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The Bangles - the Band

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Four-piece rock band, formed in Los Angeles in 1981. Members include:

  • Susanna Hoffs (rhythm guitar, vocals)

  • Debbi Peterson (drums, acoustic guitar, vocals)

  • Vicki Peterson (lead guitar, mandolin, vocals)

  • Michael Steele (bass, guitar, vocals)


The Bangles became one of the best-known chart bands in the 1980s thanks to their numerous hits, particularly the big three of 'Eternal Flame', 'Walk Like An Egyptian' and 'Manic Monday'. It is these three songs that are often most controversial among fans; they are considered by some to be unrepresentative and overly-commercial, and it's a moot point that only 'Eternal Flame' was co-written by a member of the band. Certainly, there is a gulf between these 1980s pop hits and some of the other music the band has produced, ranging from folk-rock to punk and power-pop.

The Bangles' influence on other musicians is considerable. Many current musicians (particularly female) cite the Bangles as their inspiration to pick up a guitar. Their songs have been covered on numerous occasions, most notably by Liverpool vocal group Atomic Kitten, who scored a #1 hit with 'Eternal Flame' in 2001. And who could forget the Saw Doctors' infamous track 'I Want To Kiss The Bangles'?!

From garage beginnings in the early 1980s, through polished pop perfection and a 1989 breakup, the story of the Bangles was dramatic enough to be the subject of a VH1 'Behind the Music' in 2000. After a decade apart, the Bangles are now back together, recording and touring again. Their latest album 'Doll Revolution' was released in 2003 and produced a UK Top 40 hit single, 'Something That You Said'.


The story of the Bangles began in the December of 1980. Susanna Hoffs, a young guitarist from a posh suburb of Los Angeles saw an ad in a newspaper for a singer/guitarist. The ad had been placed by one Amanda Hills. On phoning the number in the ad Susanna got through to Vicki Peterson, Amanda's roomate. Susanna and Vicki immediately hit it off on a musical and personal level, and both were moved by the assasination of John Lennon the day before. Before long, Susanna and Vicki had met up and were rehearsing with Vicki's sister, drummer Debbi Peterson. The Peterson sisters had been part of numerous bands, but it was to be this band, the Supersonic Bangs (later the Bangles) that would bring them the success they wanted.

With Susanna on rhythm guitar, Vicki on lead guitar, Debbi on drums and Vicki and Debbi playing the bass between them, the embryonic Bangles saved up $800 and recorded and released their first single. The A-side, 'Getting Out of Hand' got played on local radio, most notably the legendery Rodney Bingeheimer1 show on K-ROQ. The band still did not have a bassist however, so another ad was placed and Annette Zilinskas was recruited. This new four-piece were signed to Faulty Records, a division of IRS records, the then-home of LA's other female rock band, the Go-Go's. Whilst with Faulty, they recorded a 5-track EP, which included songs such as 'Want You' and 'Mary Street', considered to this day by fans as classic material. A tour followed, but the audiences were rough. Worse was to come when bassist Annette left the band. However, a new bassist was waiting in the wings, and big things were about to happen to the Bangles.

The Columbia Years

Michael Steele, originally from Newport Beach, south-east of Los Angeles, had become a big fan of the Bangles from the club shows as part of the 'Paisley Underground', LA's underground club scene. Michael had been part of the Runaways, but with that project leaving her cold she retreated from the music scene somewhat. She returned to Los Angeles eventually however, and after playing in various bands joined the Bangles.

Soon after Michael's arrival the band were signed to Columbia Records. They set about recording their first full-length album, All Over the Place. They worked with the producer David Kahne, who had previously produced a radio-play remix of 'The Real World', a song from the Bangles' debut EP. All Over the Place was mostly made up of Bangles compositions, but included a few choice covers, most notably the the sublime 'Going Down To Liverpool', written by Kimberley Rew of Katrina and the Waves fame. The album was a hit on American college radio, the Bangles played some monumentally good club shows in the UK and definite waves of interest were being created. The band, however, were unhappy with their producer, and things only got worse when they worked with him again on their second album, Different Light.

