Bangles lead singer Susanna Hoffs wrote this with songwriters Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly. In our interview with Billy Steinberg, he explained: "Tom and I met Susanna Hoffs and we set out to write several songs for their next recording. When we got together with Susanna, she admired a song that Tom and I had written for Cyndi Lauper called 'Unconditional Love.' I think she liked the song because it was highly melodic and resembled a ballad that would not have been out of place on The Beatles' Revolver album. She was sort of envious of that song, she said she wished we could come up with something as good as that song. I told her, 'Susanna, we're going to write something better than that song.'"
Steinberg and Kelly have written many hit songs, including "Like A Virgin" for Madonna, "Alone" for Heart, and "I Touch Myself" for The Divinyls. They also wrote the Bangles' hit "In Your Room."
There is an Eternal Flame at the gravesite of Elvis Presley in Memphis that inspired this song. When we spoke with Susanna Hoffs, she said: "I told Billy the story about this official private tour of Graceland the Bangles had been given. The day we were there 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. That led to Billy saying, "Oh, eternal flame is a good title for a song." So we crafted the lyrics at Billy's house and then we took it over to Tom's studio. I was really thrilled when I had a demo of this somewhat simple, pure, melodic, almost like a lullaby that I came up with."
Said Steinberg: "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. When I was a child I remembered thinking it never burned out, that it was something like the sun or something beyond our capacity to even contemplate. It seemed like a very profound thought when I was a child. I thought, 'Well that's a great title for a song,' so very quickly I wrote the rest of the lyrics for the song based on that title."
Regarding the composition of this song, Billy Steinberg told us: "Tom started to write the chords and the melodies on an acoustic guitar at my house. The bridge to the song, or the middle eight as the British would say, the part that starts, 'Say my name, sun shines through the rain,' that part in particular is very Beatlesque. Tom, who's a great lover of harmonies, worked with Susanna to create almost a tribute to The Beatles and Beach Boys background harmonies in our demo and the Bangles recreated them on their record. One of the unusual things about that song, which is also attributable to its Beatlesque roots, is the fact that it really doesn't have a chorus.
The part that starts, 'Close your eyes, give me your hand, do you feel my heart beating, do you understand,' that part sets out to be the verse of the song and then the title is incorporated in the last line of the verse when it says, 'Am I only dreaming, or is this burning an eternal flame.' By the end of the song when all the Bangles chime in and re-sing the first verse at the end of the song, the whole verse feels like a chorus. The Beatles used to write in that way, for example, 'We Can Work It Out.' The line, 'We can work it out,' is sort of a tag in the verse. The verse ends with, 'We can work it out, we can work it out.' It isn't a chorus, it doesn't begin with the line, 'We can work it out,' which would be more traditional pop hit structure.
The whole song 'Eternal Flame' is so melodic that it doesn't really miss a traditional chorus, it just works the way it is. In one more Beatle type arrangement decision we do the bridge after two verses and then there's a guitar solo and then we do the bridge again. Again, The Beatles would often do that. In the song 'We Can Work Out,' the bit that begins, 'Life is very short, and there's no time for fussing and fighting my friend' - I think that happens twice in the song. Sometimes if you have a bridge that's really good, it's nice to repeat it, and also if a song doesn't have a traditional Pop chorus you almost need to repeat the bridge so that the song is long enough and that's what we did in 'Eternal Flame'."
Billy Steinberg: "One of the main differences between our demo and what was to become the Bangles' record is that we based our demo on the acoustic guitar while the Bangles' record, which was produced by Davitt Sigerson, is based on a simple piano. I think we based our demo on the acoustic guitar because there was no keyboard player in the Bangles. When you're a songwriter and you're trying to write something for a particular project, you very self-consciously do whatever you can do to see that it gets on the record and to ensure getting it on the record you want to make it sound like something the band could play. For that reason we tried to leave keyboards off our demo, but then we were very pleased with Davitt Sigerson's production and the way it featured the piano. I know Tom and I both loved Davitt's production, we both loved Susanna's lead vocal and all the Bangles' harmonies and were very pleased with the way the song turned out."
