Archive for the ‘Bangles’ Category

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

The 1980s are given short shrift in the annals of pop music for many reasons, few of which have to do with the sounds that actually bounded from the speakers in one’s car or home, or boombox, or via the headphones of one’s WalkMan or WalkMan clone. There’s good, bad and mediocre music released every decade, after all, but as most folks who came of age during the decade will tell you, we had the hooks. The look? Aside from Sheena Easton, perhaps not – though, as the cool RetroWaste website details, the stereotypical shoulder pads and feathered hair didn’t really come into play until the middle part of the decade.

Fashion fads come and go, of course. Think of the bouffant and beehive hairstyles favored by many women from the ‘50s through the ‘60s, the collarless suits that bedecked the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, or the Day-Glo threads worn by the hippies at Monterey Pop and Woodstock just a few years later. They look out of place in today’s world, just as the flapper fashions of the 1920s did by the time the boys came marching home from World War II. Some may roll their eyes and snicker, if not laugh, but that’s the way of the world.

Likewise, music styles come and go, with some songs, albums and artists forever relegated to the eras in which they first made their mark. But unlike skinny ties and overblown locks, or A Flock of Seagulls, great songs, albums and artists both reflect and transcend their time. We may sometimes turn to the music to reminisce, but as often we turn to it to accent the present. Love, lust, and life’s ups and downs, even silly dance crazes, aren’t the domain of any one generation, but all generations.

I thought of that Wednesday evening, when I stumbled upon a YouTube video of the Bangles on the May 10th, 1986, edition of American Bandstand. Here, in two performances split by an interview with Dick Clark, they convey not just the spirit of ‘80s music, but of good music of every era.

They’re songs most folks of a certain age, whether or not they were fans, know like the back of their hands, of course. “Manic Monday” topped out at No. 2, kept from No. 1 only by the legend who penned it, Prince, whose “Kiss” proved infectious. “If She Knew What She Wants” didn’t do quite as well – it peaked at No. 29 – but has gone onto become one of their signature tunes. You can’t listen to either without being put into an instant good mood.

I hasten to add that they’re on Bandstand not just promoting the two singles, but their second album, Different Light, which was released on January 2, 1986. I bought it that same week from a Listening Booth in the Willow Grove Mall, though it could well have been City Lights Records in State College, depending on when winter break ended. (How’s that for narrowing it down?) I was a college junior attending the Penn State mothership, and either home – and working, working, working as much as I could at one of the mall’s department stores – or already back at University Park. I’ve written about that time before, and even chronicled my top albums of the year here – but to save you the click, here it is in a nutshell: I was (and still am) a fan of new wave, old rock, heady pop, country, bluegrass and urban folk, and plenty of additional genres, including R&B, soul and what would come to be known as Americana. I thought nothing of playing the Three O’Clock and Hank Jr. back-to-back, though I’m sure fans of each would have objected to the other’s presence on my turntable or cassette deck.

At school, I didn’t watch MTV. Hell, I didn’t watch much TV, period, and the only time I generally heard Top 40 radio was when I was selling my plasma for pocket money. And when not with a needle in my arm, or out having a good time with that pocket money, I was in my dorm room doing school work – and since my pre-law roommate preferred studying at the library, I listened to what I wanted – and, as now, often listened to things again and again and again. The result: By semester’s end, my Different Light cassette became so worn that the songs from the flip side bled through whenever I played it. (Yes, I bought it again.)

To be precise: Different Light glimmers and glistens. The production is polished, but not too polished. The melodies captivate; the beats are sure and precise; the guitars echo those of the British Invasion, and are always in service to the song; and the harmonies flow through the soul like few others.

One highlight: The album’s third single, the delightfully goofy “Walk Like an Egyptian,” which closed out 1986 at No. 1.

Another: “Return Post,” which ruminates about a long-distance relationship. One thing I love about it: The harmonies pay homage to Revolver-era Beatles. Another thing I love: whether intentional or not, the nod toward Them’s “Gloria” in the coda. 

And another highlight: “Following,” a tale of obsessive love, which was penned by bassist Michael Steele.