The 'difficult second album' catapulted the Bangles into worldwide fame. The Prince-penned opening track 'Manic Monday' became one of the most memorable songs of the year (helped by untrue rumours of a romance between Prince and Susanna). 'Walk Like An Egyptian' became the 1986 Christmas number 1 in the USA and even now is still part of popular culture. Different Light sounded quite different from All Over the Place. Keyboards and very polished production were increasingly dominant, seen by many fans as a negative. Despite these reservations, it is on this album that some of the band's most exquisite work can be found - the definitive cover of Big Star's 'September Gurls', 'If She Knew What She Wants' with its harmony vocals and the startlingly effective and simple ballad 'Following'. 'September Gurls' and 'Following' were Michael's first stab at lead vocals on a Bangles record, with leads on the first album being shared out between Susanna, Debbi and Vicki only.

After ditching producer David Kahne for good, the Bangles recorded a cover of the Simon and Garfunkle classic 'Hazy Shade of Winter' for the B-movie Less Than Zero. This new interpretation with a hard rock lead guitar went down well, being a top 5 hit in the USA, and going top 15 in the UK. The band then settled on producer Davitt Sigerson for their third album, to be titled Everything. The Everything sessions produced a mixed bag of songs, all very good but differing in styles. The most famous was undoubtedly 'Eternal Flame', ostensibly un-Bangly but undeniably a lovely song. The more rock-oriented Bangles old-style tracks 'Everything I Wanted' and 'What I Meant To Say' went unreleased and appeared later as B-sides and bonus tracks, perhaps confirming the direction in which the band, or parts of the band, were moving. These differing styles were a bad omen of what was ahead. It's often focused on, perhaps unfairly, that the feeling of unease over Susanna Hoffs being seen as the centre of attention was the catalyst for the break-up. Different band members had different opinions, and the stresses of recording and touring took their toll. Combined with an alleged plot by management to break up the band to ring-fence Susanna as a solo artist, the lawyers were called and the band split up.

The 1990s

The band went their separate ways. Susanna's solo career had been planned for a while, and after the Bangles' retrospective Greatest Hits album had left the charts Susanna's solo debut When You're A Boy was released. Although moderately successful it was far from the massive success many had expected. The generic pop gloss on many songs did not appeal to Bangles diehards and there were no killer songs to hook new listeners. After getting married and having kids, Susanna recorded a second album in 1996, titled simply Susanna Hoffs. Almost universally adored, this album which featured collaborations with Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse and Charlotte Caffey of the Go-Go's included some simply exquisite ballads, driving rock numbers and great pop (including a cover of Lulu's 'To Sir With Love'). The personal lyrics and genuine sound without the keyboard overproduction meant the album was appealing to many fans. Again, commercial success was not massive but the track 'All I Want' from this album was a top 40 hit in the UK.

Debbi Peterson eventually teamed up with Siobhan Maher, former lead singer of Liverpool band River City People. They named themselves Kindred Spirit and released a self-titled album in 1995. Considered by some to be the best of the post-Bangles work, its fresh acoustic arrangements, stylish modern production and exquisite harmonies made it a joy to listen to.

Vicki Peterson moved to New Orleans to become part of the Continental Drifters, a 'supergroup' made up of many respected musicians. Their four albums (on one of which Vicki was only a guest and not a full-time member) are highly regarded in the world of roots/Americana/country/folk-rock music. Vicki's songs were among the best the band recorded.

Michael Steele moved to Northern California for a quieter life, where she could indulge her interests more than in LA. She is the only Bangle who didn't release any solo material in the 90s.

The Return

Susanna was initially the most keen to reunite the Bangles, and eventually the other band members were persuaded. The spy comedy 'Austin Powers' was the unlikely driving force behind the Bangles reunion. Susanna's husband was the director, and asked Susanna to write a song for the soundtrack. That song became 'Get The Girl' and that song was performed by the Bangles. Things developed from there, with the band writing and rehearsing together once more. A short club tour in 2000 was a success, and the band began recording their comeback album. This album was finally released in the Spring of 2003 to much acclaim from fans old and new, and music critics around the world. Doll Revolution failed to ignite the charts, but there is still considerable interest in the band. In 2003 the band played to sold out houses across the UK and Europe, and continue to tour the USA (and possibly Europe during 2004). Their old record company, now part of Sony Music, continue to release Bangles hits packages, and the band is still much loved by many people, be they 80s fans or people who have joined the 'Doll Revolution'.

Further Reading

The Bangles Official Website

The Bangles Discography

1A man who was to play a important part in breaking the Bangles early on.

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