On Friday, February 26th, singer Bonnie Tyler will be releasing her eighteenth album. What? You thought she disappeared into thin air following her superstar hits of the eighties, “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” and “Holding Out For A Hero”? Those may be her most popular songs, still played on radio stations and tv commercials the world over, but this lady is made of iron and lace. When hair metal, grunge, EDM and bubblegum pop each flared up and then died down, Bonnie Tyler was still standing. Audiences always showed up to hear her belt out powerful ballads of love and strength, rocking more than serenading; and their love for her never faltered. For the Welsh songstress, music was always her blood, her oxygen, and she loved sharing it with the universe.
The Best Is Yet To Come is a sizzler of a record. It pulsates with emotional hymnals that soar like a beautiful thunderstorm, rockers that kick and love songs that feature realistic women characters. Tyler, at sixty-nine, is the best she’s ever been. One reason is because she just lets it all go, giving each song her heart and soul and feistiness: from “Stick To My Guns” and “Stronger Than A Man” to “Call Me Thunder” and “Dreams Are Not Enough.” Partnering again with collaborator David Mackay and songwriter Steve Womack, Tyler shines like a well-chiseled diamond.
But that’s not an anomaly. Tyler has consistently produced forceful music from those vocal cords of hers. A longtime admirer of Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin, you should hear her do Joplin’s “Turtle Blues” or Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You.” Her rendition of KISS’ “Hide Your Heart” is better than the original while her appearance on Rick Wakeman’s “Is Anybody There?” is a highlight on his 1998 solo album, Return To The Centre Of The Earth. And I got chills when she started singing Aretha’s “Angel” in full-on vocalization during our interview.
When she wasn’t singing, Tyler talked with me about the songs on her new album, her musical collaboration with Jim Steinman (the writer of those iconic songs) and almost not meeting Paul McCartney.
Actually, it was done and ready to come out just before Covid happened. It was put on hold then but it’s an album to lift people up, don’t you think? I think it’s joyful to listen to and I think there’s a crystal ball feel to some of these songs because of what’s happening now. We all need cheering up and the best will happen again. We’ll all have the vaccination and we’ll all be doing shows and meeting up with family in the not too distant future. You’ve got to be optimistic.
But like most rock music fans, I actually loved Bruce Springsteen and Rod Stewart records and when I heard the demo, “When The Lights Go Down,” I just felt it had that magic that I hear in my favorite Bruce and Rod songs, you know. I tried it out in the studio and it was just perfect for me. And then Steve wrote me another song called “Dreams Are Not Enough” and I think that is a smash hit, a great song. He just knows what speaks to me, you know, and he’s got about four songs on the album.
And also Desmond Child wrote a song especially for me, “Stronger Than A Man.” He writes with Jon Bon Jovi, Aerosmith and he wrote “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” And I asked him, “Would you write me something new and something powerful?” And he came up with this song with a couple of other songwriters and it’s just a great song. I can’t wait to do these songs live when I can get out there on tour.
Many of your songs are about strong women but who have faults and doubts. Why does that character connect with you so much?
I didn’t realize I did that! (laughs) I like songs you can really get into. I’m not very good with the pretty little songs, you know. I like something you can get your teeth into and I tend to like the power ballads and the rock-ish songs. And covers, I try to make them my own, like 10CC’s “I’m Not In Love.” There wouldn’t be a point in doing it if I was going to just copy it, the same version. But we’ve done it completely different and I think it really works. There’s only two or three covers on here and that’s one of them and the other is by Donovan [“Catch The Wind”].
What can you tell us about “Call Me Thunder.”
I love that song! I’ll tell you the story about that. One day in the studio my producer David said to me, “Bonnie, Steve has written ‘Call Me Thunder’ and I’ll put it on for you, the demo.” He put the demo on and I absolutely loved this track and then he gave me the lyrics to read and I said, “Oh my God, I do love this song, David, but the trouble is, just look at the lyrics. I’m singing like, ‘Rock me to my bones’ and all that.” And I said, “I can’t sing that. People will be thinking, how old does she think she is? Eighteen?!” (laughs) He said, “You can do it,” and I did it and I’ve got to say, it just reminded me of when me and Robert [Sullivan, her husband since 1973] were young on the beach (laughs). It’s just a great song and I can’t wait to do it live onstage. I will do my own songs as well, all the hit records that people expect, because I never get tired of singing them either. They are classics and you’ve got to do the classics.