And, finally, what turned to be the final U.S. single from the album: “Walking Down Your Street,” which reached No. 11 on the pop charts in April 1987. As I mentioned above, I rarely watched MTV in those days – so it was news to me when, a year or two ago, I discovered the video. It’s cute.

Anyway, some fans aren’t keen on Different Light, and usually cite All Over the Place as the band’s definitive work. I think the world of both, myself, and hear Different Light as an evolution of their sound. As Vicki Peterson says to Dick Clark of their music, “I think it’s always changing. It’s always growing and changing, and we’re happy with what we’re doing.” 

I’ll conclude with this: At the end of ’86, I jotted down my top picks for the year. Paul Simon’s Graceland was my No. 1; Different Light was my No. 2. But through the decades that have followed, the album I’ve listened to more often isn’t Graceland, but Different Light. It makes me think. Makes me smile. And puts me into a good mood.

It’s be in my theoretical Top 10 Albums of All Time list (sharing space with about 99 other entries), easy.

Side 1:

  1. Manic Monday
  2. In a Different Light
  3. Walking Down Your Street
  4. Walk Like an Egyptian
  5. Standing in the Hallway
  6. Return Post

Side 2:

  1. If She Knew What She Wants
  2. Let It Go
  3. September Gurls
  4. Angels Don’t Fall in Love
  5. Following
  6. Not Like You

 

Of late, Facebook has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. As most folks now know, unscrupulous data miners utilized a personality-quiz app to scrape the innards of millions upon millions of profiles, and then used the information to push political ads during the 2016 election aimed at dissuading Democrats from voting and boosting Republican turnout. Micro-targeted ads, of course, are tailored for specific audiences. In this case, they played off of the hopes and/or fears that the scraped data indicated they have. 

There’s still much we don’t know, however, such as what the ads looked like – and whether they worked. But we do know this: It’s a foreshadow of what’s to come, writ large, and not just for political advertisements or on Facebook. It’s the wave of the future.

I should note that, somehow, my data wasn’t scraped. So the political ads in question came to me the old-fashioned way: by hook, not crook. Someone reacted vociferously to an ad, in other words, and decided to share their outrage or support. (And then I, in turn, ignored it.) In fact, after downloading my 10 years’ worth of Facebook data a few weeks back, what became obvious is that, by and large, the ads I interact with are music-related (artists, albums, concerts) or, more broadly, entertainment-related. (Veronica Mars meet Jason Bourne!)

Hmmm…I wonder why?

All that being said, I happen to like and enjoy Facebook. After a long day at the office, or even during a long day at the office, it provides a quick pick-me-up – Charlie Brown cartoons, silly animal videos, and music recommendations from friends and sponsored ads. It’s also a good way to keep up with friends old and new, as well as a few pets of said friends.

Anyway, I was “tagged” on Facebook several times over the past few weeks regarding one of the latest memes to make the rounds, which is supposed to be played out over 10 days: “In no particular order – 10 all-time favorite albums that really made an impact and are still on your rotation list, even if only now and then. Post the cover, no need to explain, and nominate a person to do the same. Today, I nominate…[insert tag].” After some internal back-and-forth, I gave into the whim and shared 10 “all-time favorite albums” over the next 10 days.

I hasten to add: They are not my All-Time Top 10 picks, just 10 albums I love. And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: 10 All-Time Favorite Albums, Part 1.

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Day 1: Lone Justice – Lone Justice. The 1985 debut of Maria McKee’s old band needs no introduction on these pages. It sounds as fresh to my ears now as it did then. It was the first pick for my occasional “Essentials” series. 

Day 2: Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. Another “Essentials” pick. 

Day 3: Rumer – Seasons of My Soul. And yet another “Essentials” pick. (See a pattern here?)

Day 4: The Bangles – Different Light. A future “Essentials” pick. Despite their success, the Bangles are one of the most underrated bands in the annals of rock ’n’ roll. (Why they aren’t in the Rock Hall of Fame is beyond me.) And this album is a sheer delight.

