Nobody’s written a song called “holding out for a shy, slightly introverted, music-obsessed accountant”. I know that doesn’t scan quite so well, but still…why do heroes get all the good press?
Maybe that’s a topic for another day, but today we’ve got the wonderful Bonnie Tyler stretching her vocal chords beyond any normal person’s limits as she powers through “Holding Out For A Hero”.
“Holding Out For A Hero” was co-written by the inimitable Jim Steinman…who is often described as “mercurial” in interviews by the people who worked with him, which I think is musicians’ code for “virtually certifiable”.
When he wrote “Holding Out For A Hero” in the early 1980s, Jim Steinman was at the height of his powers. Not long before, he’d written all the tracks for Meatloaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell” album — to this day one of the best-selling albums of all time worldwide and certified 14 times platinum in the US alone.
But “Holding Out For A Hero” wasn’t destined for another monster-selling album. Instead it was destined for a film about a young guy moving to a small town where dancing and rock music was banned…1984’s Footloose, starring Kevin Bacon.
On “Holding Out For A Hero”, Jim Steinman paired up with Dean Pitchford, who co-wrote every song on Footloose.
Dean Pitchford worked through a startling variety of musical styles in writing the score for Footloose. He took us from the fast-paced rock of “Holding Out For A Hero”, through to the title track “Footloose” (co-written with, and performed by, Kenny Loggins), “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” sung by Deniece Williams and Shalamar’s “Dancing In The Streets”.
But the best track from Footloose, in my opinion at least, starts by asking these questions…
Where have all the good men gone
And where are all the gods?
Where’s the streetwise Hercules to fight the rising odds?
Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
Late at night I toss and I turn
And I dream of what I need
No prizes for guessing that what she thinks she needs — a hero.
Shy, slightly introverted accountants were apparently not quite at the top of Bonnie Tyler’s list…
But not just any old common or garden hero…that wouldn’t hit the mark either. No wonder accountants don’t get a look-in. Here’s what Bonnie Tyler thinks she needs…
I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero till the end of the night
He’s gotta be strong
And he’s gotta be fast
And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight
I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero till the morning light
He’s gotta be sure
And he’s gotta be soon
And he’s gotta be larger than life
Larger than life
Now, there are many things I don’t know in life.
But one thing I do know is that if this is your shopping list for male companionship, you’ll be defying almost-impossible odds if you ever stumble across someone who ticks all the boxes on this rather demanding list.
Ironically, you’re vastly more likely to come across a shy and slightly introverted accountant, statistically speaking, even though we’re still only a tiny proportion of the population as a whole.
Not that I’d have stood a chance with Bonnie Tyler anyway. When “Holding Out For A Hero” came out, I had a flatmate who was utterly obsessed with her. Every time one of her videos came on the TV he’d stop whatever he was doing to sit in front of the box. He’d have done anything to get in front of me in the queue.
I never had the courage to point out to him that his girlfriend was an almost polar opposite character to the one Bonnie Tyler portrayed at the time.
We lost touch many years ago, but every time I hear a Bonnie Tyler song I can’t help wondering if my flatmate’s relationship with his shy, softly-spoken, high-brow girlfriend worked out, or whether he ended up spending his life in the company of a statuesque blonde who knew her own mind, wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and had a penchant for taking on all-comers in a fight if required.
I’m equally sure that’s not what Bonnie Tyler is really like in person, but it was the character the played in her videos. I just think my old friend had trouble separating reality from fantasy.
Which in a funny way is what Jim Steinman songs do so well. They take you into a different world with its own characters and styles and envelop you with the stories of that fantasy world. You don’t listen passively to a Jim Steinman song. You’re swept along with the in-built sense of drama until you feel part of the unfolding story, not an observer of it.
Jim Steinman is a master at blurring the line between reality and fantasy and drawing you into the make-believe worlds he builds around his songs.
The “Bat Out Of Hell” album was a masterclass in how to fuse together gothic opera and hard rock, creating a world all of its own. “Holding Out For A Hero” isn’t far behind…
Somewhere after midnight
In my wildest fantasy
Somewhere just beyond my reach
There’s someone reaching back for me
Racing on the thunder and rising with the heat
It’s gonna take a superman to sweep me off my feet
“Racing on the thunder and rising with the heat” is a tremendous lyric and certainly one you could imagine Meatloaf singing. But the whole song is packed full of Steinman-esque lyrical flourishes. It’s a great example of his style and…I’ll whisper this very quietly…I actually prefer “Holding Out For A Hero” to any of the tracks on the “Bat Out Of Hell” album.
There are one or two downsides to “Holding Out For A Hero” though.
Back when “Bat Out Of Hell” was written in the late 1970s, electronic drums didn’t exist…not good ones anyway. And frankly good electronic drums hadn’t arrived by the early 1980s either, but that didn’t stop them appearing all over “Holding Out For A Hero”. A rare stylistic misjudgement from Jim Steinman sitting in the producer’s chair.
However fake drums were very much a thing of the 80s, so maybe Jim Steinman was just trying to present a more contemporary sound…and to be fair there aren’t many better examples of fast-packed mock-gothic 1980s rock than “Holding Out For A Hero”.
I’d also have preferred a guitar-led track rather than the slightly tinny synthesiser soundscape that drives “Holding Out For A Hero”, coming across a bit like Erasure on steroids.
But it’s easy to criticise small elements of the whole. When you put it all together, there’s no doubt that Jim Steinman and Dean Pitchford wrote a stunning track for Bonnie Tyler…one of her signature songs and one of the best songs of the early 1980s.
Here’s Bonnie Tyler with the urgent, pulsating, full-throttle “Holding Out For A Hero”…
(Last chance for a shy, slightly introverted accountant anyone…? No, thought not…)
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading about another of my favourite songs. I’m grateful that you’ve taken the time to spend a few moments in the company of a song that I love.
The video is below, but if you prefer to listen to your music on Spotify, you can find this track here…https://open.spotify.com/track/6AJlcxjEO2baFC24GPsJjg