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Profile of All-Female '80s Pop Band the Bangles

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Profile of All-Female '80s Pop Band the Bangles Album Cover Image Courtesy of Columbia/Legacy

Overview:

Many listeners may not know that the Bangles began their career as somewhat of a retro garage rock band, employing the jangly guitar sounds of the '60s revivalist Los Angeles movement called the Paisley Underground. These indie tendencies, in fact, clearly distinguished the four-woman quartet from other pop acts of the early '80s until the band shifted to a much more produced and polished pop sound. That adaptation brought the band success but has unfortunately obscured this earlier style.

Core Members:

  • Susannah Hoffs - Lead vocals, guitar, key songwriter
  • Vicki Peterson - Guitar, harmony and lead vocals, key songwriter
  • Debbi Peterson- Drums, harmony vocals
  • Michael Steele - Bass, harmony vocals

Origins & Early Years:

The Bangles formed in 1981 after the Peterson sisters hooked up with Hoffs through a want ad. Initially the trio operated with Annette Zilinskas on bass, but she exited in 1984, just before the release of the band's major label debut, All Over the Place. After adding Steele - formerly a short-term member of the '70s all-girl rock band the Runaways - the Bangles possessed the lineup that would vault them to stardom.

The Bangles - Chart Success Through Compromise:

While the band's first full-length album had its moments and garnered considerable critical praise, it was not until the 1985 release of the blockbuster-to-be Different Light that the Bangles became a household name. Solicited or not, the band received songwriting contributions from Prince ("Manic Monday"), Liam Sternberg (the popular but rather ghastly "Walk Like an Egyptian") and master singer-songwriter Jules Shear (the lovely "If She Knew What She Wants.")

The Beginning of the End:

Perhaps no one knew it at the time, but the promotion of outside songwriters over the in-house talents of Hoffs and Vicki Peterson cast a pall over the Bangles' first taste of success. In addition, it's a telling fact that the only other track from the album that received much attention was "Walking Down Your Street," for which only one band member, Hoffs, shared partial songwriting credit.

The Bangles Enjoy One Last Gasp:

The "too many chefs in the kitchen" trend continued for the Bangles with the band's final release of its initial phase, the blandly titled Everything. The songwriting assistance of former Kiss guitarist Vinnie Vincent is inexplicable, and unfortunately the rather abominable "Eternal Flame" became a No. 1 hit. By this time also, Hoffs had become the band's de facto leader and drew lots of attention for her sexy if girlish appearance and image.

Temporary Flame-Out & Legacy:

A combination of the above factors undoubtedly expedited the band's demise, and that's a shame because, if left to their own devices, the songwriting and vocal strengths of the four Bangles could have continued to evolve on the band's own terms. As it is, though, we're left with a relatively small catalogue from one of the best organically formed, all-female rock bands in pop music history.

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