Eternal Flame (song)

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"Eternal Flame"
Eternal Flame by The Bangles US commercial cassette.jpg
US commercial cassette release
Single by the Bangles
from the album Everything
B-side
ReleasedJanuary 1989 (1989-01)
Recorded1988
StudioStudio 55, Ocean Way Recording (Los Angeles, California)
GenreSoft rock[1]
Length3:56
Label
  • CBS
  • Liberation (Australia)
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)Davitt Sigerson
The Bangles singles chronology
"In Your Room"
(1988)
"Eternal Flame"
(1989)
"Be with You"
(1989)
Music video
"Eternal Flame" on YouTube

"Eternal Flame" is a song recorded by American pop rock group the Bangles for their 1988 album Everything. The song was written by group member Susanna Hoffs with the established hit songwriting team of Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly. Upon its 1989 single release, "Eternal Flame" became a number-one hit in nine countries, including Australia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Since its release, it has been covered by many musical artists, including Australian boy band Human Nature, who reached the Australian top 10 with their version, and British girl group Atomic Kitten, who topped four national charts with their rendition.

Production[edit]

Two of the song's three writers, Tom Kelly and Susanna Hoffs, had met via the Bangles' October 30, 1986, concert at the Avalon Hollywood (then the Palace). Kelly attended the concert and backstage met the group's members. This led to Hoffs writing songs with Kelly and his regular songwriting partner Billy Steinberg, an experience she found interesting contrast to her usual songwriting habits. Hoffs would develop lyrics based on a melody she worked out while playing around with a guitar, while Kelly and Steinberg would start with a lyrical idea and write music to fit it.[2]

The trio's first composition to be recorded was "I Need a Disguise", which Belinda Carlisle recorded for her 1986 solo debut album. The Bangles' 1988 album Everything would feature two Hoffs/Kelly/Steinberg compositions, both with lead vocals by Hoffs: the upbeat lead single "In Your Room" and "Eternal Flame".

The focal metaphor of "Eternal Flame" was suggested by two eternal flames: one at the gravesite of Elvis Presley at Graceland, where the Bangles had been given a private tour.[3] Hoffs said, "we were taken out to the Garden of Memories, and there was this little box which was supposed to have a lit flame in it, an eternal flame. Actually, that day it was raining so the flame was not on"[4]—and one at a local synagogue in Palm Springs which Steinberg attended as a child.[5] Steinberg explained, "Susanna was talking about the Bangles having visited Graceland, and she said there was some type of shrine to Elvis that included some kind of eternal flame. As soon as those words were mentioned, I immediately thought of the synagogue in the town of Palm Springs, California where I grew up. I remember during our Sunday school class they would walk us through the sanctuary. There was one little red light and they told us it was called the eternal flame."[2]

After Steinberg suggested writing a song titled "Eternal Flame", he and Hoffs wrote the song's lyrics at Steinberg's house and then according to Hoffs brought the lyrics to Tom Kelly's studio where Kelly completed the music and the demo was cut. Steinberg recalls Kelly also being at Steinberg's house when the lyrics were written, beginning the music's composition there[4][6]

"'Eternal Flame' was retro in that it has no chorus", Steinberg observed in 2021. Like the Beatles' "We Can Work It Out", it instead has a middle eight, the portion beginning "Say my name / Sun shines through the rain", that it repeats twice. And like the Beatles song, both verses end on the song's title. "In the 60s, it wasn't that unusual to have songs structured in that way, but, by the 80s, choruses were much more developed and middle eights had started to disappear", Steinberg recalls.[2]

The demo was deliberately guitar-oriented, despite sounding more suitable for a keyboard, as the Bangles had no keyboardist. When Hoffs played the demo at a band meeting where members and producer Davitt Sigerson decided what they would record for the upcoming album, it was rejected. Hoffs was "heartbroken" since she had been very enthusiastic about the song, but accepted her bandmates' decision.[2]

During the sessions, Sigerson admitted to Hoffs that he could not get the demo out of his mind.[2] He worked out an arrangement evoking a music box, bringing in keyboardist John Philip Shenale to give the track a chiming effect.[4] According to Hoffs, Sigerson's production of the track was inspired by the vintage recordings of Patsy Cline which he knew Hoffs enjoyed singing along to.[4] Hoffs would also recall that the Bangles' manager, Miles Copeland, overhearing the recording session for "Eternal Flame, had been displeased by the lack of drums[7] and that Hoffs had to resist pressure to re-record it with a stronger beat.[8][4]

