The Bangles are an American all-female pop rock band that originated in the early 1980s, scoring several hit singles during the decade. The band’s hits include “Walk Like an Egyptian”, “Manic Monday”, “Hazy Shade of Winter”, and the 1989 number-one single “Eternal Flame”.
Formation and early years (1981–1983)
Susanna Hoffs joined sisters Vicki and Debbi Peterson to form a band in Los Angeles in December 1980. The trio called themselves The Bangs.
The band was part of the Los Angeles Paisley Undergroundscene, which featured groups that played a mixture of 1960s-influenced folk rock and jangle pop with a more modern punk–ish/garage band undertone. In 1981, the threesome recorded and released a single (“Getting Out Of Hand” b/w “Call on Me”) on DownKiddie Records (their own label). The trio was signed to Faulty Products, a label formed by Miles Copeland. In 1982, Susanna Hoffs asked long-time friend Patrick Hirtz to manage the band, which he did until his departure in 1986 to pursue a career in the culinary arts.
The early Bangles line-up of Susanna Hoffs (vocals/guitars), Vicki Peterson (guitars/vocals), Debbi Peterson (vocals/drums) and Annette Zilinskas (vocals/bass) recorded an EP in 1982, and released the single “The Real World”. A legal issue forced the band to change their name at the last minute so they dropped “The” and added the letters “les” to the end to become Bangles. Their first EP was retitled Bangles and released. In 1983, Faulty Products issued a 12 inch “remix” single of “The Real World” to radio and media, but another setback came as the label folded. I.R.S. Recordspicked up distribution and re-issued the EP. After Zilinskas left the band to focus on her own project, Blood on the Saddle, she was replaced by Michael Steele,
formerly of the all-girl band The Runaways, Toni & The Movers, Slow Children and Elton Duck.
Career peak (1984–1989)
The Bangles’ full-length debut album on Columbia, All Over the Place (1984), captured their power pop roots, featuring the singles “Hero Takes a Fall” and the Kimberley Rew-penned Beatlesque “Going Down to Liverpool” (originally recorded by Rew’s band Katrina and the Waves). The record received good reviews, and the video for “Liverpool” featured Leonard Nimoy, which helped to generate further publicity. This came about due to a college friendship between Hoffs and Nimoy’s son Adam, now a television producer. They received a much wider audience serving as the opening act for Cyndi Lauper on her Fun tour.
All this went some way to attracting the attention of Prince, who gave them “Manic Monday” originally written for his group Apollonia 6. “Manic Monday” went on to become a No. 2 hit in the US, the UK and Germany, outsold at the time only by another Prince composition, his own “Kiss”. The band’s second album Different Light (1986) was more polished than its predecessor and, with the help of the worldwide No. 1 hit “Walk Like an Egyptian”, saw the band firmly in the mainstream. The song was sent to them in mid-session and the group was divided about whether it would be a failure or a success. When the song was released the group was amazed to discover that it brought them a new audience of female fans, most of them very young. Commented Michael Steele to a Nine-O-One Network Magazine writer: “When I go out now it is usually girls who recognize me.”
There was friction among band members after music industry media began singling out Hoffs as the lead singer of the group, a result of Columbia Records releasing mostly singles on which Hoffs sang lead vocal. In fact, singing duties on the group’s albums were evenly divided among all of the band’s members, all of whom wrote or co-wrote their songs.
Hoffs starred in the 1987 film, The Allnighter, directed by her mother, Tamar Simon Hoffs, and was critically panned. That, and the firing of their manager Miles Copeland III, further exacerbated the dissent. But they soon had another US No. 2 hit with a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “A Hazy Shade of Winter” from the soundtrack of the film Less Than Zero, and the melancholic “If She Knew What She Wants”, written by Jules Shear, reached the U.S. Top 30 and the German Top 20.
1988’s Everything was produced by Davitt Sigerson as the band had a negative reaction to working with David Kahne onDifferent Light. The album was another multi-platinum hit and included the top five hit “In Your Room” as well as their biggest-selling single, the soft ballad “Eternal Flame”. Co-writer Billy Steinberg came up with the title after Susanna Hoffs told him about the band’s recent trip to Memphis, Tennessee with local friend and former manager Patrick Hirtz. The group visited Graceland, Elvis Presley’s estate in Memphis, Tennessee. An “Eternal Flame” in memoriam to Presley is maintained on the site, but on the day the band visited, the flame had gone out and its clear-plastic enclosure was flooded. When they asked what was in the box, they were told, “That’s the eternal flame”. The single became another worldwide hit.
Hoffs was actually naked when she recorded the song, after being convinced by Sigerson that Olivia Newton-John got her amazing performances by recording everything while naked.
The working relationships within the band had broken down, and the members went their separate ways shortly after. Hoffs began a solo career and Vicki Peterson toured as a member of the Go-Go’s and the Continental Drifters.
Hoffs released a solo album When You’re a Boy, produced by former Bangles producer David Kahne. The album spawned a minor hit “My Side of the Bed”, and a Cyndi Lauper penned “Unconditional Love”, but it stalled, and Hoffs was dropped from Columbia during the recording of her second solo album. The second solo album Susanna Hoffs, released in 1996, fared better critically, but it too had disappointing sales.