When Susanna Hoffs played the demo of this song to their producer Davitt Sigerson, he came up with the idea of giving it a Patsy Cline sound with an arrangement he called a "music box." Hoffs tells us that as the recording process for the album moved forward, this song was nearly forgotten. "Because 'Eternal Flame' didn't really have drum kit on it, we were halfway through the making of the record and we hadn't worked on it," she said. "So I said, 'Hey, are we going to do 'Eternal Flame''? I was sort of afraid to mention it. And Davitt said, 'Oh, yeah, yeah. We're going to do it. I found a keyboard player and you and me will get together with him and we'll just work on the arrangement.' So I'm glad I brought it up. I'm not sure what would have happened if I hadn't."
That's John Philip Shenale playing those all-important keyboards on this track. He and Susanna Hoffs worked together to get that music box sound they were looking for. Shenale has an impressive discography; some of the albums he played on include Ritual de lo Habitual by Jane's Addiction, Boys For Pele by Tori Amos, and Charmed Life by Billy Idol.
Hoffs was the only Bangle to write this song, and while she handled the lead vocals, there were significant contributions from the other group members. Said Susanna: "We created a little track, brought it to the studio and then we laid down these incredible harmonies. It was so much fun putting the track together because it was different from everything else on the record. It was all kind of pieced together in the studio. Vicki played a really beautiful guitar solo on it. I remember our manager at the time, Miles Copeland, came in and said, 'Nice song, but this'll never get played on the radio. It doesn't have drums on it.'
Everything with the history of that song, I had to keep protecting it and fighting for it. It just seemed like at any moment it would disappear, like something would strike it down. So it was a very sweet success when the song finally came out in the form that it was when Miles heard it."
The Bangles announced their breakup on September 21, 1989, less than six months after "Eternal Flame" topped the US chart on April 1. The group was riven with creative tension and generally overwhelmed. When Hoffs and bass player Michael Steele didn't attend Debbi Peterson's wedding in the summer of 1989, it was clear their relationship was beyond repair. The split came when Hoffs told her bandmates she was leaving to pursue a solo career, which she did.
Hoffs' solo efforts underwhelmed, with her biggest hit, "My Side of the Bed," topping out at #30 in the US. She got the Bangles back together in 1998 to record "Get The Girl" for the movie Austin Powers 2, The Spy Who Shagged Me, which was directed by her husband, Jay Roach. The band stayed together with a much lighter schedule, issuing a new album in 2003 and another in 2011.
The Bangles re-released this on the album Eternal Flame (release date June 30, 1998), and then in 2001 on Eternal Flame: The Best of the Bangles. The Bangles officially reformed in the summer of 2000, announcing tour dates and plans for a new studio album.
Suggestion credit: Dino - Bandung, Indonesia
In 2001 Atomic Kitten covered this, taking the song back to top of the UK chart. It was the first time a song had reached #1 twice performed by two different female acts. The Kitten's version was featured in the 2001 film The Parole Officer.
Atomic Kitten Liz McClarnon explained why they recorded this song in a Sun newspaper web chat on November 22, 2001: "We thought it was such a brilliant song that we wanted to bring it to a younger generation."
Camille from Toronto, OhI, too, have a story similar to Tereza and Ron. I was in my early 30s when I was fixed up on a blind date with my future husband. At the time, this song was a hit and the video was aired often on MTV. It's not that this song stood out among others at the time, it was just a nice tune to listen to, one of many that provided a background soundtrack to that time in my life. But it's certainly a song that always, always reminds me of that particular time. Fast forward almost 25 years, and if my life were a movie, this song playing at the time of that blind date would have been a touch of 'foreshadowing', predicting that yes, indeed, what we felt was the beginning of an eternal flame and we're still together. It's almost a more important song to me now than back then. I liked reading how it all came together. This song has a timeless quality to it.
Ron from Tyler, TxThis is a very simple, very nice, sweet song. It was popular when I was falling in love with my wife, and it really resonated with that feeling that made me wonder, at age 29, if I really had finally found the love that would last eternally. Well, can't speak to forever, but 25 years later we're still together & still in love.
Esskayess from Dallas, TxIn this clip, she said the producer made up the stuff about ONJ, but she fell for it and DID sing this song au buffo:
Esskayess from Dallas, Tx(This is what Wikipedia says about the supposed Urban Legend.) Hoffs was actually naked when she recorded the song, after being told that Olivia Newton-John got her amazing performances by recording everything while naked.
