Happy Memorial Day to all, especially those current troops out there in addition to those veterans of the US military. I am the first male in my family to have never been a military man, but I have very close relatives and friends who have been recently fighting for the freedoms that I take for granted on a daily basis. Personally, I’d love to take war away and make everyone play in a basketball tournament to settle things that way, but I’m a crazy progressive.
Back in the Eighties, those of us who were coming of age during that decade were beginning to see bands that were racially-integrated, bands composed of Mexican-Americans, rock bands consisting of African-Americans, funk/rap bands whose members were white and even all-female bands. Music was beginning to be up for grabs by everyone! Finally, we were witnessing democracy in rock music, and it was better for it.
And, even though female rock stars like Pat Benatar, the leaders of Heart, The Go-Go’s, Joan Jett, Lita Ford, Bangles, among many others were popping up everywhere and were taking hold of their musical futures. Still, they ALL ran into misogynistic views of their roles within rock music. But, thankfully for all of the women who followed in their footsteps, these women preserved.
Now, as a person who grew up buying and listening to tons of music, I was drawn to the music of The Go-Go’s and Bangles. Many of us rock-aficionados, once we got beyond the beauty of these women (sorry, ladies, I’m a male), it was time to decide which group was “better”. In one corner, you have a pop-punk band with roots directly in the L.A. punk scene. And, in the other corner, you will find a band with their roots in L.A.’s Paisley Underground, whose influences ran the gamut from The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds to the folk-rock of The Byrds and the Mamas & Papas to the rock world of Todd Rundgren. But, regardless of the two bands’ roots, their music made me feel good and happy with strong melodies, muscular guitars, wonderful harmonies (especially Bangles) and spot-on songwriting. While listening to their albums, I was hearing wonderful musicians. Their gender played no role, though, sorry ladies, I will always be a Sussana Hoffs or Jane Wiedlin man myself – I like their vocals and songwriting, but I am a sucker for a brunette. I digress.
Now that Heart and Joan Jett have been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, it’s time to take stock of the two greatest all-female bands of the 1980s. First off, Pat Benatar should be inducted soon, since those first two acts knocked down part of the sexism wall, and Pat obliterated what was left of that wall. And, she was followed by The Go-Go’s and Bangles in quick succession.
The Go-Go’s made their biggest noise when their debut album, Beauty and the Beat, hit the #1 spot on Billboard‘s Top 200 Album Chart in early 1982. They followed that album with two commercially disappointing albums. But, that debut was a motherlode of terrific pop punk songs. Their first single, “Our Lips Are Sealed”, peaked at #20, while their follow-up single, “We Got the Beat”, became the band’s first Top 10 album, as the song peaked at #2.
The Go-Go’s had one more Top 10 album and song each, both of which peaked at #8 on their respective charts. The album was Vacation, while the song was “Vacation”. Then, two years later, after inner-band turmoil and drug and alcohol abuse led to a lackluster swansong album to the Eighties, Talk Show, released in 1984. By that time, the band’s magic was used up, although they did get a #11 hit with “Head over Heels”.
While The Go-Go’s were imploding in 1984, Bangles were releasing their brilliant power pop classic of a debut album called All Over the Place. Although the critics sang the praise of this album, the singles that were released did not catch on with the public, which I will NEVER understand. But, it was the band’s sophomore album that people loved, 1986’s Different Light. Their first single was the Prince-penned “Maniac Monday”, which peaked at #2. But, it was the third song, the novelty hit “Walk like an Egyptian” that caught on with the public by not just going to #1 in 1986, but actually being the number one song of 1986.
In 1987, while the ladies were recording their third about, the band donated a cover version of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade of Winter”, which was much more muscular than the original version. That song showed EVERY strength of the Bangles: muscular musicianship, beautiful harmonies and a sense of each member’s individual personality. This song can be found on the Less Than Zero soundtrack.
Unfortunately, band inner turmoil was beginning to unravel the band. It wasn’t so much drugs and alcohol but the other usual excuse: the fixation of the media on one member over all the rest. Still, in 1988, Bangles released their final album of the 1980s titled Everything. The first single was a strong power pop song, “In Your Room”, which peaked at #5.
But, this time it was the second single that struck gold with the public. People everywhere were falling in love with the Beatlesque “Eternal Flame”. The beautiful ballad that was rooted directly in The Beatles’ album Rubber Soul, with its sophisticated music, along with their unparalleled four-part harmony, the song touched teens everywhere at that spring’s prom song of the year. Personally, I attended a middle school talent show at my wife’s school back in 1988, and I got to watch FIVE different quartets of girls sing that song. When I realized the middle schoolers were crying themselves to sleep after a bad break-up, I figured the group’s days may be numbered. Unfortunately, I was correct.
Both bands would made periodic reunions throughout the Nineties. Then, early in the new century, both band reunited to record new music and tour. Though, the Bangles have recorded more new albums than The Go-Go’s, both bands have seen their bassists from their heydays leave the band.
I can honestly state that I love both bands, though I do tend to go back to my Bangles music more often. Still, be truthful. You loved these bands back during their salad days. Don’t brush them off as bubblegum music, because they both were way more sophisticated than that. These women were every bit the innovator that Elvis Presley or The Beatles or James Brown were. Now, let’s show them the musical respect they all deserve. They were much more that one-dimensional pretty faces. These were top-notch musicians and gifted songwriters, as they continue to write hit songs for newer artists. See what I mean?