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Movie and Music Analysis from One Lacking Any Credentials to Provide It

“Holding out for a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler

With her career revived and taken to new heights by Faster than the Speed of Night, screenwriter/songwriter Dean Pitchford came calling for a new Tyler song for his upcoming film Footloose (Herbert Ross, USA 1984). Since getting Bonnie Tyler meant working with Jim Steinman and he was co-writing the songs for the film with diverse artists, he studied Steinman’s work and came up with a suitably mythological, powerful opening: “Where have all the good men gone and where are all the gods?/Where’s the streetwise Hercules to fight the rising odds?” Steinman allegedly beat the piano so hard playing the finished song for Pitchford that he left the keyboard covered in blood. The resulting song would end up being one of Steinman’s most enduring, even though it was heavily based on the obscure “Stark Raving Love” from Bad for Good. It’s dramatic even by Steinman standards and the introduction with the flamenco-style piano and Troyer*/Dodd/Sherwood (The only parts of Steinman’s usual backing crew involved.) choir vocals is just unmistakable. It would appear on Bonnie Tyler’s next album but would be famous for its place on the Footloose score album.

For those of us who already know “Stark Raving Love,” this song comes across as an edited version of that song with new lyrics. That now-iconic introduction is largely lifted from the earlier song, though now we have some cheesy ’80s synths and drum machine noises (though on the plus-side it should be noted that the guitar tone is actually stronger. Outside of a repetition of the intro following the second time through the chorus, the piano is largely relegated to some rhythmic chords and punctuating glissandos. The song is almost entirely propelled forward on the drum machine/synth combo and adds in horns to give it some variation late. There seem to be no real drums anywhere in the song.

While I’ve never been a big fan of Bonnie Tyler’s voice, I feel like she actually suits this song well. The hoarseness of her voice kind of gives her a humanity that contrasts with this heavily electronic background that helps make up for how mechanized the song otherwise feels. Ellen Foley also gets a credit for “additional vocal arrangement,” but I don’t know what she did. Rory Dodd is recognizable singing high notes in the fade out and sounds great as always.

I have always found it strange that Steinman wrote the music while Pitchford wrote the lyrics for this song, because it sounds so precisely backwards. There are some things about the lyrics that do feel un-Steinman: his image for Bonnie Tyler was typically more the aggressor than the victim who “need[s] a hero” and he is not big on pop-culture references like “It’s gonna take a Superman to sweep me off my feet.” However, the mythological treatment of her desires and need for someone who is “larger than life” are so perfectly in Steinman’s wheelhouse that it’s difficult to accept–even though all evidence suggests it is the case–that Pitchford wrote it.

Meanwhile, the song’s music is a messy car crash of ’80s excess that goes too far even for me. And where Steinman’s more complex songs usually teach the various parts to the listener before getting put together into their glorious climax, this song opens with a jumbled cacophony that never really gets any easier on the ear, at least for me. It’s loud in a messy, garbled way instead of the huge, Wagnerian way Steinman’s songs normally are. If you told me that someone was going to try to impersonate Steinman for a song, I would expect it to sound something like this, and yet it was, apparently, Steinman himself.

There aren’t many Steinman songs I just don’t like, but “Holding out for a Hero” is one of them. I’m typically a sucker for ’80s cheesefests, but this song to me feels like way more of one than any of the most typical examples held up in public (“We Built this City” by Starship, “The Final Countdown” by Europe, “Wake Me up before U Go-Go” by Wham!, or “When the Children Cry” by White Lion), and definitely more of one than the typical Steinman example of “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” The “Stark Raving Love” intro hook is great, but the way it just disappears from most of the song here leaves it hanging on like a vestigial limb, even though it’s the best thing this song has going for it.


  • *Wikipedia, weirdly often the source with the best credits for specific song recordings, credits “Eric Thayer” and not Eric Troyer. Since the credited name doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry and the vocals sound exactly like the same group of voices Steinman has typically used, I’m willing to bet that’s just a mistake and it is in fact Eric Troyer.
  • Drum machines don’t actually sound like drums. Synthesizers can only do reasonably convincing impressions of horns. But we have synthesized drums and real horns. WTF?






One response to ““Holding out for a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler”

  1. […] out for a Hero”–had already been released on the Footloose score album, so I’ve already covered that one. That leaves “Ravishing” and the Tyler/Todd Rundgren duet “Loving […]

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