It seems that 2022 has been the year for rekindling college friendships. I have been in contact with a few fraternity brothers after our 2017 reunion, but it was the people with whom I had an everyday life in the dormitory that I have been catching up with lately. First, over the summer, a good college friend from the coterie of people of around 30 contacted me. We met during the summer for a lunch and had a great time getting caught up. Brian Gough, who himself has been the midst of doing a tour around to meet up with the college crew, inspired me to do the same.
Following that, I contacted two men who live only 22 MINUTES from me, and after 30 years of not seeing each other, Steve Lepper and Ron Lawson brought their wives over to the Keller homestead. The evening lasted a good four hours that was filled with many great stories of the knuckleheaded things we did back in our “prime.” We laughed so loud and often that we had to be irritating to my neighbors, but, honestly, I did not care. These men played an important part in my developmental years. We all had ventured to Houston for a spring break during my freshman year. Plus, Ron and I had been roommates during our sophomore year, though we both acknowledge that we were much better friends outside of our room than in it together. But that was part of the growing experience as well. The weekend was great for our souls, as our wives all agreed that our stories kept them in stitches.
Next, we have got to get Tim Hubbart back up here for a weekend or longer. Tim was a major part of my life as he was my Little Brother in our fraternity, part of the dormitory gang AND a fellow microbiology major with me. Many of you may be developing sympathy for that man, but keep in mind that he chose to split a Domino’s pepperoni and mushroom pizza with me nearly every Friday I worked from 1 in the afternoon to 6 that evening cleaning the cafeteria floors during my freshman year. Now, that’s a loyal friend!
Also, we have to get my old roommate and partner-in-crime Bruce Rueter back in the mix. He and I pushed each other to new heights of debauchery as friends our sophomore year and roommates our junior year. He was a Physical Therapy major, so you’d think our room would have been a den of study and academics. Alas, no, the reality is that he was the smartest person I ever knew, and neither of us had a penchant for study. But, we could sure fake people into thinking we were studying. Plus, we held some of the most epic and dynamic dormitory parties ever. And, why a blind eye was turned on us remains a mystery to this very day. [Note: I DO know why, but I will save that story for another blog entry when it fits. Or doesn’t. You know my writing by now.]
Now, our group was not a men’s club. We were all-inclusive, as the women had to have strong personalities and smart mouths to deal with us. Recently, one has popped back into our lives from Facebook is Jenny Butler. Jenny was kind of the innocent mother-hen who overlooked our shenanigans and became the person who was most often pranked. Then there was Dawn English, who was a couple years ahead of me in high school, who could cut a guy down with the sharpest wit. Dawn may have been 5-foot nothing but her personality could fill the room with her biting sarcasm. That’s why she was perfect for the group.
There are just way too many people to list in one entry that were part of the group. I was blessed to have met all of them in the dormitory complex in which we lived. The crazy thing is that we all became successful as adults. We helped each other navigate that crazy time in your life as you transition for children to adults. Yes, we’ve all been battered and bruised, but we came out wiser. No, we did not face a war together, so we weren’t collectively dealing with those ramifications. But, we survived even though Saturday Night Live was at its worst, though Eddie Murphy was our hero. Still, the music of the day continues to resonate across the generations, which is both sad and cool. It’s sad to me because I thought rock music would continue to dominate in some form (Wait a second! You keep saying hip hop is the new rock & roll! Yes, it is. But, it’s not the big culturally binding thing in young people’s lives as it had once been.) It’s cool since my grandkids seem to love Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen music.
So, what’s this got to do with the Bangles? Well, they women did appear on the scene in 1981, first as The Bangs. But, some New Jersey band threatened a lawsuit, so Susanna Hoffs and the Peterson sisters, Vickie and Debbi, along with original bassist Annette Zalinskas changed their name to the Bangles and released an excellent EP entitled Bangles. That’s when I first heard the band. I loved their punky take on the Sixties musical icons of the “three Bs,” Beatles, Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. Immediately, I noticed that the first three women (Hoffs and the Petersons) sang in beautiful harmonies. But, those three felt that Annette needed to be replaced. Once they hired former Runaways bassist/singer Michael Steele, the classic lineup was set. What Steele brought to the group, besides her excellent bass lines, was a fourth part to the band’s harmonies, making their vocals pop in their songs.
By the time 1984 rolled around, I had discovered The Go-Go’s, R.E.M. and a bunch of other bands that shared either a punky sound or a jangly guitar sound. So, when the Bangles released their first full-length album, All Over the Place, I knew I found a group to follow because of their punky jangle with their Mamas and Papas-like harmonies. And when a band has gems like “Going Down to Liverpool” and “Hero Takes a Fall,” you just know they have the goods.
By the time 1986, the musical landscape was ready for a group like the Bangles, who combined the musical chops, the right songs, the vocal harmonies and the telegenic looks to become big musical stars. Yet, it was a little pop gem written by the hottest artist at the time named Prince, though the songwriting was credited to “Christopher,” “Manic Monday” had some tells in the lyrics that gave away Prince’s involvement. After that song took the band to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, the Bangles were ready to ascend to the top. And ascend they did.
After a great four-year run of hits, the Bangles imploded over people kept pulling Susanna Hoffs out as the lead singer. She became something of a Katherine Hepburn of the Eighties, and it must have been a pretty heady thing for her to receive all of the attention. That struggle led to the band to break up until after the women either got married and had children or got their solo careers out of their systems. But as the Nineties waned, the women were finally pulled back together to record a song for the second Austin Powers film. After that, the group stayed together, recorded an excellent but sadly overlooked album called Doll Revolution, toured, then went on hiatus from which Michael Steele would never return.
