Bangles Biography

Formerly known as the Colours, the Bangs and finally the Bangles, this all-female Los Angeles quartet mastered the art of melodic west coast guitar-based pop and, like the Go-Go’s immediately before them, led the way for all-female outfits in the latter half of the 80s. The band was formed in 1981 and originally comprised Susanna Hoffs (17 January 1959, Newport Beach, California, USA; guitar/vocals), Debbi Peterson (b. Deborah Peterson, 22 August 1961, San Fernando Valley, Northridge, California, USA; drums/vocals), Vicki Peterson (b. Victoria Anne Theresa Peterson, 11 January 1958, Northridge, California, USA; guitar/vocals) and Annette Zilinskas (bass/vocals). They emerged from the Paisley Underground scene that spawned bands such as Rain Parade and Dream Syndicate.

The Bangles’ first recordings were made on their own Downkiddie label and then for Miles Copeland’s Faulty Products set-up, which resulted in a flawed self-titled mini-album. On signing to the major CBS Records label in 1983, the line-up had undergone a crucial change. Zilinskas departed (later to join Blood On The Saddle) and was replaced by former Runaways member Michael Steele (b. Susanne Thomas, 2 June 1956, Newport Beach, California, USA; bass/vocals). Their superb debut single, ‘Hero Takes A Fall’, failed to chart, and an interpretation of Kimberley Rew’s song ‘Going Down To Liverpool’ just scraped into the UK listing. The idea of four glamorous middle class American girls singing about trotting down to a labour exchange in Liverpool with their UB40 cards, was both bizarre and quaint. The Bangles’ energetic and harmonious style showed both a grasp and great affection for 60s pop with their Beatles and Byrds -like sound. Again they failed to chart, although their sparkling 1985 debut album, All Over The Place, scraped into the US chart.

Following regular live work the Bangles built up a strong following, although it was not until the US/UK number 2 hit single ‘Manic Monday’, written by Prince, and the huge success of Different Light that they won a wider audience. The media, meanwhile, were picking out the highly photogenic Hoffs as the leader of the band. This sowed the seeds of dissatisfaction within the line-up that would later come to a head. Both album and single narrowly missed the tops of the US and UK charts, and throughout 1986 the Bangles could do no wrong. Their gorgeous interpretation of Jules Shear’s ‘If She Knew What She Wants’ showed touches of mid-60s Mamas And The Papas, while ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ (composed by former Rachel Sweet svengali Liam Sternberg) was pure 80s quirkiness and gave the band a US number 1/UK number 3 hit. The unusual choice as a cover version of the Simon And Garfunkel song ‘Hazy Shade Of Winter’, which was featured in the movie Less Than Zero, gave them a US number 2 hit in 1988.

The Bangles’ third album, Everything, offered another collection of classy pop that generated the hit singles ‘In Your Room’ (US number 5, 1988) and the controversial ‘Eternal Flame’ in the spring of 1989, which gave the band a transatlantic number 1. Both these songs featured lead vocals from Hoffs, but ‘Eternal Flame’ was viewed by the other band members as an unnecessary departure from the Bangles’ modus operandi, with its use of string backing and barely any instrumental contribution from them. Rather than harking back to the 60s the song was reminiscent of the early to mid-70s pop ballads of Michael Jackson and Donny Osmond. It also once again compounded the illusion in the public’s eye that the Bangles was Hoffs’ band. The year that had started so well for the band was now disintegrating into internal conflict. ‘Be With You’ and ‘I’ll Set You Free’ failed to emulate their predecessors’ success, and by the end of the year the decision was made to dissolve the Bangles.

Susanna Hoffs embarked on a lukewarm solo career, while the remaining members failed to make any impact with their respective projects. They re-formed in 2000 for live dates and had further exposure in 2001 when Atomic Kitten took their cover version of ‘Eternal Flame’ to the top of the UK charts. A credible new studio album, Doll Revolution, followed in 2003.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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