This is the 68th post in a weekly series. Read about it here and see the list of previous songs here. A new post about a different song is posted each Monday. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.
Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler made her name for herself in the late 1970s with her first two albums, “The World Starts Tonight” and “Natural Force.” But even with the success of those albums and smash hit single “It’s a Heartache,” Tyler worried she was being pigeon-holed as a country singer. Hoping to test new sounds, she changed management in 1981.
She was interested in working with Jim Steinman, who had produced Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell.” The desire was mutual, and Steinman reached out to her. At a meeting in New York, Steinman played a song he had been working on: “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Reportedly crying the first time she heard it, Tyler said, “I just had shivers right up my spine. … I couldn’t wait to actually get in and record it.”
Steinman recruited big names to appear on the track, including Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg of The E Street Band. Appearing on Tyler’s 1983 album, “Faster Than the Speed of Night,” “Total Eclipse of the Heart” became the biggest hit of her career. It hit Number 1 in several countries, including the US and the UK.
But even though fans and critics loved it, not everyone appreciated “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” “Meat Loaf was apparently very annoyed that Jim gave that to me,” Tyler said. “But Jim said he didn’t write it for Meat Loaf, that he only finished it after meeting me.”
Steinman has said he “wrote it to be a showpiece for [Tyler’s] voice,” but she was not the sole inspiration for the song. In an interview with Playbill, Steinman said:
I actually wrote that to be a vampire love song. Its original title was ‘Vampires in Love’ because I was working on a musical of `Nosferatu,’ the other great vampire story. If anyone listens to the lyrics, they’re really like vampire lines. It’s all about the darkness, the power of darkness and love’s place in dark.
Eventually “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was played in a vampire context: Steinman included it in “Dance of the Vampires,” a musical remake of a 1967 Roman Polanski film of the same name.
“Total Eclipse of the Heart” was recast as a Hi-NRG dance track in the mid-’90s when Nicki French released her cover, produced by Mike Stock and Matt Aitken. French’s version reached Number 1 in Canada, Number 2 in the US, and the top 5 in both Australia and the UK.
In an interview with Chart Rigger, French said she was initially not interested in the cover:
I thought, “No, it’s too strong a song to go down the dance route.” You know, it demeans it almost. But, then I thought, “Well, I’ll give it a go.” And as soon as I heard the track, I thought it actually does work. After I heard it I was fine. But I was really reticent to start with. I’m very glad I didn’t listen to myself that day!
Just as he had done with “Because the Night,” German DJ and producer Jan Wayne recast “Total Eclipse of the Heart” as a dance track. And just like his version of that song, Wayne’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was too aggressive and overwhelming for casual listening. Unless you were already out clubbing and dancing, this version would probably give you a headache.
As duo Kiki and Herb, Justin Vivian Bond and Kenny Mellman gave “Total Eclipse of the Heart” a meandering cabaret makeover. In the span of nearly eight minutes, Bond’s Kiki toggled between two settings: calm and chaotic. A medley appeared on the 2004 album “Kiki and Herb Will Die for You: Live at Carnegie Hall.”
While many covers of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” tended to stretch the song out, Straight Outta Junior High did the opposite, squeezing the song to a compact one minute and 57 seconds. The pop punk version, which appeared on the 2004 album “Kiss of Deaf,” stripped the song of its piano and just went with crunchy guitars and pounding drums.
To appease a fan who had made a request at a previous show, Tori Amos played “Total Eclipse of the Heart” at a concert in Boston in 2005. She later released “B Of A Pavilion, Boston, MA 8/21/05,” featuring performances from that night. Amos’ covers can sometimes be twisted recastings, but her “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was pretty faithful to Tyler’s original. I mean, for being just her and a piano.
Irish boy band Westlife’s 2006 album, “The Love Album,” featured covers of songs that had some sort of love theme. The group’s take on “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was a fine version, but it was maybe a little too safe. Tyler’s original was pop cheese, but compared to the easy listening smorgasbord that was Westlife’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” Tyler sounded as edgy and badass as Joan Jett.
A pop punk version of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Love Me Electric appeared on the 2009 compilation, “Rockin’ Romance.” While Straight Outta Junior High’s pop punk version sped it up and stripped the piano, Love Me Electric embraced the piano parts and added some extra cheesy keyboards, which fit with the overall vibe of the compilation.
A subdued piano version of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by singer-songwriter Jill Andrews appeared at the end of a 2013 episode of “Grey’s Anatomy.” In the episode, the song was used at background of April and Matthew’s wedding, during which Jackson stood up and professed his love for April. As one does.
Andrews’ “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” sans “Grey’s Anatomy,” was released as a single.
The following year, Sleeping at Last released a similarly slow cover of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” on its album “Covers: Vol. 1.” Ryan O’Neal’s earnest vocals, when combined with the soaring strings, gave the song an ambivalence, as it sounded as heartbreaking as it did hopeful.
That same year, metal band Mörb released a version of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” that sounded anything but hopeful. It was downright demonic. Try to get through the whole thing without worrying about that lead singer’s throat.
You said a prayer for his vocal chords, didn’t you? So did I.
The band Tragedy has specialized in metal versions of disco songs, having covered ABBA and The Bee Gees. Tragedy’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” appeared on the 2013 album “Death to False Disco Metal” along with the band’s cover “It’s Raining Men.” And like that cover, Tragedy’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” began with the sound of thunder. Coming in at nearly 7 minutes, this cover managed to take the cheesy guitar riffs and embellish them to sound even cheesier. That’s a feat, given that the source material was already peak cheese.
The Protomen released a cover of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” on its 2015 cover album, “The Cover Up,” which also included a version of “Because the Night.” Faithful to Tyler’s original, this version started off with piano, adding instruments throughout the the seven-minute track.
These various versions — some slower, some faster — didn’t sound drastically different from the original. Even the versions that added drum machines, dance tracks, and crunchy guitars still had the feel of Tyler’s original. Chances are, if you heard any of these out in public, you’d be able to recognize them within a few seconds. As soon as you hear “Tuuuuurn arooooound….,” you instantly know what you’re hearing.
But even without Steinman’s lyrics, the song is still easy to place. In addition to these English language covers, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” has been translated into other languages. In 1984, Lissette released a Spanish version called “Eclipse Total del Amor.”
Mexican singer Yuridia recorded her own “Eclipse Total del Amor,” which appeared on the 2006 album “Habla el corazón.”
Though Lissette’s version was more faithful to Tyler’s, both versions were instantly recognizable as “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” That piano part is unmistakable, no matter the language.