Hearing the gravelly rasp of Bonnie Tyler’s remarkable voice always makes me feel extremely ‘80s. Add to that a glimpse of her gravity-defying barnet and there is no mistaking the decade that saw the height of her fame. She was a vision of enormous hair and dramatic eye-liner and we loved her!
The Welsh rocker was actually born, somewhat less glamorously, Gaynor Hopkins in Neath in June 1951. She grew up listening to her five siblings’ music choices, which included the Beatles, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley and cites her own musical influences as ‘legendary female artists of the day, especially Janis Joplin and Tina Turner’.
After school she was working in a shop when she decided to enter a local talent competition, coming second. She used this as a springboard to begin her new career; her first job was backing singer for a band called Bobby Wayne & the Dixies. Later, she started her own band, Imagination, which focused on soul music. She also changed her name - wanting to avoid any confusion between her and the Welsh folk singer Mary Hopkins – to Sherene Davis.
After being spotted singing in Swansea by a talent scout in 1975 she was offered a recording contract with RCA Records. They recommended another name change and Sherene was reborn into the world as Bonnie Tyler.
Her first single, My! My! Honeycomb failed to chart on its release in 1976. Second single Lost in France started slowly but finally reached the UK’s top ten three months after it first came out, as well as staying in Germany’s top ten for more than six months. Third single More Than a Lover took Tyler to the heady heights of a Top of the Pops performance in March 1977 despite not reaching higher than number 27 on the charts.
Four albums and further singles followed: It’s a Heartache, a single released from her second album Natural Force, reached number four in the UK and her voice was compared to that of Rod Stewart. Tyler was, by now, recognisable as a singer in the UK but she was still not the star that she would go on to be.
In the 1980s she collaborated with the award winning rock songwriter and producer Jim Steinman (known also, amongst many, many, many other things, for working with Meat Loaf and Celine Dion) and it was this that saw her propelled to rock stardom through the two tracks that are now synonymous with her name. Signed now to Columbia Records, her platinum album Faster Than The Speed Of Night, bore the enormous Total Eclipse of the Heart, a power ballad that is guaranteed to still get legions of people singing into their hairbrushes.
(The video for Total Eclipse manages to be both completely bonkers and decidedly creepy. I’ve watched it many times and I still don’t really have a clue what it’s meant to be about. However, if you like billowing material, corridors and sports at night then it’s definitely something you’ll enjoy.)
Total Eclipse was released in February 1983 in the UK and in May in the U.S. It went to number one in both these countries, as well as in Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Canada and was the UK’s fifth best-selling single of that year. Around six million copies of it were sold and Tyler was nominated for two Grammies: Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. Album Faster Than The Speed of Light went silver in the UK and platinum in the U.S.
Steinman then co-wrote (with Dean Pitchford, who also contributed to another 1980’s iconic tune, Fame) Tyler’s other major hit, Holding Out For a Hero, which appeared on the soundtrack for Kevin Bacon fighting-the-system-through-dance-moves film, Footloose in 1984, Shrek 2 and countless other films and television programmes.
Holding Out For a Hero featured on her sixth album, Secret Dreams and Forbidden Fire, and strangely, when first released in 1984, only reached number 96 on the UK charts, with similar lack of success in the rest of the world. Considering what an anthem it is now considered to be – and after Bonnie’s previous success with Total Eclipse – you would have thought it would have hit a much higher spot. Thankfully then, when it was re-released in 1985 it reached a much more respectable number two, and number one in Ireland.
The video for this one also featured a lot of excess material but this time there was also a canyon, some fire and some cowboys with neon whips.
Seventh album Hide Your Heart saw more success in Europe than in the U.S. for Tyler but tracks from it turned out to be bigger hits for a number of other artists, including Tina Turner, Kiss, Cher and Robyn Beck.
During the 1990s Tyler got together with Deiter Bohlen: a German writer, producer and well-known personality who is responsible for a string of number one hits in his native country. With Bohlen (and also some collaboration with Nik Kershaw, Giorgio Moroder and Albert Hammond), Tyler signed to Hansa Records and in 1991 she released her eighth album Bitterblue. Criticisms of this record tended to be aimed at its more mainstream pop approach but it went 4 times platinum in Norway and the eponymous single from it proved popular in mainland Europe, where it received ‘Catchy Song of the Year’ Award from RSH-GOLD in Germany.
The following year Bonnie and Bohlen released album Angel Heart. Again, it saw success in mainland Europe and she received several awards and nominations off the back of it.
You know you’ve been around for a while when your old record company (in this case, Columbia Records) release a ‘best of’ compilation and that’s what happened in January 1993. ‘The Very Best of Bonnie Tyler’ went platinum. Third, and final, Hansa album, Silhouette in Red, went out in October the same year. While not having much of an impact in even Europe this time, those Norwegians sure loved Bonnie Tyler; the album again went platinum there. Hansa then released their own Tyler compilation album, which also featured new single Back Home. Neither charted and Tyler’s contract wasn’t renewed with the company when it ran out at the end of 1994.
EastWest Records (a label created then by Atlantic Records) took Tyler on and under them she released albums Free Spirit and All in One Voice in the later part of the 1990s (the latter failed to chart anywhere). Heart Strings (otherwise known as Heart & Soul) was a 2003 collection of cover versions which included R.E.M.’s Everybody Hurts, Right Here Waiting (Richard Marx) and Tom Petty’s Learning to Fly. Another different label, EMI, released this in Europe only.
In 2003, Tyler re-recorded Total Eclipse in both French and English with singer Kareen Antonn. Called Si Demain (Turn Around), it reached number one in Poland, Belgium and France. It was included on the Sony album Simply Believe when it was released the following year, along with re-recordings of Holding out for a Hero.
2005 saw the European release of her fifteenth studio album, Wings, via Stick Music; in the UK it was called Celebrate. It only reached number 133 in France and it didn’t chart anywhere else.
And still the prolific Tyler kept going. In 2013 she released Rocks and Honey: her SIXTEENTH album and the first one to reach the UK charts since the late 1980s, albeit number 52. While still rock-based, it also took her in a more country direction, with tracks penned by Nashville songwriters. The single Believe in Me also saw Bonnie represent the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest 2013 – and came 19th, with 23 points.
Despite the lack of commercial success in recent years, Tyler’s hits It’s a Heartache and Total Eclipse of the Heart have become two of the best-selling tracks of all time and she has been nominated, and won, many awards.
A glance at her website now reveals that she is still a rocker at heart although, disappointingly, her hair is about three times smaller than it used to be and there is not a waft of diaphanous fabric in sight.