Forty years after recording the song that came to define both her and the 1980s power ballad, Bonnie Tyler still remembers the reaction of her rival for the track.
Total Eclipse of the Heart was written by Jim Steinman, sonic architect behind Meat Loaf’s baroque big-seller Bat Out of Hell (1977). So when, five years later, Steinman created a song that felt like a natural successor, Mr Loaf might have reasonably felt the song was his. Unfortunately for him, a Welsh woman with a huge voice and hair to match, previously best known for blowsy ballads Lost in France and It’s a Heartache, had other ideas. Having moved to a new record label, Tyler recorded the song in New York in nine takes – speedy for the famously pernickety Steinman.
“Of course I met Meat Loaf – and he was really p----- off with Jim giving me that song!” hoots Tyler, her Neath accent as strong as ever. “He said: ‘That song was meant for me!’ I said: ‘Tough s---, I’ve got it.’ ” Tyler’s version of the song would go on to be a UK number one, a platinum record here and in America, and would sell some three million copies.
At 72, Tyler has lost none of her joie de vivre. Over Zoom from her home in the Algarve she cackles, waves her arms excitedly and is hilariously exercised by her inability to switch off the outer-space background set on her screen by her husband. We’re talking because Faster than the Speed of Night, the album from which Total Eclipse of the Heart was taken, is being released in a 40th-anniversary edition.
Propelled by the single’s success, the album entered the UK charts at No 1, its success helped by sales attributed to, well, the kind of people who bought Meat Loaf LPs. Record dealers at the time “all said how surprised they were that so many fellows who only usually buy headbanging stuff were coming in and asking for my album”, said Tyler in a May 1983 interview with Kerrang!.
On YouTube, the video for Total Eclipse of the Heart has now exceeded one billion views. Famously surreal and over the top, this high point of peak 1980s MTV fabulousness was shot over two days in Holloway Sanatorium, a Victorian Gothic hospital in Virginia Water, Surrey. It was directed by Russell Mulcahy, an Australian filmmaker who already had an OTT reputation. The same year he shot Razorback, his horror film about a killer giant boar. The next year, on Pinewood’s 007 stage, he stuck Simon Le Bon on a giant Catherine wheel and repeatedly dunked the Duran Duran singer’s head in water for the video for the Wild Boys single.
Total Eclipse … was also “a massive, massive production”, says Tyler. “I don’t like making videos,” she says. “And it took two days to make, in this freezing cold, old sanatorium. It was an incredible video, but to this day I don’t really know what it’s about. I think it’s just mad dreams all coming together.
“That’s one thing I put my foot down with, though,” she adds. When it came to the scene with the little boy releasing the dove, “they wanted him sitting in the chair in just a loincloth. He was only about 10. I said: ‘No bloody way is that happening, not in my video it ain’t. I’ve got loads of nieces and nephews, and if somebody put them in a video like that, I’d slap their a---. That definitely ain’t happening.’ So they put him in a school uniform instead.”
By the time of her huge 1983 success, Tyler had already been in the music business for almost half her life. Born Gaynor Hopkins in 1951, she was eventually talent-spotted in 1975, singing Nutbush City Limits in a Swansea club. The following year, the 25-year-old with the throaty soul croon had a hit with second single Lost in France; the year after that, another with It’s a Heartache.
Despite that early success, “I was still this shy Welsh girl from the Valleys. I became more confident over the years,” she says, and certainly the Tyler of the Steinman years is a much more Kerrang!-friendly performer. “I own the stage now, I have an awesome band. But look at the video for Lost in France, I’m like a little lost girl going through a chateau.”
Indeed, it was a very different Tyler who made Holding Out for a Hero, another Steinman production that the pair recorded for the soundtrack for 1984 film Footloose. The song was another huge transatlantic hit, adding to a career sales tally that, by some estimations, have made Bonnie Tyler Wales’s biggest music export, beating even Tom Jones.
“I’ve been told that,” says Tyler, “but I really don’t know. Tom’s still doing it, he’s eightysomething. I’ll still be doing it if I’m around then!”
She undoubtedly will. Tyler is nothing if not dogged: in 2013, she took a punt on representing Britain at Eurovision, having been too busy to take up an offer of the gig in 1983. “I’ll never forget it. When I walked past that British flag [at the ceremony], I thought the roof was going to come off, the roar of the crowd was incredible. I only came 19th,” she says with an unabashed shrug, “but I didn’t expect to come anywhere near [winning] anyway.”
She has also just published a memoir, Straight From the Heart, but she says it’s “about me growing up in Wales with a big family… and how I started singing. I’m not very rock and roll to be honest, sorry I’m disappointing you.” Contrary to that assertion, though, she remains an arena-friendly draw in Germany, Austria and France. “I have 35 shows before Christmas,” she says, proudly. Not that she needs to work. She and her husband of 50 years, the former Olympic judoka Robert Sullivan, have quite the property portfolio. Tyler cheerfully runs through their assets.
“We had a quarry which we just sold. A farm in New Zealand which he sold a couple of months ago – we had that for 30-odd years. We’ve got 67 stables in Lambourn in Berkshire. We have Hill House there, it’s a yard. The Jockey Club rent the gallops from us and we have a beautiful house in Wales, and one in Portugal.”
Aren’t there a bunch of houses in London and Berkshire, too? “Yes, 22. But I think we sold 17 of them.”
When I ask why none of those 35 pre-Christmas shows are in the UK, she’s typically upfront. “They don’t come up with the goods. If anybody came up with a proper deal … My show is fantastic. But I still get people saying to me: ‘Are you still doing a bit of singing?’ And I think: ‘Have a look at the bloody website!’ ”
Whether that lack of offers is due to the snobbery, or anxiety, of British concert promoters, Tyler isn’t saying. Either way, she isn’t going to let it hold her back. As she and Meat Loaf both know, the music industry is swings and roundabouts. She had a flop with Simply the Best two years before Tina Turner made it a global smash and, in the mid-1980s, her then-record company wouldn’t pay for another Steinman collaboration – so he gave It’s All Coming Back to Me Now to Celine Dion.
“Another thing like that happened to me – I did a duet with Andrea Bocelli,” she begins, then tells a tale of more record company miserliness. She offered to waive her fee, but the label wouldn’t budge and it went unreleased. “So he did it with a French girl and it went to number one. Story of my life, ha ha!”
Album out now on Sony. Tour details: bonnietyler.com