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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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Comments

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  1. 61
    JonnyB on 22 May 2009 #

    Late in again. Well, I agree with most others’ views of Meat Loaf. Bat out of Hell is one of the longest three days, four hours and fifty-one minutes in pop – although my next door neighbour, Short Tony, does a terrific karaoke version. I never really understood how something that pretended to rock so hard could be so glossy. Plastic theme-pub metal.

    ‘Dead Ringer for Love’ ambushed me on the radio the other day, however, and I can’t deny it’s very exciting.

    I love TEOTH however. It’s tight – although it moves on within the song, it doesn’t wander off – and sung heroically. Some high marks from me.

  2. 62
    JonnyB on 22 May 2009 #

    #58,#59 – I’ve not heard the Travis version and sort of assumed it was done a bit mockingly, which always put me off. It was (as I remember – might be wrong) a bit too soon after Richard Thompson was including stuff like that in his 1000 years of popular music show.

    Didn’t Coldplay do ‘Stayin Alive’? Or was that some horror nightmare that I’ve semi-blocked from my mind?

  3. 63
    adam on 22 May 2009 #

    #59 – Aztec Camera’s cover of ‘Jump’ is one of the very best things in the world.

    I like this a lot, now, although at the time from what I remember I probably would have sighed and said ‘what’s the point’ before going and trying to find something more from ‘Twenty Of Another Kind Chapter 2’ than was actually there. In fact soon after first finding an mp3 of it I stuck it on play on my laptop on the train on the way home, was worried that my earphones weren’t working properly as I could only hear it faintly however high I turned up the volume, and then realised that I’d put them in the wrong socket and I was playing the song out loud to the carriage. Who were nodding and smiling. It’s just tremendously good fun, it does what it sets out to do very very well indeed.

  4. 64
    Billy Smart on 22 May 2009 #

    #55. In about 1994 you were spoilt for choice when it came to interesting pop varients of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. Not only Abigail, but also the towering ’18 Strings’ by Tinman. And, on a slight tangent, ‘Call It What You Want’ by Credit To The Nation – plaid-shirted youths would rush the floor when that started, only to flee in horror once guitars were replaced by rapping.

    #59. You’ve probably been listening to the abridged Aztec Camera version of ‘Jump’ – the full length version ends up with a howling guitar solo that reminds me of Crazy Horse, and is considerably heavier than the Van Halen original. Definitive great cover version that – exposes all of the underbelly of vulnerability that is latent in the original song’s strutting tumescence.

  5. 65
    mike on 22 May 2009 #

    I saw Aztec Camera perform the full length “Jump” at a miners’ strike benefit at the Brixton Academy in early 1985. Roddy Frame introduced the song with a pious, prissy, finger-wagging little speech about how “it’s not good to like these things”, and – witheringly – that “this song has done about as much for women in rock as Madonna“. (Like A Virgin had just been a hit, and it was the generally accepted party line that Madonna was A Very Worrying Development. He practically spat her name out in disgust.) And then he went into that aforementioned howling guitar solo at the end of the song, and totally rocked out… unironically! Ooh, we were confused. They were dogmatic times.

    Abigail’s Hi-NRG cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was the work of Ian Anthony Stephens, whose biggest hit was “Searching” for Hazell Dean. I met him later that year, and he told me that it had been a deliberate attempt to wind up rock snobs…. and that Steve Sutherland had promised to forward him all the hate mail that the NME had received about it!

  6. 66
    Erithian on 22 May 2009 #

    JonnyB #61 – you’re not thinking of Coldplay’s Glastonbury performance of “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”, are you? Included as a tribute to Kylie, who of course had had to pull out of the festival due to illness, and in no way mocking – nor was the Travis performance at the same venue.

    There was a doo-wop cover version of Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” by a jazz vocal group called Big Daddy – not helped by one of the papers including a picture of Big Daddy the wrestler in their preview of that night’s TOTP. Now that I’d have liked to see.

