At the height of their fame, the Bangles appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone and opened for Queen; ten years later, they had faded into relative obscurity and remain synonymous with eighties new-wave pop stardom. Originally a neo-folkish Southern California act, the Bangles rose to prominence with a passel of songs written for them that they were savvy enough to brand with their own stamp. The doe-eyed prettiniess and solo ambitions of lead singer Susanna Hoffs spelled doom for the ensemble, however, and they disbanded before the decade ended.
The Bangles formed in 1981 when Hoffs, a recent University of California at Berkeley graduate, answered a classified ad in a Los Angeles-area newspaper for musicians interested in the Beatles, Byrds, and Buffalo Springfield. Hoffs had done some experimental music while studying art in college, and found when she met the two sisters who had placed the ad, Debbi and Vicki Peterson, that they had much in common. All three, plus a bass player named Annette Zilinskas, were products of suburban Southern California and shared a love of girl-group harmonies combined with sharp, melodic guitars. The called themselves the Supersonic Bangs, then changed it to the Bangs, and put out a single on a label they formed themselves.
Another group was already using the “Bangs” name, so the quartet metamorphed once more into the Bangles. Vicki Peterson’s guitar talent emerged as the glue behind their sound, a style she had honed in the late 1970s playing in a band called the Fans. Initially the Bangles mixed some early songwriting forays with covers of Sixties classics for their live shows, but it was the novelty of an all-female act that attracted rabid fans, not their versions of Bob Dylan songs. Young men used to follow them into the bathroom so they could watch them change. Things improved somewhat when they signed a management deal with Miles Copeland of IRS Records, and were booked to open for the Beat (later known as the English Beat). Faulty Products, an 1RS subsidiary that soon went under, released the EP The Bangles in June of 1982. Despite the business setback, the EP helped the band secure a deal with CBS/Columbia Records in 1983. They were considered part of the “Paisley Revival,” a reflowering of the flower-power era that was sweeping the Southern California music scene.
Bassist Zilinskas dropped out around 1983, and was replaced by Michael Steele, formerly with the seminal punk band the Runaways. The Bangles’ first full-length album was released in August of 1984, and the big money behind their label meant a big-money producer, David Kahne (responsible, among other million-sellers, for Sugar Ray’s 1997 hit “Fly”). All Over the Place sold a respectable number of copies and was roundly praised by critics. The Trouser Press Record Guide asserted it had “everything a pop album needs: exceptional harmony vocals, catchy, memorable and intelligenttunes and a full dose of rock ‘n’ roll guitar energy.”
The Bangles’ follow-up, however, would place them in chart history. The Artist FormerlyKnown as Prince liked their sound so much he sent them a tape, and the band recorded one of its tracks and released it as a single in March of 1986. “Manic Monday” soon hit number two on the U.S. singles charts, and the album it was included on, Different Light also reached the number two spot on the album charts. Another single, “If She Knew What She Wants,” written for them by Jules Shear, also charted, though not as spectacularly as its predecessor. “When we approach a song we didn’t write, we want to Banglesize it,” Vicki Peterson told Time’s Jay Cocks, who then explained to readers that to “Banglesize” involves “working out an arrangement that rocks hard but falls short of a sonic mugging, then concentrating on a vocal sounds that seems to have floated from a car radio lost somewhere in the ’60s ozone.” Not all critics found Different Light to their liking, however: People reviewer David Hiltbrand skewered Different Light— in comparison to their first record—and declared that it provides evidence that the quartet “have neither the talent nor the density of expression to get away with a very weighty approach.”
Members include Susanna Hoffs (born January 17, 1957, Newport Beach, CA; daughter of Joshua [a psychoanalyst] and Tamar Simon [a screenwriter and film director] Hoffs; received degree in art from the University of California at Berkeley, 1980; married M. Jay Roach [a television producer]; children: Jackson), rhythm guitar, lead vocals; Debbi Peterson (born August 22, 1961, Los Angeles, CA), drums, vocals; Vicki Peterson (born January 11, 1958, Los Angeles, CA; daughter of an aerospace engineer and a home-maker; attended the University of California at Los Angeles for two years), lead guitar, vocals; Annette Zilinskas (born November 6, 1964, Van Nuys, CA), bass; Zilinskas was replaced by Michael Steele (born June 2, 1954; daughter of a businessperson and homemaker) in 1983, bass and vocals.
