The Bangles were a female vocal band who, consistent with the “take-charge ‘80s,” became one of the first female vocal bands to record, put out their own record, and then go on to international success.
The original members were Vicki and Debbi Peterson of Northridge, California, Susanna Hoffs of West Los Angeles, and Annette Zalinkas of Los Angeles. They came together from an ad Susanna answered an ad placed by a member of the Peterson sisters band who wanted out and wanted to replace herself. By chance, Vicki Peterson answered the phone when Susanna called, and history was made.
They group practiced in Susanna’s garage and called themselves the Colours. THE BEACH BOYS and the Hollies were also influences on the group, so a good deal of time was spent on vocal harmony. Soon after their 1981 formation the Colours became the Supersonic Bangs and then just the Bangs. They wrote their own songs and recorded one, “Getting Out of Hand,” on their own Down Kiddie label while they began playing Los Angeles and San Fernando Valley nightspots.
Because their influences were mostly ‘60s acts, their music positioned them in what became known as the “paisley underground,” a collection of folk-rock and neopsychedelic groups. Manager Miles Copeland heard them, signed them up, and sent them on tour with the English Beat and Cyndi Lauper while releasing a five-song EP on his Faulty Products label. When the group was threatened with a potential lawsuit from pre-existing East Coast Bangs, the girls renamed themselves the Bangles in a Mexican restaurant on the way to Las Vegas.
In 1983 the group signed with Columbia Records. Zalinkas left after not being able to fulfill her desire as lead singer. She was replaced by Michael “Micki” Steele, the original lead singer of the all-girl Runaways.
Their first Columbia LP, All Over the Place, did not sell, and it was three more years before the girls hit the charts with “Manic Monday” written by Christopher a.k.a. Roger Nelson a.k.a. Prince. “Manic” reached number two Pop on April 19, 1986, and ironically was kept out of first place by the song “Kiss,” written and recorded by Prince and the Revolution. Jules Shear’s “If She Knew What She Wants” followed, reaching number 29 and setting the stage for their biggest record, “Walk Like and Egyptian,” which was originally turned down by “Mickey” hitmaker Toni Basil. The song, which was submitted to their producer David Kahne by a publisher for songwriter Liam Sternberg, was the third from their double-platinum LP Different Light. It reached number one on December 20th and became Billboard’s top record of the year. Los Angeles’ mayor designated February 23, 1987, as “Bangles Day” in the metropolis.
In late 1987 the Bangles hit again with Simon and Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade of Winter” (#2, February 6, 1988).
The group performed on a sell-out tour and then in 1988 recorded their third and last CBS LP Everything, which contained the Fleetwood Mac-styled rocker “In Your Room” (#5, 1988) and the harmony-filled ballad “Eternal Flame” (#1, 1989), with Susanna’s fragile voice leading the group through the Billy Steinberg/Tom Kelly-penned composition. Unlike most acts of the ‘50s and ‘60s who quit because they could no longer earn a living at what they were doing, the Bangles called it quits while on top; they disbanded in October 1989 to pursue individual goals. Their last chart single was “Be with You” in the spring of 1989 (#30). .
Originally Colours, the Supersonic Bangs and the Bangs, the all singing/all performing four-woman the Bangles formed in 1981 and sprung from the LA Paisley Underground scene. Later they traded their garage band roots for a slick, heavily-produced pop sound that turned them into one of the most successful chart groups of either gender during the ’80s.
In the beginning, the group played original, 60’s-based guitar-rock, and were fond of covering Big Star, the Merry Go Round and Love. Sisters Debbi and Vicki Peterson on drums and bass respectively and singer/guitarist Susanna Hoffs started the group when the Peterson’s responded to a want-ad placed by Hoffs; later they added Annette Zilinskas on bass.
The scruffy girl-group self-released the single “Getting Out of Hand,” which sounded like a lost song by the Mamas and the Papas and followed it with a loose, four-song pop EP on IRS before getting signed to Columbia. All Over the Place was produced by David Kahne and released in 1984, once the band had been given an all-over clean-up. By that time Zilinskas had left the fold to join Blood on the Saddle and former Runaway Michael Steele was added to the line-up.
For the second album, 1985’s Different Light, the band were aided by Prince (or Christopher, as he was known during that phase) with his song “Manic Monday,” which charted at number two and paved the way for the follow-up smash, “Walk Like an Egyptian,” which went to number one and sent the album to the top of the charts. There was a sexist assumption among some critics that the successful female group couldn’t really play and needed studio and live assistance, but as with any slick chart band, sessionmen were in fact credited, beginning on the second album.
Future Black Crowes’ producer George Drakoulias was enlisted to play the guitar lead for their next single, a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade of Winter,” from the Less Than Zero soundtrack which reached number one in 1987. At the same time, Hoffs appeared in a b-movie, the Allnighter, and it garnered the band some undesirable attention, but the follow-up album, Everything, spawned another number one, “Eternal Flame,” in 1988.
The band packed it in due to the usual artistic differences in 1989 — the Petersons’ sibling harmonies were what gave the group their unique sound, but singer Susanna Hoffs was often considered the focal point and it contributed to the tension. Vicki Peterson sang with the Continental Drifters and filled in for Charlotte Caffey during 1994’s Go-Go’s reunion tour; Hoffs recorded two solo albums since the band’s break-up, When You’re a Boy in 1991 and a self-titled record in 1996, while Debbie Peterson and Steele continued to work with various alternative pop groups. The Bangles officially reformed in the summer of 2000, announcing tour dates and plans for a new studio album, the 2003 release of Doll Revolution, following with Michael Steele retiring from the group in 2005.
— Denise Sullivan