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. 31
    Tracer Hand on 20 May 2009 #

    This was my first “favorite song”.

    I was crushed when it didn’t win Casey Kasem’s year-end Top 100 countdown, which I heard on a portable radio in the woods behind my house in a clearing that my dad had spent several grunting months creating, and which we called “the holler”. We made a bonfire for New Year’s Eve, had neighbors and friends around, and everything in my own history seemed to be building to this moment, in which I would be somehow validated and vindicated by such a clearly superior song as this topping them all. It lost to “Every Breath You Take”.

  2. 32
    Rory on 20 May 2009 #

    Meat Loaf, not Meatloaf, sorry. For some reason I think of him as someone with no space.

  3. 33
    Mark G on 20 May 2009 #

    Never liked it, still dont.

  4. 34
    Elsa on 21 May 2009 #

    UK and US charts temporarily converging at this point… Last five entries also huge hits in US… 10 of last 13 entries, in fact, dating back to “Fame.” Meanwhile US press talking about a “Second British Invasion”…

  5. 35
    Jonathan Bogart on 21 May 2009 #

    The following only goes to show how many possible interpretations there are in the world….

    Goodness me, I honestly had no idea. I first heard the song because Guatemalan radio stations were playing it after the Nikki French version became a hit, but somehow I never heard it as anything other than a decidedly minor work, something in the range of “Bette Davis Eyes” or “Jessie’s Girl” (and now you’ll tell me that they, too, are timeless masterpieces) — I certainly never thought of it as a MASSIVE GARGANTUAN RECORD on a Loafian scale.

    My primary association with it is playing Jesus in a church skit set to the song, where I came in and saved the protagonist from faceless all-black figures wearing signs like DEPRESSION and ALCOHOLISM and SELF-HATRED and SEX. Whenever Tyler starts thundering “forever’s gonna start tonight,” I expect to hear a wildly distraught “JESUS!” (the only word in the otherwise-silent skit), and start feeling to make sure my borrowed alb is properly velcroed. (A similar but inferior production can be seen [url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sI0bCfj7FI]here[/url].)

    Then Old School came out and none of the teenagers the skit was supposed to be affecting could take it seriously. As, to be frank, neither could any of us who were putting it on.

  6. 36
    The Intl on 21 May 2009 #

    I dislike this so much, and the same goes for Steinman & Lunch Meat & I’ve never understood how those records became hits, but that’s another story. Aside from the bevy of modern-thinking 12″ funk singles of the day, I really hate 80s music. Bonnie shoulda quit after “It’s A Heartache”. And thanks #24 for making me remember “I Want My Baby Back”. HOT DANG – PAYDIRT!!!

  7. 37
    peter goodlaws on 21 May 2009 #

    # 32 – You’re quite right, Rory. As has so often happened before he was due on stage: “TELEGRAM FOR MR LOAF!…TELEGRAM FOR MR LOAF!”

  8. 38
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 21 May 2009 #

    my mum was a big fan of the loaf, for some reason — i think she was tickled by the notion of a big fat sex symbol (my dad has always been gaunt and wiry)

  9. 39
    intothefireuk on 21 May 2009 #

    This is a travesty – Bonnie Tyler ? Meatloaf ? Jim Steinman – in the words of Catherine Tate’s Nan – ‘what a load of old sh*t’. A complete load of nonsense that doesn’t entertain on any level. Strangely enough I did actually go through a period of fancying Bonnie and my record of choice was ‘More Than A Lover’ but that was a million miles away from this over-blown piece of fluff. Meatloaf elicits a similar reaction in fact it all makes me physically sick. I can’t listen to it. I haven’t forgiven Todd Rungren either. If I could award zero I would.

  10. 40
    mike on 21 May 2009 #

    For someone as resolutely Steinman-averse as myself (there’s a Number One of his coming up many years from now which I find almost impossible to sit through), I can’t offer any rational explanation for why I love this record so much. Although I like what wichitalineman says at #19: “I think it’s the ONLY Steinman hit with any heart.”. Overblown, overstuffed, operatic, like Punk Never Happened – all my principle aesthetic objections to Bat Out Of Hell were re-stated, and yet I still fell hard. Maybe it’s just the added diva-ness, and I’m just a total sucker for a screaming diva playing the victim…

    Incidentally, I have long fantasised about sneaking into the backroom of a gay club, and addressing the heaving throng with Bonnie’s killer couplet: “Once upon a time there was light in my life, now there’s only love in the dark…” Oh, I’m sure they’d all see the funny side.