Formed in 1981 as the Supersonic Bangs; changed name to Bangs; released “Getting Out of Hand” on Downkiddie, December 1981; changed name to Bangles, January 1982; signed with 1RS subsidiary Faulty Products and were booked to open for the English Beat; signed to CBS/Columbia Records, 1983; “Manic Monday” reached number two on U.S. singles charts in 1986; released final LP Everything, December 1988; disbanded September 1989.
Awards: BRIT Award for Best International Group, 1987.
Address: Record company—Columbia Records, 2100 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 94040, (310) 449–2100.
Despite the sniping, the Bangles were an instant success with the media: simultaneously quip-worthy and photogenic. Meanwhile, their male fan base had swelled to international proportions. “We’re the female version of Wham!” Steele told People magazine in 1986; that same year Time magazine devoted an entire page to the Bangles, where Cocks praised them for “a sensual appeal that is insinuating and disarming at once.” Yet their final coup on Different Light came in late 1986 with a third single, “Walk Like an Egyptian.” It was a song that Toni Basil (of 1982 “Mickey” fame) had turned it down. Done by the Bangles, it spent four weeks at number one on the U.S. charts.
The Bangles’ fall from grace began in the spring of 1987 with the release of The Allnighter, a B-movie written, produced, and directed by Tamar Simon Hoffs, Susanna’s mother. Scenes of the Bangles lead singer cavorting naked in one scene brought snickers from the music establishment, and the film bombed at the box-office despite its star attraction. Yet once more, the band found success with a song they had not written, the Simon & Garfunkel classic “Hazy Shade of Winter.” It was a single released on the Def Jam label, and was part of the soundtrack to the 1987 film Less Than Zero, adapted from the novel of the same name about jaded California youth. The Bangles’version hit number two in February of 1988. Later that year, their final LP, Everything, was released with nowhere near the success of its predecessor. One song co-written by Hoffs, “In Your Room,” did well on the charts, as did “Eternal Flame,” which she also co-wrote.
In the summer of 1989, the group released the compilation Greatest Hits, then called it quits. It was widely assumed that Hoffs’ wish to pursue a solo career was behind the split, but she has enjoyed little success since. In 1991 she released When You’re a Boy (a nod to the 1979 David Bowie song “Boys Keep Swinging”), which did somewhat better on the British charts (number 56) than it did on the U.S. (number 83), later contributed a cut to the soundtrack to the film Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and released Susanna Hoffs in 1996. Like her first effort, it was overwhelmingly ignored, though Entertainment Weekly did call Hoffs “a throat lozenge in a world of jagged little pills.”
The other Bangles members are still involved in the music industry. Vicki Peterson plays in the Continental Drifters, and took Charlotte Caffey’s place in the 1994 Go-Go reunion tour. Her sister Debbi recorded with Kindred Spirit and Siobhan Maher. Steele has been involved in a musical project called Eyesore. Hoffs has since married a television producer and in 1995 the couple had a son, Jackson. The Bangles have no plans to reunite.
“Getting out of Hand” (single), Downkiddie, 1981.
Bangles (EP), Faulty, 1982.
All Over the Place, Columbia, 1984.
Different Light, Columbia, 1985.
Everything, Columbia, 1988.
The Bangles Greatest Hits, Columbia, 1990.
Rees, Dafydd and Luke Crampton, Encyclopedia of Rock Stars, DK Publishing, 1996.
Weisbard, Eric with Craig Marks (editors), Spin Alternative Record Guide, Vintage Books, 1995.
Entertainment Weekly, September 27, 1996, p. 30.
People, February 10, 1986, p. 22; April 28, 1986, pp. 52–54; June 8, 1987, pp. 46–47.
Time, April 14, 1986, p. 98.
http://ubl.com (The Ultimate Band List)
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