In the BBC program I'm in a Girl Group, Hoffs revealed she actually sang the studio recording of the song completely naked after Sigerson pranked her by telling her Olivia Newton-John recorded unclad (a falsehood Sigerson eventually admitted to).[9] "I imagined it would feel like skinny dipping—vulnerable yet freeing – and I decided to try it", she remembered in 2021. Nobody could see me; there was a baffle in front of me and it was dark." She liked the experience enough to sing all her vocals on the album that way.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

Considered by Billy Steinberg to be a stylistic fusion of the Byrds and the Beatles, especially evoking the latter group's "For No One", "Mother Nature's Son" (the bridge part) and "Here There & Everywhere",[10] "Eternal Flame" elicited different points of comparison from contemporary music critics, among them: "a backhanded tribute to every sappy string-drenched ballad—from Lulu's 'To Sir With Love' to Merrilee Rush's 'Angel of the Morning'—that ever overstayed its welcome on the radio";[11] "[a] fluffy romantic fantasy [that] resembled the Carpenters a lot more than the Beatles";[12] "a cloying ballad that Andrew Lloyd Webber could have written for Sarah Brightman";[13] "[On] 'Eternal Flame' Hoffs does her best inspired reading of Kate Bush".[14] Music & Media commented that "this is a very sweet and conventional gospel-tinged ballad with the emphasis on close harmonies."[15] In 2000, Vicki Peterson of the Bangles would describe "Eternal Flame" as "a beautiful song [which] at the time I didn't think essentially Bangles. Anyone could've taken the song and made it a hit".[16] The retrospective AllMusic critique by Matthew Greenwald assessed "Eternal Flame" as "somewhat removed from the Bangles' sound and vibe...[its] gentle, lilting melody...seems ready-made for an artist such as Anita Baker or Whitney Houston... The song features a dramatic bridge that takes the song to a wonderfully emotional place, and adds to the overall dynamics of the piece. In the end, ['Eternal Flame'] doesn't fit the Bangles' catalog well, but it remains a minor pop standard."[17]

Single release[edit]

United States[edit]

#1 Billboard Hot 100 hits written
by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly

Given that the Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian" had been ranked by Billboard as the number one single of 1987 and that the group had reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1986 with "Manic Monday" and in 1987 with "Hazy Shade of Winter", the number-five Hot 100 peak of the lead single from their album Everything, "In Your Room", was a comparative disappointment with its parent album Everything—whose original Billboard 200 peak was number 33—being considered a flop.[18] The January 1989 release of "Eternal Flame" as the new Bangles' single was heralded in The Chicago Tribune with the song described as an "old-fashioned killer ballad that is just about as far as one could get from the psychedelic sound of the group's recent Top 5 hit 'In Your Room'."[19] "Eternal Flame" debuted at number 56 on the Hot 100 issue dated January 28, 1989, when "In Your Room" was ranked at number 34, and rose to number one after ten weeks,[20] making the Bangles the third all-female group to top the Hot 100 multiple times, being preceded by the Shirelles and the Supremes.[21] In addition "Eternal Flame" set a record for the song's co-writers: Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, as the first songwriting team to score a number-one Hot 100 hit five years in a row.[22] "Eternal Flame" also afforded the Bangles a two-week tenure at number one on the Adult Contemporary chart.[23]

International[edit]

In the United Kingdom (see UK Singles Chart records and statistics)—where "In Your Room" had stalled at number 35—"Eternal Flame" made a rambling eight-week chart ascent into the Top 40 before vaulting 20 positions to number 13 on the chart dated April 1, 1989—the week of the single's being number one on the Hot 100—reaching number one on the UK singles chart dated April 15, 1989, and remaining there for three additional weeks. The single was still in the UK Top 40 (at number 38) dated June 17, 1989, at which point the single was deleted to clear the way for "Be with You" as third single release off the Everything album:[24] overall "Eternal Flame" would be afforded a UK chart tenure of twenty weeks, ranking as the UK's third biggest hit for the year 1989. "Eternal Flame" spent three weeks at number one in Sweden and 18 weeks in the Swedish charts, and also spent seven weeks at number on the Dutch Top 40. The song was Australia's 4th biggest selling single of 1989 and was sent up on the Australian TV show Fast Forward.

