FFWDing to the Best Part: “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” Bonnie Tyler (1983)

Ooooooh … a Jim Steinman song.  Light a fire, pour a glass of cheap brandy, and get ready. Just as Max Martin rules the pop roost now, Steinman was the undisputed king of soft rock — nay, power ballads — in the ’80s and early ’90s.  No assembly of instruments was too dramatic. No lyric was over the top. Less was NEVER more, with this guy.

Here’s a picture that appears without irony on the front page of his CURRENT website.  It looks like Wham! went to a House of Mirrors.

Steinman and Meat Loaf

Here’s a sampling of some time-honored hits he penned:

  • “Making Love Out of Nothing at All,” Air Supply
  • “Holding Out for a Hero,” Bonnie Tyler
  • “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That),” Meat Loaf
  • “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” Celine Dion

But perhaps his pièce de résistance is “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” a song so welded in the public’s consciousness that it’s now being used to advertise processed diet food. Like many of Steinman’s efforts, the original recording is a bit on the bloated side — more than seven minutes — while the radio cut is closer to 4:30, thanks to the elimination of extraneous verses.

In between is the video version (5:33), which we have below. And why Ms. Tyler, 32 when this song hit the charts, seems to be having nocturnal fantasies about school-aged boys, is a discussion best held elsewhere.

Best part?  Well, there certainly is a lot to choose from, isn’t there?  Dramatic key changes, thundering timpani, teen boy choirs, the beautiful melodrama of the lyric “forever’s gonna start tonight…” but I like a little modulation hidden right at 4:00 (in the video cut, anyway). All along, the steadily tempoed vocal progression in the pre-chorus: “Together we can take it to the end of the line,” includes a one-note step higher between “the” and “end.” (Let’s say an A to a B.) But at this point, Bonnie takes it up THREE notes (to a D!): “Together we can take it to the END of the line…”  It’s subtle, but effective in signaling the impending conclusion to this opus.

I once saw a paunchy bearded fellow take this one on in karaoke.  He was far from naturally gifted, and the thing nearly broke him. A sweater vest may have been involved as well. But he remembered this little nuance as the final glorious chorus approached, and for that we all gave him mad respect.



One thought on “FFWDing to the Best Part: “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” Bonnie Tyler (1983)

  1. The best part of the best song ever would have to be… all of it. Seriously, isn’t your favorite music supposed to be the stuff from your senior year of high school, when you were king of all you surveyed? Mine is all from fifth grade, like this insouciant little ditty. My favorite part is at 0:48-0:50 when you think she’s headed for the big Meat Loaf chorus, but no, there’s a whole ‘nother verse to string me along before she needs me NOWWW TONIGHT. Or the way Rory Dodd breaks from the third up to the fifth at 1:26, on the last “bright eyes” before the chorus. Or how the bloated seven minute version has that whole Easter Egg of a bonus verse after the instrumental verse. Or… OK, I’ll stop.

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