Those Jim Steinman songs were powerful and they still hold up today
I think Jim would be very proud of me if he heard this new album because I think he would love it. I’d probably send him a copy of it (laughs). The reason I got with CBS Records all them years ago was because I heard Meatloaf singing in the taxi on my way to the record company and when I got to the record company, the A&R guy said to me, “Okay, Bonnie, who’d you like to work with?” and I said, “I’m so glad you asked me that, because I just heard Meatloaf in the taxi on the way here.” He said, “That’s Jim Steinman, Bonnie.” I said, “Oh, ask him!” And he said, “Are you crazy?” I said, “You won’t know till you ask him! I want you to ask him!”
So they did ask him and Jim said, “I’d like to meet Bonnie.” So they arranged to get me over to New York and I met him and we got on extremely well and three weeks later he finished writing “Total Eclipse Of The Heart,” that he had started writing many years before but never got to finish it. Then he finished the song and he gave it to me and I was like, my God! This song is awesome! But I didn’t know if it could ever be a hit because it was so long, it was eight minutes long. But, everybody played the full version in the end and it was great and it was #1 in America for three weeks, the album went straight to #1 and my album knocked Pink Floyd off in the UK, went straight in at #1. But that was my old album, that was the eighties. I think this album is more back to the eighties than I have done for years and I really enjoyed it. You wouldn’t believe how many interviews I have done where people are loving the album.
“I’m Only Guilty” and “Stronger Than A Man” both seem to have these strong hymnal, bluesy vibes.
I was always a big lover of the blues but I loved, of course, Aretha Franklin and this song, “I’m Only Guilty,” it’s got that Stax feeling, like the old Stax Records. It’s a great song and I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t, you know, but it’s got so much feeling.
The thing is, I was singing for seven years before I ever got signed. I never sent tapes off to record companies in the hope that I’d get a recording deal. I’m from Wales and all that happened in London, you know. I never, ever even dreamt that I’d get a recording deal. I was just happy doing what I was doing. That’s why I came into the business, just to be a singer in a band, but it was while I was with my early band Imagination, which I formed, that I got discovered by accident. A talent scout came down from London to Wales to listen to the boy singing in the band upstairs but he came in on the wrong floor and he heard me singing downstairs. I used to do all sorts of music with that band. On different nights we’d have a rock night, a blues night, a country night and we even had an old-time dancing night where I’d sing bossa nova, waltzes, and everything. We’d have a blues night and we’d do old blues songs; and then maybe a pop night. We just did everything, you know, in that club and it was fun, it was great. So I’d never found it hard to do the blues. In fact, it is my plan to do a blues album, old blues.
What’s the story with “Stuck To My Guns”?
That’s another Steve Womack one and I’ll tell you what happened there. A year last Christmas, 2019, I was invited to sing in the Christmas concert that was on in the Vatican. So while I was there, I had just recorded the demo of “Stuck To My Guns” and on the bill in the Vatican was this Indian, Leo Rojas, playing pan pipes. He played so magnificently, it was so beautiful to listen to, and at the end of the night I said to him, “I’m in the middle of recording a song called ‘Stuck To My Guns’ and I can just hear those pan pipes on this particular song. If my producer sent it to your producer would you play on it for me?” And he said, “Bonnie, I’d be honored to do that.” And that’s how we got this fabulous intro and it’s perfect, isn’t it.
Who was the first real rock star you ever met?
Well, one of the first real rock stars I ever met was Paul McCartney. I couldn’t believe it. He was in the same studio as I was and we were mixing “It’s A Heartache” in London and every day when I went into the studio, the girl on the reception said, “Bonnie, Paul McCartney is in again today.” I said, “I can’t,” but she said, “Oh go on in the studio and introduce yourself. He won’t mind at all. He’s wonderful.” I said, “No, I’d never do that, no way.” So this went on for about four or five days and she said to me, “Go into the kitchen, he’ll be in the kitchen making a cup of tea. He’s always in there, back and forth.” So I spent loads of time going back and forth to the kitchen (laughs) and still never saw him, right. But she must have told him I was dying to meet him but I didn’t want to bother him.