  11. 41
    peter goodlaws on 21 May 2009 #

    # 38 – Blimey! That’s us telt, then!

    # 39 – Just Blimey!

  12. 42
    Rory on 21 May 2009 #

    #38 – Oddly enough, I can empathize with your reaction and the other God-it’s-horrible ones here, to the point where it feels as if my score is oscillating between 9 and 1; but Tom’s wonderful “balladosaurus” phrase and “then the planet she’s standing on explodes, or something” put me in such a good-natured frame of mind that I could only recall it fondly, a feeling that persisted even when I did finally listen to it again this morning. It’s weird, though; out of thousands of CDs and records and MP3s, I own nothing with Steinman’s name attached, and the only one I ever did was this single, which I gave away within months of buying it 26 years ago. It seems really strange that I feel so well-disposed towards a song that bears no relation to 99.9% of my adult musical tastes. The only reason can be that it so thoroughly sums up the feeling of being fifteen for me, which is totally contingent on the time and place that I happened to be fifteen. But that’s been the fascination of Popular to me as a reader all this time: seeing Tom and the rest of you retracing your own personal journeys through these songs, and trying to figure out how your subjective impressions and memories relate to their actual quality, if any.

    I still think that bombast can be entertaining, though, even if one spends one’s middle-aged evenings listening to Bon Iver and the National (ahem); and this has to be one of the best examples of pull-out-all-the-stops, set-the-controls-for-the-heart-of-the-Sun bombast in chart history.

    And actually, this probably has left a bigger impression on my tastes than I’d acknowledged, because I’ve spent most of the last decade as a huge fan of Muse.

  13. 43
    Doctor Casino on 21 May 2009 #

    Haven’t read anything yet and I’m curious to see if someone can win me over to this song, which I resent on general principle of its being so universally popular at karaoke. I realize this makes me a cantankerous old fun-hater, but certain songs (Don’t Stop Believin’ and Bobby McGee are the other ones) have just been run into the ground for me on this count…

  14. 44
    rosie on 21 May 2009 #

    Well well well, what a difference a day makes! All the bile and venom that I was confidently expecting for this magnificent specimen of theatrical pop, now oozing out of the wood work! I mean, how dare anybody like this, say the Cool Police!

    I say again, I love it.

  15. 45
    Erithian on 21 May 2009 #

    Another one where my appreciation of its initial impact was muted by having to listen through radio interference from Vannes. My reaction to it now is akin to standing alongside a monumental building – you admire it, you appreciate the ambition behind it and the work that’s gone into it, although somehow you don’t love it quite as much as the smaller building next to it. The smaller buildings are the hits from her earlier career, which somehow I come to associate with Noel Edmonds!

    The elegant and pretty “Lost In France” featured on the Top Ten Swaps board in the very early days of Swap Shop, while she made a memorable appearance on the programme shortly after “It’s A Heartache” had been a hit. Noel, ever fond of a misheard lyric, had renamed it “It’s A Hard Egg”, so Bonnie came on and said, “Noel, here’s the difference between a hard egg and a heartache!” and threw an egg at him. At his feet sadly rather than his head, but the point was made. All in good humour though.

    In between times came “More Than A Lover”, which I utterly adored and is high on my list of late 70s “shoulda been a monster” contenders. Warm, sexy, atmospheric and sadly stopped in the low 20s. On the strength of that I got her album “The World Starts Tonight”, which included a very passable version of Janis Joplin’s “Piece Of My Heart” (hello LondonLee!)

    Her career seemed to have stalled post-“Heartache” – J Edward Oliver in Record Mirror included in his Tips for 1978: “Bonnie Tyler: from superstar to housewife in just 6 weeks!” – so it was gratifying and surprising to see this comeback. No objection to it, a terrific kitchen-sink production and deserved number one, but I just enjoyed those smaller-scale hits from earlier on that bit more.

  16. 46
    mike on 21 May 2009 #

    #43 – Heh! Well, we’d hate to let you down, Rosie! That said, I took something of a sabbatical from the Cool Police during 1983 – hence perhaps the fondness for “Down Under”, the unqualified love for Phil Collins’ “You Can’t Hurry Love”… and that year’s guiltiest pleasure of all (takes deep breath), Mike Oldfield’s “Moonlight Shadow”. (Inescapable on German radio in the autumn, as someone said on another thread.) My first six-to-nine months of 1983 were all about embracing the mainstream. Hell, I even bought a pair of trousers from Top Man, to match my lovely “Limahl” hairdo…

  17. 47
    peter goodlaws on 21 May 2009 #

    Erithian – It’s a mighty shame that Bonnie didn’t ignore both “heartache”and “hard egg” and simply administered to Noel a “dead leg” by kicking the bearded little dwarf right in the knackers. Try calling the Banker after that one, you irritating little c**t!

  18. 48
    Rory on 21 May 2009 #

    #45 – Don’t worry, mike, we Oldfield fans find your pleasuring Not Guilty. (I was resisting the opportunity to wax lyrical on Bonnie Tyler’s 1987 appearance on an Oldfield single, the unexciting “Islands”, but now you’ve forced me to come out. But my fandom has been pretty muted for the past decade, so I can’t see any reason to bother you all with it from here on.)

