'One-Hit Wonder' Bonnie Tyler
Resumes Her Singing Career
With A Total Eclipse of the Charts
By Roger Wolmuth
There's been magic in Bonnie Tyler's career. Trouble is, it's the kind of
magic that's usually seen in disappearing tricks. The onetime club singer
from Wales, who bolted to stardom in 1978 with her searing, raspy
rendition of "It's a Heartache," all but vanished once her song dropped
off the charts. "I was taking a bit of a nosedive," concedes Tyler, now
32, in her chirpy lilt.
No longer. Backed by a new manager and a new record label, Tyler has
pulled out of her plummet and is flying higher than ever. "Total Eclipse
of the Heart," her powerful seven-minute rock single, has topped
Billboard's hot 100 (climbing two notches higher than Heartache ever did)
and is fast heading toward two million in sales. With the recently
released single "Take Me back," it has propelled her album "Faster Than
the Speed of Night" into a four-way dogfight with Michael Jackson's
"Thriller," the Police's "Synchronicity" and Quiet Riot's "Metal Health"
at the top of the charts. She has also just finished recording a
sound-track cut for "Footloose," a Herbert Ross film due in February, as
well as a new song written by Giorgio (Flashdance) Moroder for the movie
"Metropolis." This time around Tyler's presence seems certain to linger.
Much of the credit for her comeback belongs to Jim Steinman, 33, the
songwriter and arranger who first put Meat Loaf on America's turntables.
Though Steinman initially turned down an offer to produce Tyler's album,
he did agree to listen to some demo tapes she has recorded. "I always
thought she had a great voice," he says. "She reminded me of Creedence
Clearwater Revival's John Fogerty, probably my favorite male rock 'n' roll
singer. Her voice isn't pure or smooth. It sounds ravaged, like it's been
through a lot. It's what rock 'n' roll is all about.
In April 1982 the pair met in Steinman's New York apartment. "He got
straight down to business," recalls Tyler. "He said, 'What do you think of
this?' and played Creedence's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" Then he
played "Goin' Through the Motions" by Blue Oyster Cult. He didn't tell me
until later that if I hadn't liked those songs, he wouldn't have
entertained producing me because he'd have realized we weren't thinking on
the same terms."
Both songs appear on "Speed of Night," featuring the backing of pianist
Roy Bittan and drummer Max Weinberg from Bruce Springsteen's E Street
Band, guitarist Rick Derringer and Steinman's grandly fustian wall-of-sound
production. The albums big hit, "Total Eclipse," was written by Steinman
simply to "show off" his new singer. "I never thought it had a prayer as a
single," he reflects. "It was an aria to me, a wagnerian-like onslaught of
sound and emotion. I wrote it to be a showpiece for her voice."
The voice Steinman regards so highly got much of its grit in the clubs of
South Wales. One of six children born to a pensioned steelworker and his
opera-loving wife, the former Gaynor Hopkins (she named herself Bonnie
Tyler in 1974 because she liked the way it sounded) grew up listening to
the music of Tina Turner and Janis Joplin. At the age of 17, she answered
a newspaper ad for backup singers at a local club, eventually married the
club's manager and in 1973 settled into a three-bedroom home in
Swansea, Wales, that she and her husband Robert Sullivan still occupy.
Always husky-voiced, Tyler developed nodules on her vocal cords because of
her busy six-night-a-week schedule as a club singer. In 1976, she
underwent throat surgery. Although recovery took four months her voice
returned stronger-and rougher-than ever.
It was a voice much of the world would hear two years later. For Tyler,
however, "It's a Heartache" turned into a headache when she found herself
locked into a musical format that was more country than rock. "I was a bit
cheesed off," she says of the management team that held her under contract
and wrote most of her material. "I didn't even like it as I was recording
it." Discouraged, Tyler gave up performing during the last 18 months of
her contract and stayed home playing rock tapes and plotting a new course.
These days, while her husband tends to the two discos, the pub and the
restaurant the couple owns in Wales, Tyler is looking ahead to a second
album with Steinman. If scheduling holds, she will follow that record
next year with her first American tour since 1978. And that, she insists,
will give the Yanks a chance to see some real magic onstage.