Track listings[edit]

Personnel[edit]

Credits are lifted from the US cassette single sleeve.[26]

  • Susanna Hoffs, Billy Steinberg, Tom Kelly – writing
  • The Bangles – vocals
  • Davitt Sigerson – production
  • John Beverly Jones – recording
  • Frank Filipetti – mixing

Charts[edit]

Certifications and sales[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[54] Platinum 70,000^
Netherlands (NVPI)[67] Platinum 100,000^
Sweden (GLF)[68] Gold 25,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[70] Gold 500,000[69]
United States (RIAA)[71] Gold 500,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

Aftermath[edit]

Rather than consolidating the Bangles' stardom, the success of "Eternal Flame" would have a negative impact on the group, underscoring the wide public perception of the Bangles as star attraction Hoffs and her backing band. The choice for third single release from the Everything album being "Be with You", the group's first single led by Debbi Peterson since the band's second single release "Going Down to Liverpool" (1984), was an apparent attempt to redress the balance which failed, as "Be with You" would rise no higher than number 30 on the Hot 100 in the summer of 1989, when its UK chart peak would be number 23. The Bangles announced their disbanding the second week of October 1989.[72][73][74][24]

Tomoya Nagase featuring 3T version[edit]

"Eternal Flame"
Single by Tomoya Nagase featuring 3T
Released1997 (1997)
Recorded1996
GenreJ-pop
Length3:56
LabelUniversal Music Japan
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)3T
3T singles chronology
"Gotta Be You"
(1996)
"Eternal Flame"
(1997)
"Stuck on You"
(2003)

In 1997, a Japanese version of the song was recorded by Tomoya Nagase, the vocalist of the Japanese idol rock group Tokio, featuring 3T. This song was used as the theme song of the Nippon TV drama DXD, in which Nagase played the main role. He also wrote the Japanese version lyrics. This version was released as a single in Japan under the name of "Tomoya with 3T".

Human Nature version[edit]

"Eternal Flame"
Single by Human Nature
from the album Counting Down
ReleasedOctober 17, 1999 (1999-10-17)
Recorded1999
StudioTiger Recording (Sydney, Australia)
GenrePop
Length3:25
LabelColumbia
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)Andrew Klippel
Human Nature singles chronology
"Don't Cry"
(1999)
"Eternal Flame"
(1999)
"Be There With You"
(2000)

In 1999, Australian group Human Nature covered "Eternal Flame" and released it as the fourth single from their second album Counting Down. It peaked at number eight on the ARIA Singles Chart and was certified gold.

Track listings[edit]

Australian enhanced CD single 1[75]

  1. "Eternal Flame"
  2. "She's So Gone"
  3. "Breaking Me Down"
  4. "Don't Cry" (Discothèque Club remix)
  5. "Eternal Flame" (video clip)

Australian enhanced CD single 2[76]

  1. "Eternal Flame"
  2. "Shake You Outta My Head"
  3. "She's So Gone"
  4. "Breaking Me Down"
  5. "Don't Cry" (Discothèque Club remix – 7-inch edit)
  6. "Eternal Flame" (video clip)

Credits and personnel[edit]

Credits are lifted from the Australian CD single liner notes.[75]

Studios

Personnel

  • Susanna Hoffs, Billy Steinberg, Tom Kelly – writing
  • Human Nature – vocals
  • Andrew Klippel – production
  • David Hemming – recording
  • Dave Way – mixing
  • Vlado Meller – mastering

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[79] Gold 35,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

Atomic Kitten version[edit]

"Eternal Flame"
Eternal Flame by Atomic Kitten CD.jpg
Single by Atomic Kitten
from the album Right Now (re-issue)
A-side"Right Now" (Australia only)
ReleasedJuly 23, 2001 (2001-07-23)
StudioMetropolis (London, UK)
GenrePop
Length3:17
Label
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)Andy Wright
Atomic Kitten singles chronology
"Whole Again"
(2001)
"Eternal Flame"
(2001)
"You Are"
(2001)
Music video
"Eternal Flame" on YouTube

