Friday, August 18, 2017

Songs With Which to View the Solar Eclipse

"Total Eclipse of the Heart" / Bonnie Tyler

The only song in my iTunes library with "eclipse" in the title -- but I couldn't resist.

Shame on you, Stevie Nicks. Once Fleetwood Mac's Rumours went platinum, it was inevitable that a new breed of Stevie-wannabe rock chicks would start yelping all over the airwaves in the 1980s:  Pat Benatar, Laura Branigan, Irene Cara, and Welsh rocker Bonnie Tyler. Long before the term "diva" was co-opted to mean any female singer with a big voice, these babes were tearing out their vocal cords on every speaker within earshot. At the dawn of the 1980s, as working girls in power suits were striving to shatter corporate glass ceilings, the women of rock set out to kick the asses of their wimpy soft rock male counterparts.

All these babes cultivated the hard edges of their voices -- no soft-focus girly sopranos here. Bonnie Tyler distinctively husky voice was  equal parts grit and sob, perfectly calculated to sing about desperation and desire. Interesting footnote: after an operation for nodules on her vocal cords, Tyler violated doctor's orders and started singing too song after the operation. At first she thought that huskiness was the end of her singing career. She was wrong.

Tyler's megahit 1983 album Faster Than the Speed of Night was also beholden to the no-holds-barred arrangements of her producer, Jim Steinman, the guy who made Meat Loaf a star. The album version of this song clocked in at 6:58 -- nearly seven minutes -- though the radio cut was truncated to four-and-a-half minutes.

Building a song to a bombastic climax was de rigueur in the 1980s. Steinman, however, was crafty enough to know that a song couldn't sustain that level of intensity for seven minutes; the song keeps retreating to wistful interludes where it's just Bonnie and her piano (well, really Roy Bittan's piano), before rolling back in with the Rick Derringer guitar licks, a tsunami of synths, a thunderstorm of percussion (hi there, Max Weinberg!).

How could this song fail to be a hit? It's got not one but three addictive hooks. The first is the call-and-response duet with Rory Dodd, as she babbles about her emotions ("Every now and then I get a little bit helpless till I'm lying like a child in your arms") while his distant voice nobly exhorts her, "Turn around, bright eyes!" Ah, there are those strong, understanding arms she can collapse into. I read somewhere that Steinman was inspired by the Heathcliff-Cathy romance in Wuthering Heights. Oh, yeah, Emily Bronte was totally thinking of this song when she wrote that book.

Next Bonnie launches into a Meat Loaf-style voice rip, declaiming "And I need you now tonight / And I need you more than ever /And if you only hold me tight / We'll be holding on forever." Yes, "hold me tight" -- wink wink, pop-speak for "screw my brains out." Then (the Steinman touch) things suddenly hush up as she ruefully sings, "Once upon a time I was falling in love / Now I'm only falling apart / There 's nothing I can do / A total eclipse of the heart." Wipe a tear away and start it all over again -- you've got four more minutes to fill up.

And yes, there are a few vague references to the eclipse metaphor -- "your love is like a shadow on me all of the time / I don't know what to do and I'm lost in the dark," "once upon a time there was light in my life / Now there's only love in the dark," and I suppose the repeated "turn around" could just maybe be a reference to the world's rotation and the moon and sun's orbits.  But it's flimsy -- and honestly, who cares?.

The lyrics paint her as a needy, pathetic mess, but those bulldozer vocals send the opposite message. If I were a guy, I'd be terrified of this chick.


The Modesto Kid said...

She'll be performing the song live during the eclipse --

The Modesto Kid said...

Also -- possibly the best cover version of anything anywhere is Norwegian act Hurra Torpedo's version of Total Eclipse