at the end of 2003 I had a look at my 'old' videotape collection.
I go through this small collection without fail every couple
of years, catching TV series' that I taped believing that I
would watch them again. I was shrewd in my selections, and I
can enjoy repeats of The Sandbaggers,
Danger UXB, I,
Claudius, or Brideshead Revisited
until the tapes wear out. Some of these videotapes were made
on a RCA Victor VCR with the top loader and enough electronics
to give you a sore back if you tried to move the machine without
thinking about what you were on about.
Whilst delighting in Emperor Clau Clau Claudius' I happened
upon a piece of 'older tape' that an upcoming vid. was taped
after that yielded far more of a reward than did the outcome
itself, which was a bit more Jacobi mutterings. It was the closing
credits of a pop video program and the song was Eternal
Flame by The Bangles. I don't remember the song having
made any sort of impression on me back when it came out, but
here it was, fresh as it will always be, a platinum song.
Thrilled with Eternal Flame, I copied the unbelievably low
rez LP speed Bangles song into a WAV file and I listened to
it on the computer, using Media Player to loop it continuously,
volume adjusted by yours and co. according to mood. I found
that applied liberally, the song improved most of what other
sounds there were invading my head at any moment around the
TV, particularly bad television advertising.
The last time I got thrilled by a song delivered to me
over TV was when I hear Sarah Michelle Gellar sing for
the first time. If a movie of Gellar the pop star is ever
made, I propose that Sarah Harmer play Sarah.
Although I have not gone on to purchase the Buffy
Soundtrack, I did decide to take the step that record
company types hope that I will take in instances of such obvious
fandom after my Bangles experience. I went down into the city
and visited Mr. Sam The Record Man
and purchased some carrier with the song. I had hoped to find
the definitive CD of all three Bangles albums, but no deal.
What I brought home turned out to be an excellent second option,
as it is a consolidation of their singles onto one piece of
Greatest Hits compilations vary in greatness from the indisputable
to the descriptive, such as Beatles 1
and the Bangles CD that I purchased. What works most for me
is an album that meets its description but lets in some of the
details. In this instance, I'm interested in what this CD offered
me that I wouldn't have gotten anywhere else to my knowledge.
I wouldn't have been exposed to Be With
You (which tanked as a single) or Everything
I Wanted (incredibly, it was left off Everything,
their third album). This would have made all of the world of
difference to me in my subsequent inquiry into the life and
times of this band.
You see, The Bangles didn't make much of an impression on my
when their music was on the radio. How a song like Eternal Flame
would have passed me by is beyond me. It has all of the elements
that make a song platinum and I never miss these kinds of things.
Actually, I do miss... I missed on Paula Abdul with Blowing
Kisses in the Wind. I listened to the song a little while
ago and I still puzzle on how it could not have been a hit.
On the other hand, tiny gem Be With You
should never have been issued as a single. Doubtless the management
knew it. It is a great power rock anthem-song and I'm sure it
went over well live. Since its production values are so straight,
it should have been treated as a B side and recorded live. The
live bit would have appealed to the Japanese who would have
treated it as a double A side. Plus, most importantly to those
who know something about The Bangles' painful past, it would
have helped put to rest the stupid idea that they couldn't play
It takes little reading to discover that the Bangles had a
tortuous relationship with their producers. I had only visit
Google's #2 rated Bangles site
to discover how cruel the music business gets on the other side
of the Payola door. Talk of robbing the lead vocal role from
Debbie Perterson (Walk Like an Egyptian)
chilled. Suddenly record album making goes to hell and, sorry.
I have been around recording enough to see the good and the
bad sessions. I have seen bands fight over how much time should
be spent on what. But in my experience of things, it was always
a band fight. The Bangles look to be victims of machismo producer
weight lifters and I would knock the filthy lot all the more
but for my certain understanding that often the producers are
right and by all indications, there's platinum here. Does this
mean that I think Walk Like an Egyptian wouldn't have been a
hit without Suzanna Hoffs and Michael Steele? Yes. There's just
something about the cops hanging out in donut shops being sung
so coyly by Sue.
The Bangles released three albums in the 1980's, the first
being titled All Over The Place.
I didn't listen to the radio much in 1984, so Hero
Takes A Fall, the opening track, was completely fresh
to me. Although it is described as being part of a first edgy
phase, I hear nothing but the production finesse of David Kahne
who owns a slice of Walking Down Your
Street, track 4 of Greatest Hits,
less than a hit, but platinum, platinum... Am I missing something
here? Walking Down Your Street at the very least belongs on
the soundtrack of a romantic comedy somewhere.
Going Down To Liverpool was the
first slice of Bangles that meant something to me. I was familiar
with the song, having met Katrina Leskanich and bandmates the
waves when her band toured Montreal in 1984. I was employed
by PolyGram then, and it distributed the label that katrina
and the waves' album Walking On
Sunshine came out on, Attic Records. Some of the braver,
younger PolyGrammers ventured out. Katrina, like the majority
of the members of The Bangles', is tall and leggy. As this writer
is six foot two, Katrina was not too imposing. She thought I
was fine looking, and I felt the same.
But you need only listen to the waves version to understand
how it would be the template, on the one hand, but every bit
an indication that it was an unfinished song compared to the
version that the Bangles put out. There is just something about
four part harmony. Four voices have it over one every time.
On the other hand, there are time's when Katrina's boyish edge
gets to me, so maybe it's a toss-up. The sparer version wins
some of the time.