  19. 49
    mike on 21 May 2009 #

    Well anyone who played with Kevin Ayers automatically earns a get-out-of-jail-free card from this Cool Cop. (And Ommadawn was always my favourite too.) Hmm, wonder if I’ve still got that old “Don Alfonso” 7-inch…

  20. 50
    wildheartedoutsider on 21 May 2009 #

    I must admit I didn’t mind Bonnie Tyler so much during her “Lost in France” phase …I just couldn’t stand the various phases after they found her again and she kept releasing all those god-awful records!

  21. 51
    pinkchampale on 21 May 2009 #

    #42. Dr C. we obviously go to different karaokes – i’ve never even *heard of* either ‘don’t stop believin’ or ‘bobby mcgee’

    ah. research reveals dsb is by journey. a band i have certainly heard of, though i think have never knowingly heard.

  22. 52
    Erithian on 21 May 2009 #

    Rory #41 – that pretty well nails one of the great things about “Popular”, and which makes it so much more than the sum of its parts. You said you’d been lurking for ten Popular-years before joining us, so you probably remember a prime example of this – your new-found fellow Oldfield buff, Mike, recalling his London days in the “Brass in Pocket” thread.

  23. 53
    will on 21 May 2009 #

    Loved it at the time. To these ears this is Steinman´s high point just because, unlike his later work with Meat Loaf and Celine Dion, it´s at least (fairly) succinct and doesn´t outstay its welcome.

  24. 54
    Rory on 21 May 2009 #

    #51 – ah yes, I do remember that one, and Mike’s surprise that it wasn’t universally loved, which I shared. That was indeed some great reminiscing. But we’ve seen so much of it here – as you say, Erithian, it’s one of the great things about the place. I remember seeing “Popular” back when it was brand spanking new, thinking “hmm, that could be interesting if he keeps it up”, but not really following along because the ’50s hits meant little to me; and then being seriously impressed to see what it had become when I checked back at around the 1973 mark (but was a bit preoccupied to join in at the time, as the father of a then-six-month-old). Mad props to you, Tom, you’ve built one of the highlights of the personal-blog-community-web-o-sphere. But I should have expected no less from someone who wrote one of my favourite things ever written about same.

  25. 55
    johnny on 21 May 2009 #

    when i was young my parents would take my sister and i to the shopping mall every friday night and let us pick out one current single we wanted. they smartly instituted a rule of alternating weeks, to best avoid any tears or slapping. if i picked one week, the next week was my sister’s choice. a few years ago while cleaning the basement of my parents’ house, i came across a shoe bag of roughly a hundred of these records. most interesting was how markedly clear the difference was in tastes between my sister and i. most of them i don’t remember buying, but i knew which were mine (“rock the casbah”, huey lewis), and which were hers (culture club, duran duran).

    you’ve no doubt heard of Dad Rock. this record is the epitome of Sister Rock. i was only four at the time and i can still remember how much my ten year old sister liked this song. she played it all the time. it seemed to fit perfectly with her whole aesthetic at the time – ballet slippers, “Les Mis” poster, puffy stickers. needless to say, my parents eventually hid the record without telling her. i don’t really blame them. obviously it’s a great song and brings back many warm memories. but it’s not exactly background music, is it?

  26. 56
    AndyPandy on 21 May 2009 #

    Billy at 4 and liking Nikki French because it wound up the rock purists that’s similar to be liking that pop-rave version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”….well actually I didn’t like it having never even heard it but it was great that it existed just to piss off all these pompous rock snobs who I heard getting upset about it at the time…(“it’s disgusting”, “should be banned” etc)

  27. 57
    AndyPandy on 21 May 2009 #

    Billy at 4 and liking Nikki French because it wound up the rock purists that’s similar to me liking that pop-rave version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”….well actually I didn’t like it having never even heard it but it was great that it existed just to piss off all these pompous rock snobs who I heard getting upset about it at the time…(“it’s disgusting”, “should be banned” etc)

  28. 58
    wildheartedoutsider on 21 May 2009 #

    I think the Rolf Harris version of “Stairway To Heaven” must surely be the ultimate “piss off” for “pompous rock snobs”… although I found his version of “Satisfaction” more fun. We once played it in the record shop I used to work in and there was a wonderful contrast between the line of sales assistants behind the counter almost wetting themselves laughing …and the vaguely bemused looks on the faces of the customers on the other side of the counter! A very fond memory.

  29. 59
    LondonLee on 21 May 2009 #

    The other side of that coin was “serious” artists covering “silly” pop songs. Was it Travis who did ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’? Now that I’d find offensive and call for public flogging. Not that I ever heard it.

    Re: 54. This is all foreground isn’t it? Makes ELO sound like the Young Marble Giants. It almost renders taste irrelevant, like a Cecil B. DeMille movie, you know it’s daft but you can’t help but be sucked in by the spectacle.

  30. 60
    wildheartedoutsider on 21 May 2009 #

    Yes, it WAS Travis… and actually, it’s not a bad recording! Slightly reminded me of Aztec Camera’s light acoustic cover of Van Halen’s “Jump”!

    Not as good as Erma Franklin’s cover of that Janis Joplin song though!

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