Hoffs married film director Jay Roach (Austin Powers and Meet the Parents), and their union led to the Bangles’ reunion of 2000, after Roach asked Hoffs and Vicki Peterson to write a song for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Vicki Peterson joined and contributed songs to the New Orleans band the Continental Drifters, which received rave reviews. Debbi Peterson had a short-lived career with Siobhan Maher under the name of Kindred Spirit. Steele had been promised by Columbia that they would back her own foray into a solo career once the Bangles disbanded. However, nothing came of it and it was suspected that it was a ploy to hasten the dissolution of the band and launch Hoffs’ solo career. Michael lived in semi-retirement in California, emerging to briefly work with the bands Crash Wisdom and an even shorter stint with the semi-punk group Eyesore.
The Bangles performing at The House of Blues in Cleveland, Ohio, August 30, 2007
The band started drifting back together in 1998. and officially re-formed to record a song for the soundtrack of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, at the behest of the film’s director (and Hoffs’ husband) Jay Roach.
The song chosen for the album was “Get The Girl” and was released in 1999. The reunion continued with a tour in 2000. Later the same year, the group was also inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. From 2001–2002, they were in the studio recording the album Doll Revolution. The album, featuring such songs as “Stealing Rosemary”, “Ride the Ride”, “Nickel Romeo”, and the single “Something That You Said”, was released in early 2003. The title track, which was written by Elvis Costello, was originally recorded for his 2002 album When I Was Cruel. Doll Revolution was a solid comeback success in Germany after the Bangles had performed in Germany’s biggest television show Wetten dass, but failed to make any impact in other markets such as the UK, the U.S. and Australia. In July 2004, the Bangles were made Companions of the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts.
In 2005, the Bangles announced the departure of Michael Steele who left due to artistic disputes over touring and recording. Steele was replaced by touring bassist Abby Travis for live appearances. On December 31, 2005, the group performed “Hazy Shade of Winter” in front of Times Square and later “Eternal Flame” as part of Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve 2006. August 2007 saw the release of their first official live DVD, Return to Bangleonia – Live in Concert.
In 2008, the band toured the US with dates in Las Vegas, Louisiana, Austin, Glasgow, and Ojai. Further dates included shows in Germany, the Netherlands, and at the popular Cornbury Festival in Oxfordshire, England.
In the spring of 2009, the Bangles returned to the studio to begin work on a new album entitled Sweetheart of the Sunwhich was released on September 27, 2011. The band went on tour in late 2011 in support of it, with dates on the East Coast, Midwest, and West Coast. Openers for the various dates include rock band Antigone Rising and power pop band A Fragile Tomorrow.
In December 2013, The Bangles played two nights with three other reunited Paisley Underground bands — The Dream Syndicate, The Three O’Clock, and Rain Parade — at The Fillmore in San Francisco (Dec. 5) and The Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles (Dec. 6 benefit concert). Their set list focused on their early material, with remarks from the band at the beginning of the Fillmore show that they were going to be playing songs that they hadn’t played in 30 years. In January 2014 they performed at the Whisky a Go Go in West Hollywood, CA in celebration of The Whisky’s 50th anniversary. Their set included “Walk Like an Egyptian.”
In popular culture
The Bangles in Sydney, 2010
The Bangles have contributed to several compilations, as well as to many other artists’ works: They provided the song “I Got Nothing” to the soundtrack album for the 1985 film The Goonies, and made a cameo appearance in Cyndi Lauper’s music video for “Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough”. Lauper later enlisted them for backup vocals in her 1986 hit song “Change of Heart”. In 1988, while recording his albumFull Moon Fever, Tom Petty and his lead guitarist Mike Campbell called on the group to provide backing vocals for the song “Waiting for Tonight”. The song never made it to the album, but instead made the compilations Playback (1995) andAnthology: Through the Years (2000). A cover version of “Eternal Flame” was a 2001 UK No. 1 for Atomic Kitten.
In February 2001, the first-season Gilmore Girls episode “Concert Interruptus” involved a trip to see a Bangles concert, and featured cameos and music by the band. There were also several references to the Bangles throughout the rest of the series; Lorelei expresses how much she likes the band on multiple occasions while Paris states that she “really likes” the band, and tells Rory that the concert was the best night of her life.
Excerpts of the songs “Hero Takes a Fall” and “Eternal Flame” were featured in the concert that the Gilmore party attended. The band covered the Beatles hit “Good Day Sunshine” for the 2006 album All Together Now: Beatles Stuff for Kids of All Ages. Several artists have referred to the Bangles in their own songs. The Saw Doctors include an irreverent tribute to them, “I’d Love to Kiss the Bangles”, on their 2003 album Play It Again Sham!.
The song “Walk Like an Egyptian” was used as the ending theme song for the 2014 anime adaption of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders.
• Susanna Hoffs – lead and harmony vocals, rhythm guitar(1981–1989, 1999–)
• Debbi Peterson – lead and harmony vocals, drums, acoustic guitar, percussion (1981–1989, 1999–)
• Vicki Peterson – lead and harmony vocals, lead guitar(1981–1989, 1999–)
• Annette Zilinskas – bass guitar, harmonica (1981–1983)
• Michael Steele – lead and harmony vocals, bass guitar, acoustic guitar (1983–1989, 1999–2005)
• Abby Travis – bass guitar (2005–2008
• All Over the Place (1984)
• Different Light (1986)
• Everything (1988)
• Doll Revolution (2003)
• Sweetheart of the Sun (2011)