Is there a more quintessentially Céline Dion song than “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now”? Sure, “My Heart Will Go On” was a bigger hit, but that song would have been essentially the same hit for any number of other iron-lunged vocalists. It’s on a song like “Coming Back” that Céline shows what happens when she really gives herself over to the crazy — and yet, comes out alive.

The song’s original interpreters weren’t so lucky. They were an all-female group called Pandora’s Box, which tells you just about everything you need to know about them. Their only album was 1989′s Original Sin, and it seems to have existed for the sole purpose of demo-ing (in the sense of both demonstrating and demolishing) songs by producer Jim Steinman that would later be hits for other artists. In addition to Dion’s “Coming Back,” other songs were later performed by artists including Meat Loaf, Jennifer Hudson, and Taylor Dayne.

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The original version of “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” featured piano by Roy Bittan (of the E Street Band) and backing vocals arranged by Todd Rundgren; the original video was directed by legendary schlockmeister Ken Russell, who does not disappoint. Russell’s video has Pandora’s Box frontgal Elaine Caswell dying from injuries sustained during a spectacular motorcycle accident: she apparently tried to jump a cemetery fence, and almost made it. While somber paramedics minister to Caswell’s immaculate body, she imagines herself being prepared for the grave by members of her local sci-fi S&M club — the kind of people for whom sex, death, and all other bodily functions are best experienced under a thick glittery lacquer.

Compared to the original, Dion’s 1998 video is a model of taste, restraint, and subtlety. There’s a motorcycle accident, but there’s no cemetery, no symbolic white horses, and no assless chaps. It’s just Dion running though her enormous white mansion (one imagines René warming his feet by a fire in the study, sipping brandy and lighting his cigar with a hundred-Canadian-dollar bill), haunted by the memory of a James Dean knockoff whom she may or may not be aware has journeyed forever beyond the reach of her booty calls.

And it’s here that Dion demonstrates her superhuman abilities. She walks the coals of a song that was birthed by Pandora’s Box and would later be killed by Meat Loaf, and she gives herself to it without reservation, stretching her trampoline diaphragm to its utter limits and hurling the notes forth. Baby, baby, baby, BABY! Any mere mortal would be doomed, but Céline transcends. Elaine Caswell went to hell, and Meat Loaf never really left, but Céline floats among the angels. It all comes back to her, and so, like her ghostly toy boy, do we… again and again and again and again.

Words by Jay Gabler, a co-founder and co-editor of The Tangential.

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