Then one day I was in the studio, the red light wasn’t on, and he just walked into my studio and came straight across to the piano, which I was at picking a key for a song, and he said, “What are you doing there? What are you up to?” and I went, “Uh, uh, uh” (laughs) I was like a little girl! I was so excited to meet him and then I said something stupid like, “Oh my God, I used to kiss your photograph every night before I went to bed!” (laughs) And he smiled and kissed me on the cheek. I couldn’t wait to phone my mother and tell her. I phoned my mother and I said, “Mom, you’ll never guess who I just met! I met Paul McCartney!” And she said, “You’ll never meet a boy like Robert, I don’t care.” (laughs) I’ve met him a couple of times since and he’s very nice.
What was the first song you obsessed over as a kid?
Oh, let me think, Aretha Franklin [starts singing “Angel”]. I loved that. I used to love “Ruby Tuesday,” Tina Turner, Janis Joplin always.
You covered “Piece Of My Heart” on your first album. Was that your choice?
Yes, it was my choice but I wasn’t nowhere near as powerful as I am now and I think I could do it much better. I was always such a big Janis Joplin fan; Tina Turner and Janis Joplin – great songs and “Cry Baby,” oh my God. I loved the way she was onstage and everything. You know, I’m not into drugs at all, right, but I know she had a big problem and it’s such a shame, she died in her twenties, twenty-seven, and it’s such a waste. But oh I loved her and in her short life she was amazing.
Did you get to attend the movie premiere of Footloose?
No, I always avoid them like the plague. I hate going to premieres and things like that. I can’t stand it when I have to go on a red carpet for some reason. You know, Catherine Zeta-Jones is my husband’s cousin and we were invited to her wedding [to Michael Douglas in 2000] but all the guests had to walk on the red carpet going into the Russian Tea Room the night before to meet both families. It was a nightmare walking down the red carpet, just as a guest going to a party. But anyway, the next day when she got married, everybody had to walk on the red carpet outside the Plaza Hotel into the hotel but I was not going to do that so I booked a room there instead. We stayed in the Plaza so I got out of that one (laughs).
But I’ll tell you what I did do for “Holding Out For A Hero.” We went to the film studio and they played me the rushes of the film of the part where he’s on the tractor and his lace gets caught in the accelerator pedal. I was in the actual film studio looking at the tiny screen in the little theatre to see part of the film and that was amazing to be in a film studio. It was incredible.
Did Traditional Welsh music have an impact on you at all?
No, not really. You know, there was always music in the house. My mother was a fantastic opera singer and with a lot of sisters and brothers, there was all types of music being played. My brother was into Elvis Presley, my sister was into Ole Blue Eyes and then my other sister was into The Beatles and the first Beatles album, Hard Day’s Night, I know every word on that album and I must have worn it out playing it on my record player. I love the old vinyl. But it was all pop and rock music I liked.
What do you hope you can do this year musically?
Probably a lot is possible. I am supposed to be in South America doing a tour, Autumn-ish. Whether that will still be able to happen, we’ll have to wait and see. Seventy-nine of my shows were postponed because of Covid but I can’t wait to get back out there on the road with my band and crew. I miss my audiences, I miss my band, I miss my crew, I miss the fun we have offstage and onstage. We have good laughs. Most of the boys in my band have been with me for over thirty years, you know.
And it’ll be great to have something different to go on tour with. Although I always sing “Total Eclipse Of The Heart,” “It’s A Heartache,” “Holding Out For A Hero,” “Lost In France,” I’ve got so much choice with this new recording and my show is going to be awesome when we finally get back out there again, cause this album is great. So it may be laid out slightly differently but life will carry on as normal once we’re all vaccinated and we should be fine.
Portrait by Tina Korhonen