517. ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’, by Bonnie Tyler

It’s easy to laugh at some of the worst excesses of the 1980s. The size of the hair! The size of the shoulder-pads! Huge mobile phones! Mountains of cocaine! Well, at least two of those things are in play for our next #1: hair and shoulder pads. (I wouldn’t rule out the cocaine, either…)

Total Eclipse of the Heart, by Bonnie Tyler (her 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, 6th – 20th March 1983

Like I said, looking back, it’s common to sneer at certain aspects of the 1980s – in a way that doesn’t seem to happen with any of the other decades currently within human memory – but when they combine to produce something as outrageous as ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’, then you’ve got to be glad they happened.

First things first: this is a duet. Kind of. There’s a significant, if uncredited, male voice throughout – one Rory Dodd. Make no mistake, though. This is Bonnie Tyler’s song. She sings it like she’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown, like she’s just downed that third glass of wine, like her very life depends on belting these lines out. And there are so many great lines. For a start: I’m living in a powder keg and giving off sparks! (For many, many years I had no idea what she was singing here. It wasn’t a misheard mondegreen; I simply had no idea what a ‘baldergag’ was…) Or the howled: And I need you now tonight…

Then there’s the classic chorus line: Once upon a time I was falling in love, Now I’m only falling apart… It’s the musical equivalent of a telenovela actor’s slow-motion swoon, but it works. What is a total eclipse of the heart..? It’s madness brought on by love. It’s poetry, that’s what it is. This was a bit of a comeback for Bonnie Tyler – her first real hit for six or seven years – and you feel that she could sense this as she recorded it. She leaves nothing behind out there, as they say on ‘Match of the Day’.

But actually, Tyler is only 50% responsible for this record’s brilliance. The rest lies with Jim Steinman’s writing and production. The moment when those enormous eighties drums come thumping in – like Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound on steroids –is actually hair-raising. Later on there are explosions, thunder and lightning… and sleigh bells. Was this originally meant to be a festive release? Or did Steinman simply see nothing wrong with sleigh bells in a February release? I hope it’s the latter…

This is a power ballad. It’s probably the ultimate power ballad. It’s certainly the first ‘modern’ power ballad to top the charts. (Honourable mentions to Nilsson’s ‘Without You’, and Babs’ ‘A Woman in Love’.) And though it’s a genre synonymous with ‘80s excess, there aren’t too many of them that will top the UK charts in the coming years. In fact, the next #1 to rival ‘Total Eclipse…’ for first-clenching pomposity might well be the next one written and produced by Steinman, which won’t be for another decade…

We can’t finish this post without mentioning the video. Bonnie Tyler is a teacher in a boys boarding school, who spends her nights prowling the corridors in a white negligée, imagining boys at their desks having their shirts ripped open by wind-machines, fencing in the halls and, by the end, prancing around her in loin cloths a la ‘Lord of the Flies’. Well, a song like this couldn’t have any old, common-or-garden music video, could it…?

‘Total Eclipse…’ offers a different side of the eighties to our previous #1, ‘Billie Jean’. One is slick and modern; the other completely OTT. If I had to choose which side of the decade I’d like to remember, and which song I’d like to come on towards the end of a night out, then it would be this one. And the British public agrees. Sort of. ‘Total Eclipse…’ was voted as the 3rd best #1 of the ‘80s (with ‘Billie Jean’ in 2nd) but, much more importantly, it won a 2013 poll of ‘Best Songs to Sing in the Shower’.

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27 thoughts on “517. ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’, by Bonnie Tyler

  1. I would certainly agree with your closing paragraph. I don’t think I have ever sung in the shower (I mean, how can I take my guitar in there with me), but if it comes to a choice between Michael Jackson and Bonnie Tyler, my vote goes to the latter. There was always something about MJ’s slickness that left me cold. I can admire his talents, but never found the music very endearing. But anything produced by Jim Steinman was so magnificently over the top, in there best possible way, that you can’t really resist it. The record proved that after her so-so run of his in the late 1970s, all she needed was the right production and songwriting team behind her.

  2. Adore this record, adore the video, love jim steinman, and Bonnie is still fabulous. I go back to lost in france era for Bonnie so it was great to see her reinvented for the 80s.

  3. No video provided or is the phone app blocking it?

    I love Jim Steinman stuff…his work with Meatloaf, the soundtrack to Streets of Fire, his own work…ever heard Rock & Roll Dreams Come Through? Worked with Holly Sherwood, Laurie Sargent (the band Face to Face), Tom Petty…

    Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young is another grand Steinman production from the movie.

    The last song I recall from Tyler was It’s A Heartache. It always struck me odd that, she appeared to be a female version of Rod Stewart. Was that by design?

    I always thought this came out in 1984. Nope…near the end of my junior year…

    • There is a video, and it appears to be playing OK… Is it blocked where you are?

      Does the Rod Stewart comparison come from the fact that they’re both kind of celtic, and have husky voices…? Rod has covered ‘It’s a Heartache’, but Bonnie’s original is the best

  4. When I first heard this song…I thought…wow that sounds like Meatloaf…I soon found out why. I was happy for Tyler to have a hit again…the song I remember her by is It’s A Heartache.

  5. Like I mentioned in my review, this song is an ultimate musical rollercoaster in all the best ways. You don’t need to know what it’s about. Instead, it’s all about the overwhelming feel of the song. Tom Breihan has this great quote from his review about the massive effect of the song, “The term “power ballad” doesn’t adequately describe “Total Eclipse Of The Heart,” if only because the word “power” just doesn’t have enough power. “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” is an extinction-level event rendered in musical form. It’s pop music as heart-pounding, chest-thumping, blood-gargling, heavens-falling passion explosion. It’s sheer spectacle. It’s fireworks and lasers and lightning and thunder. It soars and swoops and barrel-rolls. The song flies along from one fiery climax to the next, and right when it seems like it’s about to end, it takes off again and somehow becomes even bigger. Who the fuck cares what it’s about?”

    • I have next to no musical ability. But if I could play an instrument, read music, sing, and had a band, I’d make something Steinman-esque. It would probably (definitely) be terrible, but I can’t understand why musicians aren’t all making it. Why do things like lo-fi, shoegaze, twee-pop, not to mention Coldplay, exist, when they could all be making ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’?? I’m not saying I want all music to be like ‘Total Eclipse…’ That would be hell. But if you are blessed with the ability to at least try, why wouldn’t you…?

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