The great value to popular music culture of artists like the
Bangles, or The Beach Boys, with five-six-seven part harmonies,
is the richness of voice assembled. One of the most rewarding
attributes of American pop today is the proliferation of vocal
ensembles. It wasn't quite the same back in the 1980's when
The Bangles were popular. At that time, lead and backup was
far more literal when applied in the recording studio. A Capella
and Barbershop are all over the place now, but back in 1990
you could only find it on The Bangles Greatest Hits, most especially
for the "electric" Everything
I Wanted. Think angularities like the Beach Boys' Friends,
20/20, or Sunflower,
a window from 1968 to 1970. You could take the song and slice
it in to the Beach Boys' catalogue and say it was a Dennis Wilson
solo recording right down to the point where my audion-based
sound system's 100dB plus dynamic range gets through to me...
Only the daughter of an analyst could sing about Monday with
manic attached. I can think of two less attractive word when
combined with work. Ugh. The exact opposite of Friday night,
which is expressed by Everything I Wanted. I listen to the song,
which didn't catch my attention much when it came out (radio
or lack of), but I certainly heard it. It is such a despondent
song, one where the singer shares her weariness, and in a sense,
lack of preparedness in facing her first work day. The work
day in turn, is hitting her like a manic person. That hurts.
If I imagine myself Prince and I am writing Manic
Monday for the Bangles, I might have been inspired
by listening to the group perform Where
Were You When I Needed You? There is such a congruence
to the range that the band brings to this song. There
is something about the way that Sue sings "you couldn't
wait" that makes me want to write a song that is
Like Satisfaction but far
more detailed, Manic Monday gets pulled by a leering Davies,
who sings You Can't Win.
Often when I am about to play Greatest
Hits, it is because one of the songs, If
She Knew What She Wants happens to be playing on my cranial
system and I think, that's fun, and I flick the switch on my
one-of-a-kind tube amp that amplifies the Quad ELS electrostatic
loudspeakers that were manufactured in 1957, around when the
future Bangles were being born. It is a momentous event, signaling
that the four channel ambient system that is powered by Scott
solid state is being supplanted by life consuming thermionic
energy and it's worth it.
Were I to have met The Bangles, I think I would have gotten
to know Michael the most readily. There's something about the
way she smiles that tells me that her collection of spirits
would coincide well with my own. There's also the matter of
Following, a song that has as much
to do with The Bangles as Eternal Flame does, and that's great
because that flex got it on to Greatest Hits where it makes
it as an interlude and as a moment to be drawn into Michael's
quiet, complicated life. I suppose I find some strong links
to my own music, when I listen to Following.
If Everything I Wanted is Friday
night, then In Your Room is certainly
Friday evening, on the way over. It is, like Everything... the
antithesis of Manic Monday; a role reverser. For if Manic Monday
is an expression of the weariness that can come from dealing
with somebody else's exuberance and impatience, In Your Room
is filled the jump on your bed excitement that you get the night
before your trip to El Dorado. Throw in a bit of an organ trill
and you end up with a song that will trip the light fantastic
in a spin alongside Saturday Night's All
Right For Fighting, or, Crocodile
Rock by Elton John.
One clear miss on Greatest Hits
is I'll Set You Free. Had I been
the executive in charge of the producer I would have called
him up and told him to redo the beginning to "take out
the opening refrain." It's a very bad idea to do a song
this way. It's an incredible risk to do a refrain opening, especially
with lyrics. Songs have to segue with others, and songs need
to start. I'm tempted to edit the song, but not sufficiently.
(Confession. I do it often. I 'eq' bad recordings and fix bad
mixes. My audio strategy eschews tone controls. Abdul's Blowing
Kisses... has a saturated treble, it hazes the soundfield, etc.
The cassette's analog attenuation negated these issues, but
at the expense of the soundstage, as even the best cassette
transcription will suffer from wow and flutter. So, for aesthetic
reasons, a digital remaster and recut was called for, and the
song sits on one of my pop-disco mix cd's from yonder. It's
full of ABBA and Bee Gees and it is the disc to spin when the
I'll Set You Free is filled with
a gentle chagrin that The Bangles handle so well. Their protagonists
aren't the winners, but are rather those more ordinary people
who have plenty of time for introspection and perhaps to empty
rooms say good-bye, long after its occupants have left. Hazy
Shade of Winter seems as much a Bangles song as it does
a Simon and Garfunkel song because its motif finds such resonance
in the other songs on the band's playlist.
There aren't that many all woman bands out there that recorded
in what I will call the rock "era" that started in
the mid 1950's and stretched into the 1980's. The Bangles were
a "mod" band and at parties I'm sure there was a feminist
coterie that crowded the DJ to see to it that he played a song
and in addition to Lene Lovich, there would have been a Bangles
coterie. It isn't really necessary to do so any more, since
women dominate in pop today and there are many remarkable singing
teams out there thanks to hip hop and rap. But for all of the
excellence of the artists of the moment, none are really any
better at singing together than the Bangles are on Greatest
Hits, and I don't expect that they should want to be, because
there's plenty of room at the top, and being great is good enough.
The Bangles do the four-part harmony thing again these days.
The band went its separate ways back around the time Greatest
Hits was released, but were rebanded by Hoffs to do film work.
During the past couple of years The Bangles have spent time
on stage being appreciated in Europe and Japan.