #

    I think I must have had something against Bonnie Tyler (more of that later!) because this was another Number One I remember pretty much loathing at the time.

    Strangely enough I’ve come to despise it less as a song with the passing years having seen it performed at karaoke bars so many times – I can understand the appeal of singing it. Listening to Bonnie Tyler, however, is something which remains a particularly painful experience for me.

  9. 9
    pinkchampale on 20 May 2009 #

    heart or not, this is an absolutely glorious (ridiculous, of course) record. actually, i think there is heart of a sort – it doesn’t seem to me that bonnie tyler has the slightest inkling that what she’s singing isn’t really of planet-stopping importance and it’s her lunatic, lung-busting commitment keeps you transfixed. and the video is just something else. ludicrous certainly – the choirboy suddenly zooming toward camera is a particular treat – but also so dramatic, so mad, that it actually ends up being a genuinely powerful peice of art.

    three was once a great piece of (presumably accidental) programming on the late (and actually lamented, by me at least) mojo radio where ‘bat out of hell’ was followed by ‘born to run’ was followed by ‘fast car’, each making the claims of the former seem hollow.

  10. 10
    Billy Smart on 20 May 2009 #

    TOTPWatch: Bonnie Tyler twice performed Total Eclipse on Top Of The Pops;

    24 February 1983. Also in the studio that week were; Spandau ballet, The Thompson Twins and Eurythmics, plus Zoo’s interpretation of ‘She Means Nothing To Me’. The hosts were Dave Lee Travis and Andy Peebles.

    17 March 1983. Also in the studio that week were; Bananarama, Mezzoforte, Bucks Fizz and Joan Armatrading. Tony Blackburn and Gary Davies were the hosts.

    (I was wrong to say that Zoo had been mothballed at the end of 1982. They still turn up, very infrequently, until July 1983)

  11. 11
    Erithian on 20 May 2009 #

    More on this later, but circa 1977’s sultry “More Than A Lover”, I would have rather liked to have had something against Bonnie Tyler. Mind you I was only 15.

  12. 12
    wildheartedoutsider on 20 May 2009 #

    #9 “it doesn’t seem to me that bonnie tyler has the slightest inkling that what she’s singing isn’t really of planet-stopping importance”

    I was just thinking exactly the same thing while I was trying to fathom out why I might prefer karaoke versions of a song to its original. I think anyone I’ve seen singing it in a bar on a drunken night out has clearly realised that it’s a piece of over-blown fun and have performed it accordingly. Bonnie Tyler doesn’t give any indication that she understands that it’s a ‘fun’ song, and that makes her performance feel (unkowingly) pompous to me.

  13. 13
    lonepilgrim on 20 May 2009 #

    ♯7 I think this song requires at least a 540 degree turn around

  14. 14
    Billy Smart on 20 May 2009 #

    TV Sketchwatch: Was it Little & Large who did a parody of this where the guitarist kept of telling the singer to “Turn around” because her back was to the camera?

    It might have been Kenny Everett. Either way, it made me laugh when I was ten (I didn’t care for this at the time, either)

  15. 15
    Conrad on 20 May 2009 #

    An interesting run of number 1s (and they seem to have inspired some great reviews and comments) after the low-key end to 1982, and Janine-from-spinal-tap’s big sister hollers away to good effect here on what is nonsense, but enjoyable nonsense nonetheless.

    It’s a lot more fun than meatloaf anyway.

  16. 16
    Billy Smart on 20 May 2009 #

    Light entertainment watch. Bonnie has appeared on a really mixed assortment of shows over the years;

    THE FREDDIE STARR SHOWCASE: with Bonnie Tyler, Phil Thornalley, Otiz Cannelloni, Gonzalez, Steve Lange, John Themis (1983)

    LADYBIRDS: with Bonnie Tyler (1983)

    LENNIE AND JERRY: with Patrick Moore, Doctor Magnus Pyke, Bonnie Tyler (1979)

    LEO: with Peter Skellern, Tina Turner, Bonnie Tyler (1984)

    LIVE FROM THE PALLADIUM: with Victor Borge, The Shadows, Bonnie Tyler, Mike Oldfield (1987)

    THE MONTREUX ROCK FESTIVAL: with Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Art Of Noise, Belouis Some, Bronski Beat, Eighth Wonder, E.L.O., Paul Hardcastle, Marilyn Martin, Ready For The World, Bonnie Tyler (1986)

    NEVER MIND THE BUZZCOCKS: with Simon Amstell, Bill Bailey (Team Captain), Phill Jupitus (Team Captain), Melanie C, Bonnie Tyler, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Adam Buxton (2007)

    REVOLVER: with Roy Hill Band, The Vibrators, Chris Hill, Les Ross, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Bonnie Tyler, The Buzzcocks, Sore Throat, Kandidate (1978)

    RUSSELL HARTY: with Sadie Galvin, Bonnie Tyler, Toby Halick (1977)

