Turn Around, Bright Eyes! There Was Nothing We Could Do About This “Total Eclipse”

On Monday, August 21, 2017, the sun will be totally eclipsed by the moon and millions of Americans across a swath of 14 states stretching from Oregon to South Carolina will get to experience it in its totality, while the rest of us will get the partial effect – if any at all.

Hundreds of thousands of people – maybe millions – with sun safety glasses in tow, will have traveled to places where the full effect is expected to be seen, and social media will be lit up with pictures and personal accounts of what for many will be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

It’ll be the first such celestial occurrence visible in the United States since July 1991, and it won’t happen again until April 8, 2024.

And while only parts of the country will get to witness this month’s wondrous event, there were very few people within these United States – who were alive at the time – that could escape the effects (and the wrath) of another historic total eclipse – this one of the sonic kind.

That would be the sparkly powder-keg of a rock ballad “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler.

A frame-grab from the music video to Bonnie Tyler’s 1983 No. 1 hit, “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

That song – a full seven-minute melodrama complete with an inescapable melody, musical crescendos that included drum crashes, soft explosions and a gothic-sounding organ seemingly straight out of a horror film, plus an emotionally stirring vocal performance by Tyler that was one for the ages – was inescapable on radio and MTV during the fall of 1983.

The only thing more spine-tingling than the song itself, which was edited from its full-length version down to 4:30 for single release, was its music video, which featured Tyler in a dream-like sequence set in a boy’s prep school.  Some of the boys fittingly had bright white orbs for eyes, and there was a lot of “turning around” (and flipping) as they whipped up dance moves that were part-balletic and part-…well, 1983 (see Stevie Nicks’ “Stand Back” and Pat Benatar’s “Love Is A Battlefield”).

Bright-eyed boys dressed in robes – in a scene from the music video for Tyler’s hit.

“Total Eclipse” – helped by its music video – was so immensely popular at the end of ’83 that it topped the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks that October, sold a million copies in America (plus five million more worldwide), and became the year’s sixth-biggest single on the U.S. pop charts.

With its deceptive, ballad-like piano intro and the memorable yet mournful “Turn Around” refrain (sung by male Canadian rocker Rory Dodd), the tune started off innocently enough.  Even Ms. Tyler’s opening lines “Every now and then I get a little bit lonely and you’re never coming ’round” were sung so straight that no one would have suspected the sheer horror she and her appropriately raspy vocals would exude by the song’s end.

Listening to it then and now, one can only imagine what it must have been like in that recording studio as the Jim Steinman-produced (and written) tune built itself from that unassuming start to its many melodramatic climaxes.  I can picture Rory Dodd in one sound booth and Bonnie Tyler in another as the two played off each other, singing the call-and-response verses of “Turn around/Every now and then…” while being directed by Steinman, almost as if they were in a symphony.

I can picture how red-faced and exasperated both singers must have been by the end of the production as they worked themselves to a frenzy before the song’s ultimate return to the balladry of that lilting piano riff accompanied by Dodd’s weary falsetto at the coda.  Indeed, their performances were simultaneously ’80s-campy and Grammy-worthy; Tyler earned two Grammy nominations that year for Best Pop Female Vocalist and Best Rock Female Vocalist, losing to Irene Cara (“Flashdance”) and Benatar (“Love Is A Battlefield”), respectively.

Jim Steinman himself, as well as whatever musicians were in the studio at the time, had to have given the singers (Tyler and Dodd) a standing ovation by the end of the take that ultimately wound up on the master tapes.

Steinman, who had risen to prominence as writer and producer of sporadically popular rocker Meat Loaf’s classic 1977 Bat Out Of Hell album, must have known that Tyler was the right woman for this song from the minute he first played it for her (although Meat Loaf famously claimed Steinman had written it for him).  In retrospect, no other female pop-rockers of the day would have done it justice.

Leather-clad rocker Joan Jett was a little too hard.  Stevie Nicks, she of the Welsh-witch persona, a little too cool.  Pat Benatar’s contralto was too smooth and operatic.  Sheena Easton?  Well, her light-weight tenor vocals could never have carried the emotion the song required.

Laura Branigan, of “Gloria” fame from the year before, might have been the only other woman of that era able to approach pulling something like this off.

But it was Tyler who’d famously sought out Steinman to help revive her fledgling career (it had been five years since the country-leaning, Top-3 pop hit “It’s A Heartache” introduced us to the raspy-voiced singer).

Steinman, in turn, gave her the tune that would ultimately become her biggest as she delivered one of pop’s most melodramatic vocal performances to this day.

Since 1983, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” has become to Tyler what “I Will Survive” is to former disco queen Gloria Gaynor – that career-defining hit that she’ll never rid herself of or be able to escape from.  It’s the kind of tune that is so larger-than-life and so artist-consuming, one can imagine the singer making appearances in random venues and performing that song – and that song alone.

Bonnie Tyler, now 66, shown in a more recent photo.

In fact, that’s apparently the very opportunity the occasion of this month’s total solar eclipse will afford Bonnie Tyler.  She will be reportedly performing the opportunistically titled song on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship sailing from Port Canaveral, FL, during what is being billed as a seven-day “Total Eclipse Cruise,” complete with “extraordinary partial views” of Monday’s solar-to-lunar alignment with earth.

Afterwards, the ship’s revelers – likely filled with libations and feeling pretty happy – will be left to ponder what exactly Tyler’s “Total Eclipse” was really lamenting in the first place.  Surely, a light in one’s life being eclipsed by love in the dark can’t be all that bad, if taken literally.

Unless, of course, you’re surrounded by a bunch of dancing, zombie-eyed boys in a boarding school with seemingly no way out, as apparently was the case for Tyler’s protagonist as interpreted in the song’s video.

In which case, there’s nothing you can do…a total eclipse of the heart.

Enjoy Monday’s eclipse!

DJRob

P.s. Here are some trivial facts about “Total Eclipse of The Heart”:

  • The song has become a karaoke favorite over the past 34 years (although I can’t imagine anyone soberly trying to take this vocally challenging tune to task without bursting a blood vessel).
  • “Total Eclipse of the Heart” experiences increases in sales and streams every time there is a solar eclipse, even partial ones (making it a lesson on how to name pop songs to capitalize on recurring natural phenomena).
  • Jim Steinman also wrote and produced the song that was runner-up to “Total Eclipse” on the charts in 1983: Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing At All,” which spent three weeks at No. 2 while “Total Eclipse” was No. 1, a rarity for a songwriter who wasn’t a performer.
Jim Steinman wrote the No. 1 and No. 2 songs on this chart dated October 5, 1983, including Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”
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