“Total Eclipse of the Heart” is a song by Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler, formerly known as Gaynor Hopkins, 1 of 6 children born to a pensioned steelworker and an opera lover, and grew up listening to Tina Turner. The song was written and produced by Jim Steinman, and released on Tyler’s 5th studio album, Faster Than the Speed of Night (1983) and also as a single in 1983.
The song became Tyler‘s biggest career hit, hitting #1 in the UK Singles Chart, and becoming the 5th-best-selling single in 1983 in the UK. In the US, the single spent 4 weeks at #1, keeping another song written by Steinman, “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” by Air Supply, from reaching the top position, becoming the 1st Welsh singer to reach the spot in the US. It was #6 song of the year for 1983 on the US Billboard. The song was also nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
Worldwide, the single sold in excess of 6 million copies and was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for sales of over 1 million copies after its release, upgraded to platinum in 2001 when the certification threshold changed. In 2015, the song was voted by the British public as the nation’s 3rd favorite 80s #1 in a poll for ITV. Interestingly, since it’s a technically challenging song, as Bonnie Tyler loved, it came as #1 in a list of people’s favorite songs to sing in the shower in 2013.
In 1981, with her popularity dwindling, Bonnie Tyler found a new manager in David Aspden and producer Jim Steinman and asked him to be her producer. Bonnie Tyler aimed to create an album utilizing the Wall of Sound production techniques of Phil Spector. However, Spector had retired and the Welsh singer needed someone who could create the same sound, finding that in Jim Steinman. Tyler visited Steinman in his apartment in New York in April 1982 with her manager, where she was presented with 2 tracks: “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” and “Goin’ Through the Motions”. Apparently, if she had not liked the songs Steinman played for her, he would have rejected working with Bonnie Tyler as it would’ve been difficult to collaborate, given the different mindsets, but she did. She returned to his studio apartment weeks later, where Steinman and Rory Dodd performed “Total Eclipse of the Heart” for her. Steinman also hand-picked the recording band for the song, which included Dodd as a featured vocalist (the “Turn around…” refrain).
The original song was longer than most, lasting over 7 minutes, making it unsuitable for playing it to a radio audience. So it was reduced to under 5, which works much better to be broadcasted by a radio station.
The song hit the top spots in the charts of many countries, including #1 in the US, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland and the UK. In Sweden, Switzerland and France it reached #3, #6 in Denmark and Finland, #9 in Spain, #14 in Belgium, #16 in West Germany, #17 in Italy, #18 in the Netherlands.
The song also made #82 of VH1’s top 100 love songs.
Tyler told Record Mirror that she thought the song was about “someone who wants to love so badly she’s lying there in complete darkness.”
Steinman said in an interview with Playbill, about the inclusion of the song in his 1997 musical Dance of the Vampires:
with ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart‘, I was trying to come up with a love song and I remembered 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 the dark…
He also told People magazine that he wrote the song “to be a showpiece for her voice.” Bonnie Tyler described the song as “a challenge [to sing],” stating that she “[doesn’t] like songs that anybody can sing. I like songs that need a lot of energy.” After Steinman presented her with the song she told The Times, “I just had shivers right up my spine…I couldn’t wait to actually get in and record it.”
According to Meat Loaf, Steinman had written the song for Meat Loaf; however, Meat Loaf’s record company refused to pay Steinman. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was given to Bonnie Tyler who denied this claim. “Meat Loaf was apparently very annoyed that Jim gave that to me,” Tyler stated. “But Jim said he didn’t write it for Meat Loaf, that he only finished it after meeting me.” Steinman said to ‘People’ magazine that he considered it “an aria to me, a wagnerian-like onslaught of sound and emotion. I wrote it to be a showpiece for her voice.”
Steinman clearly stated: “I didn’t write [Total Eclipse of the Heart] for anyone but Bonnie.”
The music video for “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was directed by Russell Mulcahy and was filmed on location at the Holloway Sanatorium, a large Victorian Gothic hospital near Virginia Water, Surrey, England. The video features Bonnie Tyler clad in white, dreaming or fantasizing about her students in a boys’ boarding school. Young men are seen dancing and participating in various school activities and singing in a choir.
The video received two nominations at the Billboard Video Music Awards in 1983 for Best Performance by a Female and Most Effective Use of Symbolism.
A young Gianfranco Zola, Italian soccer player, did not appear in the video as he confirmed himself in 2012, despite a long-running urban legend that he is the boy who appears throughout the video and who shakes Tyler’s hand at the end.
The official video on YouTube has over 902,000,000 views, at the time of writing.
Since the song’s release, Tyler has performed “Total Eclipse of the Heart” in all of her concerts. “I sing it much better now than I used to,” Bonnie Tyler, (who, in 1970, had throat surgery to remove nodules caused by six-night singing gigs in nightclubs in Wales) told The Huffington Post. “I think my voice is probably not as husky as it was, I think it’s mellowed a bit.” The song was performed at the 26th Annual Grammy Awards, held at the Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, on 28 February 1984.
Mike DeGagne from AllMusic retrospectively described “Total Eclipse of the Heart” as “one of the finest ballads ever to hit radio.” He noted the “lush instrumentation” and said that Tyler‘s voice “produced the perfect type of ‘desperate lovelorn’ effect to suit the romantic lyrics.” He described Roy Bittan’s piano playing as “dreamy” and described Bonnie Tyler‘s voice as “wonderfully gritty.” Donald A. Guarisco, also from AllMusic, retrospectively reviewed Faster Than the Speed of Night, and noted the song as an “epic ballad”, describing the whole album as “rock at its most melodramatic.” Jim Beviglia from American Songwriter said that Tyler’s raspy vocals helped to legitimize the “melodrama inherent in the lyrics,” and described the song as a “garment-rending, chest-beating [and] emotionally exhausting ballad” that suits the throes of a turbulent relationship.
The song’s lyrics compare an ended romance with an eclipse. The song usually receives publicity during Solar eclipses and Lunar eclipses. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” received substantial media attention during the solar eclipse of 20 March 2015. Tyler‘s version received a 214% increase of Spotify streams throughout the day. A similar impact was experienced during the solar eclipse of 21 August 2017, when Nielsen Music reported a 503% increase in record sales. Around that time, the song hit #1 on the iTunes chart. On 16 August 2017, Bonnie Tyler performed the song aboard the Oasis of the Seas of Royal Caribbean, with the ship positioned in the path of totality, during the solar eclipse. She was backed by American dance-rock band DNCE, with the song edited down to sync with the duration of the eclipse, 2:40.