Hello one and all to Girls Gone Guitar, a new home for all the girls who make their six-strings sing.
You've walked like Egyptians, you've cursed Mondays, you've wondered about the eternal flame. The Bangles have had some of the biggest and most infectious pop hits ever, but do you really know them? They were my first obsession. My cousin took me to see their reunion tour in 2001, which was my very first concert. As a 16 year old, I was stunned, not only with the possibilities of live music, but with the fact that 4 women could play guitar so well (Debbie Peterson was technically the drummer, but she frequently comes up front and plays acoustic guitar).
Unfortunately, the albums released post-reunion weren't exactly groundbreaking, but their original 80s output remains as wonderfully innovative as ever.
The Real World (1982)
This is the first real single by The Bangles, with their early lineup of Susanna Hoffs (vocals/guitar), Annette Zilinskas (vocals/bass), and Vicki(vocals/guitar) and Debbi Peterson(vocals/drums).
It's still one of their best songs, wearing their love of intelligent 1960s folk rock prominently on their sleeves. Watch the video, their Beatles impersonations are pretty awesome (but thankfully that stops by their next single)
It's striking how mature their sound is in general. It's not perfect, but the lyricism is there, as well as the harmonies and general musicianship (no one builds a pop guitar solo like Vicki Peterson).
Rainy Day (1984)
This is a weird compilation album of sorts, featuring music by The Bangles, Dream Syndicate, The Three O'Clock, Rain Parade and Mazzy Star, all of whom were part of the seminal Paisley Underground Scene, devoted to bringing back a particular "jangly pop" sound best personified by Big Star and Buffalo Springfield.
The Bangs produced two gorgeous covers for the album, of Bob Dylan's "I'll Keep It With Mine" and "I'll Be Your Mirror" by Velvet Underground feat. Nico. In my mind, they are the definitive versions of the songs (this is not the last time The Bangles covers become more famous than the originals).
All Over the Place (1984)
The lineup solidified with new bassist Michael Steele, who formerly played with seminal female band The Runaways. All Over the Place captured their trademark power-pop sound.
Two singles were released from the album, the irresistible "Hero Takes A Fall" and a cover of Kimberley Rew's "Going Down To Liverpool," which had a music video featuring Leonard Nimoy, of all people. Both were solid hits in the UK, but US success eluded the band. Their star rose as they got to open for Cyndi Lauper and for Huey Lewis and the News, and their live performances caught the attention of one gentleman who went by the name of Prince.
The album's definitely still a lot of fun, with forays into ska-punk ("James"), bebop ("He's Got a Secret") and my personal favorite of all of their songs, "Dover Beach," the world's most perfect blend of T.S. Eliot and the Rickenbacker.
Before their next album, they also contribute a great song to the soundtrack of The Goonies, "I Got Nothing."
Different Light (1986)
The opening track needs no introduction: "Manic Monday." Written by Prince for Susanna Hoffs, it's gotta be one of the most recognizable pop anthems of all time. And yet it's not even the most recognizable pop anthem from Different Light.
Under record company pressure, the band dropped their 60's sound and began producing more contemporary pop songs. So then came "Walk Like an Egyptian." A mixed blessing, the band absolutely hated doing the song, but the record company made them, and the rest is history. It's the first song ever to top the charts that featured an all-female group playing their own instruments, so at least there's that. The song probably redeemed its very existence when it was blasted across Tahrir Square during the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.
The album is a bit of a mixed bag, but again, there are some absolute classics in there. The cover version of Big Star's "September Gurls" is better than the original, with one of the most unique guitar parts ever recorded.
Then there's "Following," which is surely one of the creepiest songs ever written (it's right up there with Tori Amos's "Me And A Gun"). I cannot even imagine how people received this track when they bought the album on the basis of "Manic Monday" or "Walk Like an Egyption." It's just Michael Steele and an acoustic guitar, and what a guitar part. Creepy, creepy. Just listen to it:
Hazy Shade of Winter (1987)
Another of my absolute favorite Bangles songs, the girls went pure rock for their remake of Simon and Garfunkel's "Hazy Shade of Winter." I'm a born and bred S&G fan, but I find the original completely unlistenable compared to the Bangles version. It seems impossible today that such a heavy song was performed by women and still became a massive hit (the only other that comes to mind is The Cranberries' "Zombie").
And so we come to the beginning of the end. The band hired a new producer and recorded the biggest hit of their career, "Eternal Flame." By this time, the working relationships in the band had completely broken down, which is why Everything seems more like a compilation of solo performances by each member than a real band's recording.
It produced a couple more hit singles, but by the end the band were fed up of each other and with the growing media circus around Susanna Hoffs, so the band went bye bye for a while.
The album doesn't have as many standouts as their previous albums, but I'll always have a very soft spot for "I'll Set You Free" and "Something to Believe In".
Break-up and Reunion.
All four continued to perform in various solo guises and with other groups throughout the 90s.
There was a massively successful Greatest Hits, which had a few unreleased tracks on it ("Where Were You When I Needed You" is exceptional). But for all intents and purposes, the band was over.
They were brought back together by a certain rascal by the name of Austin Powers. Susanna Hoff's husband, Jay Roach, directed the films and asked the girls to record a track for it.
Doll Revolution (2003)
Phew. Talk about a hiatus, right? The album was a strange mix of songs written back in the 80s, songs they were performing on their reunion tour, and songs written especially for the album.
The album wasn't really successful, but it had a few good songs nonetheless: "Tear Off Your Own Head," "Stealing Rosemary," "I Will Take Care of You," and "Between the Two." There are a few too many sappy ballads for my liking, but I suppose it's nice to have something after so many years.
Michael Steele left the band soon after, and their new album is coming out in September 2011.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE:
Susanna Hoffs was all about the 12-string Rickenbacker 325/350, so much so that the company issued a Susanna Hoffs special edition. The sound of the guitar is essential to the band's "jangly-pop" sound.
She uses a variety of guitars, most recently Gretsch, but the guitar she gave the most exposure to was the Carvin DC25. The interplay between Vicki's more straightforward rock guitars and Susanna's trebly guitar was key to the band's sound.
Her standard axe was the Fender Precision Bass, though I feel like I've seen her play others as well. Sadly, my bass knowledge isn't as thorough as my guitar knowledge, so please correct me in the comments if there's another instrument she uses more.