Day 5: Paul McCartney & Wings – Band on the Run. Another future “Essentials” pick. It should need no introduction to any self-respecting rock fan. 

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

Although it seems daft to me now, in the early and mid-‘80s I often bought albums on cassette, and cassette only. I’d love to say that, for a time, I did so due to me taking not one, but two buses to travel to and from Penn State’s Ogontz campus (now known as Penn State Abington), which for a time I did, and that during those hour-or-so trips I listened to music via a Walkman clone. Or that I later purchased them for the tape deck that I installed in my ’79 Chevette.

The truth is, however, that I bought them because I bought them, which I’d been doing off and on since my folks gave me a cassette deck that plugged into my Radio Shack compact stereo/turntable in the late 1970s, though the trend picked up steam after Christmas 1982, when they presented me with a Sanyo Mini AM/FM Cassette Recorder Stereo. Sometimes I went with the cassette because the vinyl wasn’t in stock; and other times just because. In some cases, I eventually bought the same album on vinyl – but there was no rhyme or reason as to what got duplicated. Some touchstone albums in my life, such as Neil Young’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Lone Justice’s debut and Dwight Yoakam’s Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., never made the jump to vinyl (though all, in time, made the leap to CD) while others that weren’t did.

Another touchstone album that I never picked up on vinyl: the Bangles’ All Over the Place, which – says Wikipedia – was released on May 23, 1984. I didn’t purchase it until the fall, however – on October 15th, a Monday, according to my desk diary, four days before another touchstone album, David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name…, came into my life. (It may seem incongruous to love both, yet I did…and still do.)

That is, I didn’t buy the vinyl until yesterday, when I stopped in HHH Records a used-vinyl store near me, and found it for $4. (Clean LP, no pops, crackles or snaps.)

As I wrote in my long-ago review of Susanna Hoffs’ Someday album, thanks to Rolling Stone, I’d been aware of the Bangles since March 1983, though I didn’t actually hear them until their videos for “Hero Takes a Fall” and “Going Down to Liverpool” received play on MTV in the spring and summer of ’84.

(Leonard Nimoy’s friendship with Susanna Hoffs’ parents accounts for his appearance in the video, from what I’ve read.)

The band was the focus of a Michael Goldberg-penned article in Rolling Stone that September and, presumably, a review around the same time, though my lack of access to the RS Archives means I can’t confirm the latter (and I have no memory of reading one).

Wayne King did offer a less-than-glowing review of their debut LP in the September issue of Record magazine, however. The words that would’ve caught my eyes: “bouncy guitar group sounds,” “soaring vocals” and “mid-‘60s fixation.” The criticism itself…eh. I’d already seen the videos. They sounded good to me. It was just a matter of when, not if, I invested in the LP…or, in this case, cassette.

To my ears then and now, All Over the Place echoes the mid-‘60s, specifically the Beatles and Byrds, while sounding very much of its own time. I.e., it’s both retro and modern, and – simultaneously – ahead of the curve. “Hero Takes a Fall” is one example. Another is “Tell Me”…

And another is “Dover Beach.” (Check out Vicki Peterson channeling her inner Dave Davies at the 3 minute mark.)

Really, to me, All Over the Place – despite topping out at No. 153 on the Billboard charts – is reason enough for the band (Susanna Hoffs, Vicki Peterson, Debbie Peterson and Michael Steele) to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. (Additional reasons came along later in the decade, of course.)

Anyway, here they are on Late Night With David Letterman in November of ‘84…

Side 1:

  1. Hero Takes a Fall
  2. Live
  3. James
  4. All About You
  5. Dover Beach

Side 2:

  1. Tell Me
  2. Restless
  3. Going Down to Liverpool
  4. He’s Got a Secret
  5. Silent Treatment
  6. More Than Meets the Eye

Here’s the album in full, via YouTube…

I should mention, the playlist includes a bonus track tacked onto the CD at some point in time: a cover of the Grass Roots’ first hit, “Where Were You When I Needed You,” which the Bangles released as the b-side to “Hero Takes a Fall.” (As I point out in my (un)Essentials essay on Jan & Dean’s semi-classic, semi-kitsch Folk ’n Roll album, however, the Grass Roots weren’t the first to release the song. The surfer duo was.)

