Bonnie Tyler, “Total Eclipse Of The Heart”

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bonnie tyler
For about a month in 1983, Jim Steinman ruled the music world. The songwriter pulled off the amazing feat of having a pair of his songs recorded by different artists sitting at #1 and #2 on the Billboard pop charts. Clocking in at #2 in October of ’83 was Air Supply’s “Making Love Out Of Nothing At All,” while the top spot belonged to “Total Eclipse Of The Heart,” Steinman’s gloriously over-the-top evocation of romantic torment performed by Welsh chanteuse Bonnie Tyler.

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Those who knew Steinman’s role as the writer of Meat Loaf’s biggest hits probably could have spotted his handiwork on these two songs the moment they heard them. All of the ingredients were in place: Swooping piano-driven melodies and elaborate productions, endlessly repeating lyrical phrases and motifs, metaphors so brazen they bordered on insane, and singers emoting as if their hearts were bursting from their chests. Subtle they ain’t, but these two songs made the radio an awful fun place to visit back in the day.

In the case of “Total Eclipse Of The Heart,” even Steinman felt that the song went a little too far for mass consumption. “I never thought it had a prayer as a single,” he told People magazine at the height of the song’s success in ‘83. “It was an aria to me, a Wagnerian-like onslaught of sound and emotion. I wrote it to be a showpiece for her voice.”

Tyler’s voice, famously raspy due to surgery earlier in her life, goes a long way in legitimizing the melodrama inherent in the lyrics. Had she sung with a bit of a wink in her eye or her tongue in her cheek it might have sunk the song. Instead she buys into the outsized emotions and makes us believe every bit of her anguish.

Steinman also produced the song and recruited an all-star band, including guitar hero Rick Derringer and E Streeters Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg, to deliver on an arrangement that plummets and soars to mimic the arc of despair and catharsis traveled by our heroine. Every time Tyler sings, “Every now and then,” she ups the intensity just a little bit, creating the impression that these indignities that she claims are intermittent nuisances are actually battering her more often than not.

Maybe some will scoff that this song and the others in Jim Steinman’s oeuvre trample on restraint and good taste. But what Steinman’s songwriting strategy acknowledged, and what Bonnie Tyler embodied in his magnum opus “Total Eclipse Of The Heart,” is that, when you’re in the deepest throes of a turbulent relationship, sometimes gentility and decorum have no place. Sometimes only a garment-rending, chest-beating, emotionally exhausting ballad will do. You have a problem with that, Bright Eyes?

Read the lyrics.

7 COMMENTS

  1. You have a problem with that, Bright Eyes?

    Yeah. I’ll admit that a personal bias, but I really don’t like the song. I do not connect with it on a substantive level that approaches some of the other songs that that have been selected for review. I think my tastes are generally broad and this song fall outside of what I’d consider worthy of a critical review. However, I am open to the observation that my tastes for quality are debatable. Just my two cents here: this is a song that from the first time I heard it to the last, it doesn’t provide any connection with me in the realm of passion or love.

    • I personally don’t care for this song either. With all the progressive and great things that came from the ’80’s this song comes off as “bubble gum” pop. However, from a songwriting standpoint it was very successful and therefore worthy of recognition. Lord knows, if I could this kind of recognition on one of my songs I wouldn’t give a hoot about anybody’s opinion (except the folks buying it on iTunes)

      • Yeah, recognition matters and this song got that. So I agree with you and I doubt my negative opinion on this song probably matters little to Steinman. Just an opinion I had on the day that I found that I could comment here.

  2. Beviglia’s article clears up some things I never knew about the song & the composer. I always thought it sounded like a female Meatloaf…Steinman’s influence. Always loved the intensity and drama of the song, but I have to say the video sucks.

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