    THREE OF A KIND: with Bonnie Tyler (1983)

    WOGAN: with Norman Tebbit, Anthony Andrews, Julie Walters, Shakin’ Stevens, Bonnie Tyler (1984)

    WOGAN: with Michael J. Fox, Ian Botham, Bob Carolgees and Spit the Dog, Bonnie Tyler, Stevie Wonder (1985)

    WOGAN: with Clive Dunn, Bonnie Tyler, Roy Walker, Jane Walmsley (1986)

    WOGAN: with Michael Buerk, Ron Eyre, Lucy Knowles, Rebecca Branford, Mike Oldfield, Bonnie Tyler, Emma Thompson (1987)

  17. 17
    lonepilgrim on 20 May 2009 #

    the other thing that struck me about the video was how BT resembles Nessa from Gavin and Stacey with a blonde barnet

  18. 18
    pinkchampale on 20 May 2009 #

    #12 but wouldn’t it be even better to see an absolutley serious karaoke singing really going for it? actually there’s a good greil marcus piece about a karaoke performer investing huge emotional weight in a song that was pretty much a joke to its original performer. but we’ll see about that in six months, bunny time. oh, and again in twenty-odd years, i think.

  19. 19
    wichitalineman on 20 May 2009 #

    I always wanted the East Enders writers to work the phrase “turn around, bright eyes” into a script, whispered in some unfortunate’s ear by Phil Mitchell on a foggy night in the square.

    This was a single that sounded like a no.1 the first time I heard it; though I loathed Bat Out Of Hell the (relative) light and space on TEOTH, plus Bonnie’s career-altering performance, meant I had to tip my hat.

    Though I couldn’t love it because it’s basically too silly, like all his productions, I think it’s the ONLY Steinman hit with any heart – the falling in love/falling apart couplet really works.

    Tom, you’re right about Steinman wanting to make this even bigger – the percussive thunderclaps on the instrumental verse are something even Spector didn’t dare to use on the Ronettes’ Walking In The Rain.

    Erithian, good call on More Than A Lover, much darker, saucier, and Welsher than TEOTH.

  20. 20
    Martin Skidmore on 20 May 2009 #

    I disliked it at the time – maybe it’s my changing tastes, but when a record like this is so prevalent, you do feel rather bludgeoned by it. With Steinman, I dislike his pomp on all but a few tracks – when something works, I can love it, as I do on this and Bat Out Of Hell. (I’ve always liked bike/car crash songs, for some reason.)

  21. 21
    Tom on 20 May 2009 #

    Big shout out for the sleeve, which looks like a mid-70s sci-fi novel.

  22. 22
    Andrew Farrell on 20 May 2009 #

    #12: Bonnie Tyler doesn’t give any indication that she understands that it’s a ‘fun’ song

    Dear God man, why should she? I can see most of the arguments against this song, but surely you’re not saying it would be improved by a sneer or a smirk?

    As regards the comparison in the first sentence, show me something as awesome as this video inspired by Wuthering Heights, and we’ll talk.

    (but then it will surprise no-one who knows me that I don’t consider sublime vs ridiculous to be a difficult choice, or even a proper choice at all).

  23. 23
    rosie on 20 May 2009 #

    Oh come on guys, I came back from my bowls match this afternoon (I won, for once) fully expecting to have to fight a one-woman rearguard action in defence of this record, and you all like it! Thank you for stealing my thunder!

    This really is the last single I ever bought, complete with that excellent picture sleeve but disappointingly black vinyl pressing. And I bought it because I really liked it at the time, not only because the first week of its number one-ship coincided with my turbulent sojourn in the little pit village of Bearpark in County Durham and the second week coincided with my total deflation at my mother’s house in Hitchin.

    I’ll cheerfully admit to something else, too. I really enjoy Jim Steinman. I love his unmistakeable, totally individual joyfully over-the-top take on rock. I love his absurd rock operas including, and especially, the first Bat Out Of Hell album. I even have my own copy of Jim Steinman’s own album, Bad For Good (his own voice is much too thin and weedy to carry the Wagnerian epics but it’s enjoyable all the same. Rivalling the Bat for my favourite Steinman album is Original Sin, attributed to “Pandora’s Box” which is actually the regular Steinman ensemble with a quartet of big, raunchy female voices in the Meat Loaf role.

    Steinman works best with big, raunchy female voices, and even a heavy-duty Welsh accent helps it along, which is why I think this record is the best of the lot. A big nine from me.

  24. 24
    wildheartedoutsider on 20 May 2009 #

    #20 You can’t beat a good car crash song! Personally my favourite is “I Want Me Baby Back” by Jimmy Cross in which we hear the story of the other vehicle involved in the leader of the pack’s fatal accident. Admittedly it’s a little short on the ‘song’ element but it’s worth it for the lyrics: “well… when I come to I looked around… and there was the leader… and THERE was the pack… and over there was my Baby …and over THERE was my Baby …and WAY over there was my Baby!”