I have no idea as to where I was, or what I was doing, on this day in 1986. I can say, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, that it was a Tuesday and a fine, fine day and great night, given that we enjoyed a high of 72 and low of 48. I can also say, based on the basic timeframe: I’d recently finished my junior year at the Penn State mothership, and was back home for the summer. I was working, working and working at a department store while also taking (or about to take) a summer class at Penn State’s Ogontz campus: physical education.

The photos are from a few months earlier. The one at the top is my dorm room, minus my messy bed; the second is me, at my desk in said dorm room. (I’d be in a different dorm and room, and have a different roommate, when I returned to the mothership in the fall.) You may not be able to tell from the second picture, but those are paisley patterns dotting my shirt – a nod to the Paisley Underground. As I’ve written before, I was an English/Creative Writing major, deejayed a folk show on the student-run radio station and enjoyed a boatload of fun despite being a year too young for the bars.

Among the day’s headlines: Secretary of State George Shultz took a hard line against South Africa’s apartheid policies; the Supreme Court ruled that cable-TV operators were protected by the First Amendment; and the U.S. Senate broadcast its floor debate on TV for the first time. Also: former (and future) Go-Go released her debut album, Belinda, which included “Mad About You.” According to Weekly Top 40’s charts for the week ending June 7th, that catchy song was one of the week’s “power plays,” having jumped from No. 59 to 49.

Other recent releases that caught my ear: Steve Earle’s Guitar Town, Lou Reed’s Mistrial and Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band’s Like a Rock. Also receiving frequent play: the Bangles’ Different Light, which had been released in January; Emmylou Harris’ Thirteen, which was released in February; and others that I’ve long-since forgotten. Other, older albums in frequent rotation included Lone Justice’s debut, the Long Ryders’ State of Our Union, Jane Wiedlin’s solo debut and the Three O’Clock’s Arrive Without Traveling, plus whatever else I singled out in my 1985 roundup. (Many of my favorites for 1986 are here, but most had yet to be released by this point in the year.) Of course, there were my mainstays, too, including the Beatles, Neil Young, Janis Joplin and Hank Jr.

Anyway, onward to today’s Top 5: June 3, 1986 (based on the charts ending the 7th).

1) Madonna – “Live to Tell.” Most of my friends were not Madonna fans. They were into prog-rock, rock and/or folk music, and save for one dismissed her without listening to her music. I did not. To my ears, her first two albums were good, not great, affairs; True Blue, for me, was (and remains) her best work. This, its lead single was, and remains, a thing of wonder; and was No. 1 this week.

2) Simply Red – “Holding Back the Years.” Jumping from No. 22 to 16 is this soulful gem from the Manchester band’s 1985 debut.

3) John Cougar Mellencamp – “Rain on the Scarecrow.” The title tune to Mellencamp’s classic 1985 album Scarecrow, rises from No. 26 to 22. (I’ve featured the album before, of course.)

4) Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – “Like a Rock.” Jumping 10 notches to No. 28 this week is this tune from the album of the same name. On the one hand, the song is yet another variation of Seger’s patented nostalgia-soaked formula, which dates (at least) to Brand New Morning’s “Railroad Days” in 1971. On the other hand, formulaic or not, it’s a damn good song – and just gets better the older I get.

5) Janet Jackson – “Nasty.” Looking back, one thing (among many) that I can definitely fault myself for is missing Janet Jackson’s third album, Control. (By decade’s end, when I was working in a CD store, I’d realize what I missed; and, in fact, saw her on her Rhythm Nation tour – a future Of Concerts Past entry, no question.) In its fourth week on the charts this, one of her iconic songs, clocked in at No. 33. (“What Have You Done for Me Lately” was No. 19, for what that’s worth.)

And one bonus…

6) The Bangles – “If She Knew What She Wants.” Another “power play” track, this gem from Different Light climbs to No. 42; and here they are on the Letterman show performing it with the house band: