Thursday, January 30, 2014

Bangles - Monday, Manic Monday

 For as long as popular music has been around there have been numerous and sundry all female vocal groups, anyone from the Supremes to the Spice Girls, the Andrews Sisters to the Pussycat Dolls.  But less common are all female bands, where the members handle instrument duties in addition to vocals.  The early to mid 80s saw the emergence of two such all girl bands - the Go-Go’s, and the Bangles - both of whom owe much of their inspiration to the Runaways, who forged the path for all girl bands during the latter half of the 70s (in fact as you’ll discover, the Bangles had a direct connection to the Runaways).  I’ve already touched in part on the Go-Go’s story (see separate Jane Wiedlin post), but will expand on it in the future.  For now though, let’s explore the world of the Bangles from gooooooo to whooooooah…

In early 1981, singer/guitarist Susanna Hoffs placed a ‘band members wanted’ ad in the Los Angeles paper, The Recycler - the ad read “Band members wanted: into the Beatles, Byrds, and Buffalo Springfield".  Sisters Vicki (guitar/vocals) and Debbi Peterson (drums) answered the ad in the affirmative and the base trio of a band had been formed.  Guitarist Vicki Peterson had formed her first band in the ninth grade, and began writing songs while still in high school.  Her influences centred around the likes of the Beatles and the Hollies, so she and Hoffs were perfectly matched in their love of 60s pop-rock.  The trio began rehearsing together in Susanna Hoffs’ garage, and soon enlisted the services of bassist Annette Zilinskas to round out the band.  The quartet initially adopted the moniker of the Colours, followed quickly by the Supersonic Bangs, and by late ‘81 they were known as the Bangs.  They released the self produced EP ‘Getting Out Of Hand’ (on their own Downkiddie label) in December of ’81 (under the name the Bangs).

The Bangs built a solid reputation and following on the Los Angeles ‘paisley underground’ movement, which also featured the likes of Green On Red, Rain Parade and Dream Syndicate. The ‘paisley underground’ was a loose-knit collective of bands heavily influenced by a fusion of folk-rock and psychedelic rock - the Bangles would prove to be the only band from the movement to achieve broader commercial and critical success.  Their sell out live shows, debut EP and an appearance on a Rodney on the ROQ compilation, brought the Bangs to the attention of Miles Copeland who signed them to his I.R.S. label.  As so happens on occasion, there was already a New York based band called the Bangs who were threatening to sue.  Following a meal at a Mexican Restaurant en-route to Las Vegas, one of the band members scrawled the word ‘Bang-less’ on a napkin, and so the name Bangles came into being during January of ‘82. Copeland also booked them as the opening act for the English Beat.  They released their second EP in June of ‘82, an eponymous effort released on the Faulty Products label (an I.R.S. subsidiary) that sold over 40,000 copies, and further enhanced the quartet’s profile.

The Bangles were signed to the Columbia label during 1983, but before they had entered the recording studio, bassist Annette Zilinskas (who wanted more opportunity to sing lead vocals) quit the band to join country-punk outfit, Blood On The Saddle.  In her place, bassist Michael (Micki) Steele was welcomed into the Bangles’ fold.  Steele had been the original lead vocalist with 70s proto-punk hard rock outfit the Runaways (see separate Joan Jett post).

With veteran power-pop producer David Kahne in the control booth, the Bangles spent a good part of the first half of ‘84 recording their debut album.  ‘All Over The Place’ (US#80/ UK#86) hit stores late in ‘84, and immediately made an impact on U.S. college radio.  The album contained all original material across its eleven tracks, with one exception, ‘Going Down To Liverpool’ (UK#56 - and yes that is Leonard Nimoy in the video clip), a cover of the Katrina & the Waves hit (see separate post).  A second single, the perky ‘Hero Takes A Fall’ (penned by Vicki Peterson and Susanna Hoffs), was added to college radio play lists and the burgeoning MTV network.  At this time lead vocal duties were shared amongst the quartet, with no clear leader evident.  The album reflected the 60s folk-rock, garage rock, and psychedelic rock influences that had energised the Bangles’ early music.  Echoes of the Byrds, The Beatles, Love, Grass Roots, and Jefferson Airplane were laced throughout the album, with chiming riffs, jangling guitar and infectious melody hooks.  Stellar harmonies and taut arrangements compromised the Bangles’ style to that point, but aided in engaging a wider audience.

‘All Over The Place’ went on to sell a very respectable 150,000 copies.  One of those copies undoubtedly fell into the hands of a certain artist by the name of Prince, who, it was rumoured, had been quite infatuated with Hoffs, via her appearance on MTV in the clip to ‘Hero Takes A Fall’.  In between a live tour and promotional work for ‘All Over The Place’, the Bangles found time to appear (as pirates) in the promotional video to friend Cyndi Lauper’s top ten hit ‘Goonies ‘R Good Enough’.  The band spent the latter part of 1985 in the recording studio working on their sophomore album.