    P.S. I think I know the reason you like songs about bike/car crashes, by the way …they skid more!?!

  25. 25
    Tom on 20 May 2009 #

    #22 well pop’s key lesson about ridicule has been discussed here at length already so I hardly thought it needed repeating!

  26. 26
    wildheartedoutsider on 20 May 2009 #

    #22 I think I’m saying it would be improved by a singer who isn’t Bonnie Tyler! I’d probably prefer it if it was sung by Meat Loaf, to be honest – he seems to have mastered the requisite ‘twinkle in his eye’ to carry off even the most emotionally overwrought of Steinman compositions with a warmth (and, dare I say, ‘sense of irony’) which I feel Tyler’s performance lacks.

    And none of that is an argument against the SONG, by the way. As a piece of song-writing I think it has its merits. This is one of those instances where I have a more positive view of the SONG than I do of the RECORD.

    I wonder if anyone has ever done a light wistful acoustic version of this? (like Beth Orton’s cover of the Ronettes’ Wall of Sound epic “I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine”) I think I’d quite enjoy that.

  27. 27

    link followed in wikipedia’s meat loaf article supplies material for long-delayed answer record: “a syndrome of pre-excitation of the ventricles of the heart due to an accessory pathway known as the Bundle of Kent. This accessory pathway is an abnormal electrical communication…”

  28. 28
    Kat but logged out innit on 20 May 2009 #

    I was going to comment going AWESOME WONDERFUL BRILLIANT A++++ earlier but didn’t think I could do it justice in the 30 seconds I had to spare – the song is epic and bombastic and totally THUNDEROUS. The video is just as good! Argh words are still failing me now – I think this is the musical equivalent of Galactus eating universes. Dudes, the choirboys have glowing eyes :-O

  29. 29
    Weej on 20 May 2009 #

    The review and comments here all make a lot of sense to me, but I still don’t like the song. It just does nothing for me at all, and I can’t say exactly why.

    This version, however, I like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIaz6zBz1go

  30. 30
    Rory on 20 May 2009 #

    (Damn, you’ve got to be quick around here. I wrote this on my laptop this afternoon after reading the first few comments, and come back after dinner to post it only to see half its thunder stolen. Ah well. Here’s what I wrote a few hours ago:)

    It’s impossible to choose one song to sum up the 1980s, but if I were choosing one to sum up 1983 it would have to be this. The most striking thing about the UK charts compared to the Australian ones is how briefly your number ones reigned compared to ours; it’s a rare exception indeed that dominated your charts for as long as this did ours (I won’t be mentioning the obvious parallel for fear of the Bunny). ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ sat on top in Oz for six weeks: six weeks of backlit big hair and over-literal bright-eyed kids on Countdown; six weeks of lyrics that seemed meaningful when puffed up with musical bombast but fell flatter than a flathead on the floor of a flat-bottomed boat on closer inspection. But what bombast! Has a number one ever felt more over-the-top than this? And shouldn’t that be the aim of every glory-obsessed hitmaker?

    It was clearly Jim Steinman’s aim. First he masterminded Meatloaf, another performer Aussies took to their hearts (Bat Out of Hell sold a gazillion copies there, like everywhere), and when Meatloaf over-the-topped his vocal chords one time too many Steinman released Bad for Good, the Meatloaf album you have when you aren’t having meatloaf. One of my high school art teachers was obsessed with that, and played it all the time in class; I’ve since seen it described as a notorious turkey, although really only the vocalist had changed (‘Meatloaf’s off, love – it’s turkey tonight’). And this, too, could have been a Meatloaf track, or a Steinman solo track, though I doubt it would have been as endearing without Tyler’s rasp – as if she were ruining her vocal chords in the act of recording, that’s how devoted she was to wringing totally the last drop out of this eclipsed heart.

    ‘Total Eclipse’ holds a special place for me in this Popular journey, because it’s the first actual single I helped push to number one back in the day. My three dollars went towards that first week or two of Australian chart dominance, and is no doubt helping keep Steinman (if not Tyler) in the gaudy rock-star luxury that such a hit demands. No one involved in ‘Total Eclipse’ could possibly go on to a quiet retirement of carefully managed investment portfolios: Steinman and Tyler today must either be living it large in coastal mansions or living in poverty after burning through all their cash, there can be no in-between. And I’m not about to look them up to prove myself wrong.

    Naturally, I was part of the backlash, and palmed this single off on my brother too, so I couldn’t even tell you what the b-side was. But 26 years later I can still remember the whole thing without checking YouTube, and now know that there a lot worse ways to reach number one than this: a lot of sillier, weedier, less infectious and less impassioned ways. I hope you kept your millions, Jim and Bonnie, because you earned them. 9, before I lose my resolve and listen to it again and award it 6.

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