The Bangles’ “Eternal Flame” Lyrics Meaning
Perhaps the easiest way to understand The Bangles’ “Eternal Flame” is by taking its title as a metaphor for a lifelong romantic relationship. And the addressee would be the singer’s current lover, someone whom it doesn’t seem like she has been with for too long.
And she really enjoys their union to the point that she is in fact looking deeply into the future of it. Or put differently, the narrator doesn’t “want to lose this feeling”, as she is idealizing this romance lasting forevermore. And that leads to her asking two questions, one of herself and the other of the addressee.
Are the feelings real?
As for herself personally, she is asking if these feelings are really real. That is more or less a rhetorical question, as it is clear that she is in love. Indeed any reader who has actually been freshly in love would likely attest to the fact that during such a period you do indeed idealize said relationship lasting forever.
Does the addressee feel the same?
And the second question is being posed to the addressee, i.e. her romantic interest. And what she is asking him is ‘does he feel the same?’ So it’s almost like to the vocalist herself, being in love like this is too good to be true.
Indeed up until this point, she has endured “a whole life so lonely”. “And then” here comes the addressee, seemingly out of the blue, to “come and ease the pain”. So it is quite understandable why she cherishes this union. And accordingly she is also encouraging her lover to totally give in to the feeling.
What the lyrics of “Eternal Flame” are all about
So this is like a love song in the truest sense of the word, not only in terms of its sound and feel but also the message conveyed therein. For what the vocalist is saying, most simply put, is that she doesn’t want her relationship with the addressee to ever come to an end.
Who are The Bangles?
The Bangles, being formed in 1981, are amongst the most-successful all-female bands from the 20th century – not vocalists only, as they played their own instruments also. They had a number of big hits, most notably “Manic Monday” (1986) and “Walk Like an Egyptian” (1986).
The Bangles are also known for this song, “Eternal Flame”, which was released on 17 February 1989. And for the record they are still active as of the writing of this post. They actually released their most-recent studio album, “Sweetheart of the Sun”, in 2011.
This particular track is the second single from the band’s third album, 1988’s “Everything”. The project went platinum in a few countries, including the US and UK. And the label that put it out is Columbia Records.
The members of The Bangles who participated on the song were the group’s founders, Susanna Hoffs (lead vocalist), Debbi Peterson (drummer), her sister Vicki Peterson (guitarist) and Michael Steele (bassist).
The first three names on that list have remained with the group throughout all of its years of operation, even until now. But Michael Steele, who is actually a female and is also known by the name Micki Steele, left the crew in 2005. She was ultimately replaced by Annette Zilinskas.
Who wrote “Eternal Flame”?
Three individuals are behind the writing of this hit – the aforementioned Susanna alongside Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg. Those latter two were actually regular songwriting collaborators during the 1980s. They both penned other well-known songs, such as Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” (1987) and the late Whitney Houston’s “So Emotional” (1987).
And for the record Hoffs, Kelly and Steinberg also wrote other songs as a trio, such as Belinda Carlisle’s “I Need a Disguise” (1986) as well as The Bangles’ “In Your Room” (1988), which was the lead single from Everything.
As alluded to earlier, Eternal Flame proved to be an outstanding success. For example, it topped music charts in almost 10 countries. In the process, it did so on what is generally considered to be the two most-important music rankings in the world, the US Billboard Hot 100 and UK Single Chart
In the US, it also reached number one on the Cash Box Top 100, back in the days when that listing was still in effect. And in the Netherlands, “Eternal Flame” was the number-one song for the entire year of 1989 as far as the Dutch Top 40 is concerned.
This track also achieved platinum certification in the Netherlands, as well as Australia.
Success of “Eternal Flame” brings Issues
One would presume that a success of this magnitude would have had a positive impact on The Bangles. But instead it caused some tension, as certain parties involved began to resent the fact that Susanna Hoffs was getting the bulk of the public’s attention.
This sometimes happens with hit bands, i.e. the lead singer becoming well-known while the instrumentalists remain relatively unknown. So to mitigate the issue the next single released from “Everything”, which was “Be With You” (1989), was a song in which Debbi Peterson rather served as lead vocalist (as she did occasionally).
And unfortunately, whereas it did chart in almost 10 countries overall, it proved to be a poor choice as a follow-up to “Eternal Flame”. And all of this confusion caused by Hoffs getting the bulk of the attention ultimately led to the group disbanding in 1989, just a few months after this song came out.
However, The Bangles did back together in 1998 and have remained so since.
Notable Covers of “Eternal Flame”
“Eternal Flame” has been covered by a number of artists since its release. And another girl group, the UK’s Atomic Kitten, achieved notable international success with their rendition, which came out in 2001.
In fact Atomic Kitten’s version also topped the UK Singles Chart. And when that occurred, “Eternal Flame” made history as the first song ever to top the UK Singles Chart twice, being respectively rendered by different female acts.
Inspiration behind this Song’s Title
The initial inspiration for this song’s title came from a private tour The Bangles were given of Elvis Presley’s gravesite in Memphis, Tennessee. For there exists what is referred to as the “Eternal Flame, i.e. a fire which, ideally, is lit all the time (although it wasn’t when the girls visited).
And when the idea was introduced to Billy Steinberg, it just so happened that the synagogue he frequented, located in Palm Springs, California, as a child also had its own “eternal flame”. So they all proceeded to go along with the title, even though the final product doesn’t have anything to do with Elvis or Judaism.
As a testament to this song’s success, The Bangles actually named their 2001 compilation album, “Eternal Flame – The Best of the Bangles”, after it.
This song has been featured on a number of television shows, such as the following:
- Gilmore Girls (2001)
- The Vampire Diaries (2011)
- The Office (2013)
It also appears in the 2012 movie titled “Pitch Perfect”.
Add “Eternal Flame” to the long list of songs that became hits after initially not being considered viable by its artists. That is to say that originally, as recounted by Susanna Hoffs, this tune “was rejected” from being on “Everything”.
Susanna Hoffs actually recorded this song, as well as “most of the album” it is featured, in the buff. She did so after the track’s producer, Davitt Sigerson, deceived her into believing that an even more-renowned female vocalist whom he worked with, Olivia Newton-John, did the same.
But it seems he was just pranking her in general, not trying to get any cheap looks or anything like that, as she did so behind a device known as a sound baffle. And the reason Hoffs retained this practice throughout the recording of the album is because she felt in an intangible (i.e. superstitious) sort of way that it was beneficial.
This song does not feature a conventional chorus but rather what is referred to in music-production circles as a middle eight.