Fast forward to 2011, the original trio of women reunited to record a great album of new material entitled Sweetheart of the Sun. The album was produced by power pop great Matthew Sweet, who allowed the Bangles’ sound to be roughed up a bit, removing the Eighties production gloss that often kept the band from gaining the male following that is often crucial to a band’s longevity. Still, if you have ever seen or heard this band live, you know how hard they rock.
Now, the Bangles do go out on the road for small tours. The crazy thing is that Annette Zilinskas has rejoined the lineup, holding down the bass work on a little Record Store Day special album release called 3×4, with The Dream Syndicate, The Three O’Clock and Rain Parade, all four part of the LA scene called The Paisley Underground. On the album, three of the bands recorded songs by the fourth band. The cool thing was The Bangles outshined the other bands with their great takes on cover songs. Unfortunately, those three songs remain the last new recordings we have heard from The Bangles.
As I have stated before, I believe The Bangles deserve to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The sad part is that their music is only found on classic pop hits stations, when they deserve to be added to classic alternative and rock station playlists. If you don’t believe, here is a list of 40 of their songs to prove my point for both cases.
40. “That’s What You Always Say” (3×4, 2018)
39. “He’s Got a Secret” (All Over the Place, 1984)
38. “Under a Cloud” (Sweetheart of the Sun, 2011)
37. “I Got Nothing” (The Goonies OST, 1985)
36. “Ride the Rid” (Doll Revolution, 2003)
35. “Talking in My Sleep” (3×4, 2018)
34. “Get the Girl” (More Songs from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me OST, 1999)
33. “I Will Take Care of You” (Doll Revolution, 2003)
32. “The Rain Song” (Doll Revolution, 2003)
31. “How Is the Air Up There?” (Bangles EP, 1982)
30. “More Than Meets the Eye” (All Over the Place, 1984)
29. “I’ll Set You Free” (Everything, 1988)
28. “Let It Go” (Different Light, 1986)
27. “James” (All Over the Place, 1984)
26. “Jet Fighter” (3×4, 2018)
25. “I’m in Line” (Bangles EP, 1982)
24. “Everything I Wanted” (Greatest Hits, 1990)
23. “Be with You” (Everything, 1988)
22. “What I Meant to Say” (B-side “Eternal Flame,” 1988)
21. “Where Were You When I Needed You” (B-side “Hero Takes a Fall,” 1984)
20. “Not Like You” (Different Light, 1986)
19. “Live” (All Over the Place, 1984)
18. “Anna Lee” (Sweetheart of the Sun, 2011)
17. “Something That You Said” (Doll Revolution, 2003)
16. “Walking Down Your Street” (Different Light, 1986)
15. “The Real World” (Bangles EP, 1982)
14. “Walk Like an Egyptian” (Different Light, 1986)
13. “Getting Out of Hand” (single by The Bangs, 1981)
12. “Dover Beach” (All Over the Place, 1984)
11. “In Your Room” (Everything, 1988)
10. “Standing in the Hallway” (Different Light, 1986). Maybe the subject matter hasn’t aged all that well, but the power pop setting is eternal.
9. “Going Down to Liverpool” (All Over the Place, 1984). This is the sound of a young band finding their footing. It is a Kimberly Rew song, of Katrina & the Waves fame. The Bangles bring the song alive and make it their own.
8. “If She Knew What She Wants” (Different Light, 1986). A Jules Sheer gem that was overlooked on his album. Once again, the Bangles spread a little of the magic dust over it and record the definitive version of the song. Once again, I think its their vocals that makes even more special.
7. “Tear Off Your Own Head (It’s a Doll Revolution)” (Doll Revolution, 2003). The definitive version of an Elvis Costello song that everyone should hear! This is the true identity of the band.
6. “Eternal Flame” (Everything, 1988). So, I know Vickie has issues with this song, but when I heard it I immediately recognized that the ladies had created a Beatles song that was worthy of either Rubber Soul or Revolver. That’s some high praise.
5. “Manic Monday” (Different Light, 1986). If you’ve heard Prince’s take on this song he wrote, you know it’s a good song. But, in the Bangles’ hands, it becomes a pop masterpiece. I love the way the Bangles make the music swirl. Plus, their vocals are the secret ingredient.
4. “Following” (Different Light, 1986). This Michael Steele song is a folkish tune worthy of CSNY. Still, it is simply magical in the Bangles’ hands.
3. “Hero Takes a Fall” (All Over the Place, 1984). Here is the greatest song written by the band. Hands down! This is a rock classic.
2. “September Gurls” (Different Light, 1986). This song is one of my favorite Big Star songs, wonderfully written and sung from a man’s point of view. Yet, something magical when the Bangles play and sing it from a woman’s perspective that simply makes the song transcendent.
1. “Hazy Shade of Winter” (Less Than Zero OST, 1987). This Simon & Garfunkel song is the definitive Bangles recording. The ladies laid the hammer down and pummeled this version into history. Perfect vocals, showcasing EVERY Bangle’s beautiful solo voices buttressed by their harmonies. Debbi Peterson is just abusing the drums with power and finesse, while Michael Steele’s bass runs are mind-melding. Yet, Vickie Peterson becomes a guitar hero with her playing throughout the song. These woman do NOT get enough credit for their playing and arranging.
See? The Bangles belong in the RRHOF, on rock radio AND, dammit, immortalized as Funko Pops!