Brandon from Seattle, WaI can definitely see the Beach Boys/Beatles influence, too, somewhat like "Here, there, and everywhere" and "God only knows", but is so breathtaking on its own, too. I also saw this on "Cold Case", and though the song is beyond words, I might offend, it stroke me as being too painful for the ending. Do not get me wrong, I love the show, this song, and the ending (one of the best TV endings of all-time), but it somewhat made things twice as sad, at least it did to me, but once again, great song, great band, great show, and great ending, something I will hold in my heart for the rest of my life.
Rich from Wall , NjOne of the best songs I ever heard. Very well sung both by Susanna Hoffs and the other Bangles.Can see the influence of the Beatles and Beach Boys in this song.
Oldpink from New Castle, InIt's a bit sappy, but still a sweet song, sung very nicely. I must admit that I was a bit stunned when I first saw the singer back in 1987, and I had to roll up my tongue. Smoking hot, and now she is 48, and as beautiful as ever. Yes, Virginia, the years have been very kind to Susanna Hoffs!
Dale from Santa Fe, NmIt's the songs with the simple, true sentiment like this one that stand the test of time. This is the power of love, music and magic.
Joycemorrison from Phthis was hugely popular in my country when it came out. still is, though considered by some as too sappy for comfort. but i won't be surprised if everyone likes it, albeit secretly.
Tobes from Upton, NyThis may be 'Urban Legend' but many years ago (soon after the original song came out, I distinctly recall hearing a local radio DJ matter of factley stating that Suzanna Hoffs admitted somewhere to doing the studio recording session of 'Burning Flame' while in the buff. Allegedly, it inspired her to do the most honest and heartfelt rendition possible. Hmm..
Dave from Cardiff, Wales"Everything" was a fantastic album! It did not only include the singles "Eternal Flame" and "In Your Room" but also such lesser-known greats as "Complicated Girl", "Bell Jar", Crash and Burn" and "Something To Believe In". One of the most underrated albums of the last 25 years for sure...
Dave from Cardiff, WalesMitchell - Atomic Kitten did not write any of their songs. The ones which were not direct covers were written by ex-OMD frontman Andy McCluskey. When they sacked him as their main songwriter in 2004, AK's success ground to a halt... The Bangles' version of 'Eternal Flame' still remains the more the popular the world over
Pete from Toronto, Canadareminds me of my ex-girlfriend, we had some good times together, too bad it ended so badly
Alexander from Ciudad OjedaIt'll soon be 4 years when mom and I listened to Sharika's "Underneath Your Clothes" and she told me it'd got the melody from an old song, and I saw what she was talking about when a few days later I started singing The Bangles' "Eternal Flame" and she told me that was the song she meant.
Tereza from Praha, Czech RepublicI first heard this song when I met the love of my life, and the lyrics were constantly on my mind.Though I was little embarrassed to listen to such sentimental song, i've never since found other song that would better describe the state of being in love.
Marlow from Perth, Australiasusanna look so hot back in this video clip...
Natasha from Bethany, Oki agree with Marina. the very first time i heard "eternal flame" i thought it sounded alot like "underneath your clothes".
Mitchell from Auckland, New ZealandPractically all of Atomic Kitten's songs are remakes. Infact, I'm not sure if they wrote any of them themselves... Eternal Flame, See Ya, The Tide Is High, Whole Again..
Marina from Seattle, WaThe song "Underneath Your Clothes" by Shakira sounds very, very similar to this song. Listen to them both and you'll agree.
Kristy from Saco, MeThis song was also spoofed by Jason Bateman in The Sweetest Thing with Cameron Diaz
Martijn from Helmond, NetherlandsDutch dj's spread the rumour that in order to get in the right mood for the song Susanna Hoffs sang it naked in the studio
Jonathan from Natchitoches, LaAppeared in Season 1 Episode 21 of Cold Case on CBS. The name of the episode is "Maternal Instincts."
Tiffany from Dover, FlI remembered this song when I was little and it was one of my favorites!
Martin from London, EnglandAtomic Kitten's version was a UK No. 1 in 2001 (not 2002). It was the first instance of a song topping the UK chart twice by two different female-fronted bands. They did it a second time, too, in 2002, with The Tide Is High [Blondie].
Dino from Bandung, IndonesiaCovered by Australia's Human Nature on the album Here & Now: The Best of Human Nature, released in 2001.