  7. 67
    wildheartedoutsider on 22 May 2009 #

    #63 I probably just forgot about the ending – I don’t think I’ve actually got that recording on anything I own, I just remember playing it in the shop I used to work in. We often set ourselves challenges – like having a ‘let’s find the least-likely cover version’ day. It’s quite possible my memories of hearing this are from the same day I heard Rolf’s “Satisfaction”.

    Now, if there was an Aztec Camera version of “Total Eclipse of The Heart”… I’d pay good money to hear THAT!

  8. 68
    wildheartedoutsider on 22 May 2009 #

    #65 “Dancing In The Dark” by Big Daddy is on YouTube:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OG7nj9s96TY

    P.S. …and how ironic, there’s a cover of “Billie Jean” by Big Daddy on there too! Michael Jackson meets Gene Vincent – it shouldn’t work, but somehow it does!

  9. 69
    mike on 22 May 2009 #

    I’ve just been revisiting my Which Decade Is Tops For Pops write-up for Nicki French’s 1995 cover of “Total Eclipse” – and I discover that four years ago, Tom said “Obviously the song itself is a masterpiece of cosmic proportions”. So, do masterpieces of cosmic proportions still only warrant 8 out of 10? Such rigour!

    (Sorry, a cheap but irresistable point…)

  10. 70
    Tom on 22 May 2009 #

    Actually when I started Popular back then I remember thinking “god this is a ridiculous project but eventually I will get to Total Eclipse Of The Heart” so it’s been a kind of internal milestone and I do feel a bit of betrayal not slapping a 10 on it.

    I think “among songs of cosmic proportions, this is a masterpiece” might be a more accurate way of putting it ;)

  11. 71
    Erithian on 22 May 2009 #

    That’s strange, Tom – why was this one such a milestone even from the perspective of 1952? You’ve spoken before of how you loved just about everything from 1983, but didn’t align this one to a personal memory.

    And when you were thinking what a ridiculous project it was, did you think you’d have such a following by this time?!

  12. 72
    JonnyB on 22 May 2009 #

    Erithian – I could have been (although it’s a long way removed) – I’m sure it’d have been on Youtube or something if they’d have done the Bee Gees.

    ‘Mocking’ was in retrospect the wrong word. I guess I’m searching for ‘clever-clever’ or something – the subconscious implication that a group does a song because – fine – it’s a good song, but actually ‘we’re serious artistes, and we’re doing this song to make everybody smile and dance, but at the end of the day we ARE serious artistes and they’re not’ sort of syndrome. As I said, I didn’t hear the Travis one, so that was my own prejudice lumping them in to all that.

    I loved The Darkness doing Street Spirit (Fade Out)…

  13. 73
    wichita lineman on 22 May 2009 #

    K-Tel alert: Bonnie’s flop follow-up Faster Than The Speed Of Night (which might have flopped because it doesn’t really make any sense, does it? And it sounded like an atmos-free Meat Loaf out take) was on Chart Stars, sandwiched between Twisted Sister’s I Am (I’m Me) and the Teardrop Explodes’ farewell single You Disappear From View.

  14. 74
    Tom on 22 May 2009 #

    #70 – it just seemed a really long way off and when I was downloading all the tracks it stood out as “yes, I am really keen to discuss that”. There are a couple of 90s ones I feel similarly about which I guess are my new ‘milestones’ :)

  15. 75
    Lex on 22 May 2009 #

    ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’ is one of those songs that I appreciate and in the right setting will absolutely love, but I’d never choose to listen to it in my own time and I don’t think of it as a particularly personal connection (partly over-familiarity, partly the OTT nature of it). I couldn’t even tell you what any of the non-chorus lyrics are.

  16. 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.

  17. 77
    DV on 22 May 2009 #

    I bet this is great in karaoke bars.

  18. 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.

  19. 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!

  20. 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

  21. 81
    admin on 23 May 2009 #

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

  22. 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.

  23. 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?

  24. 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!

  25. 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

  26. 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.

  27. 88
    DV on 12 Aug 2009 #

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

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

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