626. ‘Eternal Flame’, by The Bangles

The school disco is almost at an end. Time to pluck up the courage to finally leave the safety of the shadows, and to ask your crush if they might, you know, maybe, like, want to dance…?

Eternal Flame, by The Bangles (their 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 9th April – 7th May 1989

‘Eternal Flame’ is a classic last-dance smoocher, from the days when a last dance was a thing. In fact, I’d rank this in second place behind Spandau Ballet’s ‘True’ in the very niche ‘Classic 80s Last Dance Number Ones’ category. (When did last dances stop? Or are they still around, and it’s just been a good decade and a half since I stayed in a nightclub until closing time…?) Anyway, this one’s got a good formula: start off simple, with Susanna Hoff’s crystal-clear voice (legend has it she recorded her vocals in the nude, which lent her voice that trembling vulnerability), and a slightly annoying typewriter’s ting, before building.

The ‘eternal flame’ of the title is reported to have been the one that burns at Graceland, in Elvis’s memory, and where The Bangles had recently been given a tour. Mixing this image into a traditional love song leads to some slightly creepy lyrics: I watch you when you are sleeping, You belong with me… It still works, though, because the rest of the song is so overwrought.

It’s not really The Bangles traditional sound – think ‘Manic Monday’ or ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ – and since female rock bands are rarer than hens’ teeth, it’s a shame that it took such a departure for them to make number one around the globe. It’s a decent ballad, one that comes together well when the four members start to harmonise like a gospel choir; but quite conservative. It would work well in an Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical.

By the final chorus, as those big eighties drums come pounding in for yet another encore, ‘Eternal Flame’ has become a power-ballad. In fact, the moment the drums enter is custom made for finally leaning in for that long-imagined snog. It should be a big moment… But it’s 1989, and we’ve heard a lot of this before. There’s nothing wrong with the song, but I’m not enjoying it as much as I thought I would…

It was The Bangles’ biggest hit – the world’s biggest-ever hit by an all-female band, no less – but it also hastened their break-up. The pushing of Hoffs as the lead singer meant that the other members were keen to break away. They split later in 1989, and although they’ve since reformed, none of their subsequent singles have come close to troubling the Top 10.


7 thoughts on “626. ‘Eternal Flame’, by The Bangles

  1. It may have been Bangles’ last major hit, but what a wonderful one to go out on. BTW I think I read somewhere that the story of Susanna Hoffs in the recording studio as nature intended was nothing more than hype. Even so, it made a good talking point and probably didn’t do the record sales any harm. As far as we know, there are no revealing videos or publicity shots …

    • I think her vocals are the best thing about the song, so whatever she did while recording them worked! There was an artist before her who recorded something in the nude (allegedly)… Can’t remember who it was though…

  2. I generally dig the sound and the vocals by The Bangles and like a good number of their songs. “Eternal Flame” was heavily over-exposed on the radio at the time back in Germany. Unfortunately, this pretty much ruined it for me – similar story with “Walk Like An Egyptian”. On the other hand, I still like “Manic Monday,” even though that tune hasn’t exactly suffered from lack of air wave exposure either!

    • I’m a bit too young to remember it, but I can imagine radio playing this to death. It’s a fine song, but I do wish one of their uptempo numbers had been the number one hit (in the UK… I think ‘Manic Monday’ got there in the US). The 80s wasn’t short of power-ballads.

  3. Hoffs…hmmm…a beautiful lady that plays…a RICKENBACKER…what about her should I not love? She doesn’t have the strongest voice but a very good pop one. In the eighties… I liked Maria McKee, Patty Smyth, and Hoffs was there also. I probably like this song least of all of their songs. If She Knew What She Wants is the one that hooked me.

    • Indeed! Her voice works well here, I think. Like you said, they were a proper rock band and so its a bit of a shame that it took a ballad like this to give them their biggest hit.

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