By early ‘86, the Bangles released the album ‘Different Light’, led by the single ‘Manic Monday’, an engaging piece of psychedelic pop-rock.  The track had been penned by a writer calling themselves ‘Christopher’.  In case you weren’t aware, ‘Christopher’ was one of the many aliases of an artist better known as Prince.  Such was his fascination with the Bangles, he furnished them  the chance to record the song.  The Mamas & Papas-esque ‘Manic Monday’ proved to be anything but just another ‘Manic Monday’.  The song entered the U.S. Hot 100 during February of 1986, and was by that time already on heavy rotation on MTV, and FM radio.  It peaked at #2 on the Hot 100 during the month of April.  In a case of irony, the Bangles were denied their first #1 hit by none other than the man who had penned ‘Manic Monday’, Prince with the song ‘Kiss’.  ‘Manic Monday’ reached #3 on the Australian charts, and was denied a #1 in Britain by the Barry Gibb penned ‘Chain Reaction’ by Diana Ross.  Prince even joined the Bangles on stage for an encore of the song during a concert.

Both artist and label were hoping that the follow up single, a melancholic rendition of the Jules Shear song, ‘If She Knew What She Wants’ (released mid year), would further build on the band’s momentum, but the single proved a relative disappointment in commercial terms (US#29/ OZ#31/UK#31).  Meanwhile the Bangles had embarked on a lengthy summer tour during 1986.  The album ‘Different Light’ climbed steadily up world charts (US#2/ OZ#2/UK#3), eventually becoming the 12th biggest selling album in the U.S. for 1986.  It represented a marked departure from the 60s pop-rock infusion that had been a signature of their early work, and arguably suffered in stylistic terms by over production (once more Kahne was overseeing things from the control booth).  In essence, the album compromised some of the band’s early career personality and style.  Though from a commercial audience, and radio friendly angle, the more polished ‘Different Angle’ worked a treat, no more illustrated by the third single release.

Songwriter Liam Sternberg was on a ferry crossing the English Channel when the phrase ‘walk like an Egyptian’ struck a chord with him.  As any good writer does, Sternberg had a note book on hand to scribble the phrase down for future reference.  Some time after, Sternberg penned a song around the title ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ and cut a four track demo (including the song) in Los Angeles during January of ‘84.  He enlisted the services of Marti Jones to provide vocals on the track.  Sternberg played the demo to singer Toni Basil (of ‘Mickey’ fame - see separate post), who turned it down flat.  In late ‘85 Bangles’ producer David Kahne had received a two track demo tape from Peer Southern Publishing with the request that he consider the first track on the cassette, ‘Rock and Roll Vertigo’, for inclusion on the Bangles’ next album.  Whoever had made the tape had reversed the two tracks so track number one was actually ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’.  Kahne was instantly impressed and offered the Bangles the song to record.  Writer Liam Sternberg was over the moon as he had seen the Bangles live and loved their sound, and was thrilled by the finished product.  The song had that infectious feel good, foot tapping, smile stimulating aura about it.

Featuring lead vocals from three of the four Bangles, ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ was released in late ‘86 (interesting that the single releases from ‘Different Light’ were spread out over such a long period).  By November it had sand danced its way into the Hot 100, and by December 20 had assumed the #1 mantle, in the process punting ‘The Way It Is’ by Bruce Hornsby and the Range.  ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ became the dance of choice (including for all the cops in the donut shop) over the holiday period and into January of ‘87, spending 4 weeks in top spot (UK#3) - the equal longest stint atop the U.S. Hot 100 by an all girl group to that time (along with the Chiffons, the Supremes, and the Emotions).  It was eventually knocked off by ‘Shake You Down’ by Gregory Abbott (see future post).  I recall instantly falling in love with the song (or maybe it was the Bangles I was in love with) when I first saw it on Countdown late in ‘86 - the song induced a feeling of fun and cheeriness - I especially enjoyed Debi Peterson’s solo whistle mid song.  ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ spun around and crossed the floor all the way to #1 in Australia as well, replacing Pseudo Echo’s ‘Funky Town’, and in turn being replaced by Kim Wilde’s ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’ (see separate posts for both artists).  The song ended up being the 2nd highest selling single in the U.S. for 1986, and the 7th biggest seller in Australia for 1987.

‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ was a tough act to follow, and another strolling song in the form of ‘Walking Down The Street’ didn’t quite manage to crack the top 10 (US#11/ OZ#56/UK#16), but by being a vocal vehicle for Susanna Hoffs it signalled a trend that would eventually erode unity within the band.

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