English girl group Atomic Kitten subsequently recorded the song in 2001 and released it as the lead single from the reissue of their debut studio album, Right Now, on July 23, 2001. It was the group's first single to feature new band member Jenny Frost. Their version was produced by Andy Wright, and a music video directed by Phil Griffin was made for the song.[80]

Critical reception[edit]

Lars Trillingsgaar, head of music for Danish radio station ANR Hit FM, said that Atomic Kitten's cover of "Eternal Flame" took the original "in a whole new direction", comparing it to another cover of a popular 1980s song that was released in 2001: "Another Day in Paradise" by siblings Brandy and Ray J, originally by Phil Collins. Trillingsgaar also noted that the cover had the ability to touch its listeners, much like the original had done.[81]

Chart performance[edit]

Atomic Kitten's version was released on July 23, 2001;[81] in Australia, it was issued alongside a re-release of the group's debut single, "Right Now" (1999).[82] In the United Kingdom, it entered the UK Singles Chart at number one, selling 150,000 copies during its first week of release to beat out Destiny's Child's "Bootylicious", which debuted at number two with 56,000 copies sold.[83] The Official Charts Company credits this result to "Bootylicious" having already been released on the parent album, Survivor, whereas the re-release of Right Now did not occur until after "Eternal Flame" had reached number one.[84] It stayed at number one for two weeks and has sold 415,000 copies as of August 2018.[83][84]

Outside the UK, the cover reached number one in the Flanders region of Belgium and in New Zealand, staying one week at the top in both regions.[85][86] In France, Ireland, and Sweden, it reached number two,[85][87] and it became a top-ten hit in Austria, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Switzerland.[85][88][89][90] It is certified gold in the UK, Belgium, France, New Zealand, and Sweden.[91][92][93][94][95]

Track listings[edit]

Credits and personnel[edit]

Credits are lifted from the European enhanced CD single liner notes and Right Now album booklet.[80][99]

Studio

Personnel

  • Susanna Hoffs, Tom Kelly, Billy Steinberg – writing
  • Atomic Kitten – vocals
  • Claudia Fontaine – additional backing vocals
  • Geoff Holroyde, Paul Simm – additional musicians
  • Andy Wright – production
  • Pete Craigie – mixing
  • Alan Douglas, James Brown – engineering
  • Ned Douglas – additional programming

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Belgium (BEA)[92] Gold 25,000*
France (SNEP)[93] Gold 268,000[129]
New Zealand (RMNZ)[94] Gold 5,000*
Sweden (GLF)[95] Gold 15,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[91] Gold 415,000[84]

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

Release history[edit]

Region Date Format(s) Label(s) Ref.
United Kingdom July 23, 2001 (2001-07-23)
  • CD
  • cassette
[81]
Australia September 17, 2001 (2001-09-17) CD [130]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Rolling Stone (June 12, 2014). "Toto Eclipse of the Heart: The Best of Eighties Soft Rock". Rolling Stone. Retrieved April 26, 2017.
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  3. ^ Susanna Hoffs, "Commentary", the Bangles, Return to Bangleonia, DVD, 2007
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    SH: There were four of us in The Bangles back then – Michael Steele was still in the band, and we would go about organizing studio time for each girl. Our wonderful producer Davitt Sigerson said, "You know what, I think it's best to record vocals at night and I would like you girls to schedule what night you want, and when it's your night, it's your night. I want to make you as comfortable as possible, so whatever you want the studio to be, whether it's having stuff like incense or lighting a candle, you got it." He played this kind of practical joke on me – he knew I was very gullible – and he mentioned that he had just finished working on Olivia Newton-John's record and said, "Oh, and she sings everything in the nude. And she just did her best performances ever that way." And I said, "Really? I had no idea!" He told me well after the sessions were over that he was just pulling my leg but that's what launched into this whole conversation where I said, "That sounds like so much fun!" 'Cause I had already had this superstitious thing about wearing the same outfit every time I recorded vocals – sort of my lucky shirt and pants. But this idea transformed me into thinking, "Well, gosh, maybe I'll get my best performances if I'm singing in the nude!"
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