The Story of... 'Eternal Flame' by The Bangles

4 February 2022, 18:12

The Bangles - Eternal Flame
The Bangles - Eternal Flame. Picture: Bangles/CBS

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

The Bangles wrote some incredible songs during their career, but 'Eternal Flame' has to be their most enduring.

In fact, the band - led by Susanna Hoffs - would never again quite match the same level of success that the beautiful ballad achieved.

But who wrote the song? What inspired it? Here's all you need to know about The Bangles' classic track:

Who wrote 'Eternal Flame'?

The Bangles lead singer Susanna Hoffs co-wrote 'Eternal Flame' with two of the most distinguished songwriters of the mid-to-late 1980s: Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly.

Together, Steinberg and Kelly wrote a swathe of major hits during the era including 'Like A Virgin' for Madonna, 'Alone' for Heart, 'I Touch Myself' for The Divinyls, 'So Emotional' for Whitney Houston, and both 'True Colors' and 'Unconditional Love' for Cyndi Lauper.

Having met the duo after a concert in 1986, Hoffs was envious of Lauper's ballad 'Unconditional Love' and wanted to write a similarly Beatles-esque ballad for The Bangles.

Steinberg said in a recent interview: "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.'"

What inspired the ballad?

The Bangles had been together since 1981.
The Bangles had been together since 1981. Picture: Facebook

The song's lyrics are actually inspired by Elvis Presley, and the eternal flame at his gravesite in Memphis.

Having been invited to Graceland on an official private tour, Susanna Hoffs recalls the moment the song title came to her:

"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."

"That led to Billy saying, "Oh, eternal flame is a good title for a song."

Is it true Susanna Hoffs recorded the song in the nude?

"I imagined it would feel like skinny dipping"
"I imagined it would feel like skinny dipping". Picture: Columbia Records

Yes, that is in fact true.

Revealed on the 2021 television programme I'm In A Girl Group, Susanna Hoffs remembered singing the studio recording of 'Eternal Flame' completely naked after her producer Davitt Sigerson pranked her saying that Olivia Newton-John would record her vocals similarly unclad.

"I imagined it would feel like skinny dipping—vulnerable yet freeing – and I decided to try it."

Hoffs embraced the experience fully, going so far as to record the entire album, 1988's Everything, in the buff.

How did it perform in the charts?

The Bangles performing on sketch show Saturday Night Live in 1988. (Photo by NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images)
The Bangles performing on sketch show Saturday Night Live in 1988. (Photo by NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images). Picture: Getty

'Eternal Flame' achieved enormous commercial and critical success, hitting the No.1 spot in a total of nine countries.

The song stayed at the top spot in the UK charts for three weeks, and having reached No.1 on the Billboard chart it made The Bangles the third all-female group to top the Hot 100 multiple times, after The Shirelles and The Supremes.

It was only their second No.1 hit single alongside 'Walk Like An Egyptian' in 1986.

What happened to The Bangles after it was released?

Despite the success of 'Eternal Flame', The Bangles wouldn't last much longer...
Despite the success of 'Eternal Flame', The Bangles wouldn't last much longer... Picture: Getty

Relationships within The Bangles were already frayed before they began writing their 1988 album Everything, with Susanna Hoffs bringing 'Eternal Flame' to the band for it only to be initially rejected.

The enormous success of the 'Eternal Flame' changed the public perception of the band, with the media portraying The Bangles as Hoffs and her backing band rather than a group.

Riddled with creative tension, it became apparent the band had no future after singer Hoffs and bassist Michael Steele wouldn't attend the wedding of founding member Debbi Peterson.

Six months after the release of 'Eternal Flame', The Bangles would break up with Susanna Hoffs leaving to pursue a solo career.

Who else has recorded ‘Eternal Flame’?

The most notable artists to cover the best-selling ballad are Japanese singer Tomoya Nagase in 1997, Australian doo-wop group Human Nature in 1999, and UK girl group Atomic Kitten in 2001.

Atomic Kitten's rendition was the most successful cover version however, becoming a No.1 hit single for the trio in the UK, Belgium, and New Zealand.