The Bangles Biography
Last updated: 01/09/2014 06:20:27 AM
The saga of the Bangles begins back in 1980, when an add in the LA newspaper "The Recycler", lead Susanna Hoffs to the garage rocking Peterson sisters. It was December 9, 1980, just a day after the assasination of John Lennon, and Hoffs and the Peterson sisters had a lengthy discussion about the tragedy. They soon discovered that they had similar musical influences, from The Beatles to the Grass Roots to Mama's and the Papa's and more. One thing lead to another, and the trio decided to form a band. Debbi Peterson played drums, sister Vicki bass, and Susanna Hoffs handled the guitars. They all sang. Soon, they were gathering at each others houses with their instruments, favorite tapes, and writing utensils, writing and recording songs. In time, they recruited Annette Zalinskas to play bass and Vicki moved to lead guitar.
The addition of Annette to the lineup allowed the possiblilty of doing live shows. So they hit the club circut. They thought of a dozen names with which to call themselves. First they were "The Colours", then the "Supersonic Bangs", before they finally decided on the name, "Bangs." The Bangs played 1960s oriented indie music with lush and vibrant harmonies and tough, yet playful rock and roll. Soon, the patrons of the clubs were packing the chairs to see them.
The Bangs, along with other 1960s New Wavers such as the Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade, and Hoodoo Gurus, became the core of a 1960s inspired rock revival critics were dubbing the "Paisely Underground."
A self recorded and produced 7" single, "Getting Out Of Hand" garnered the band some attention and even some radio airplay. (The single was released on their own label, Downkiddie Records.) It also landed the band in hot water when another group from New Jersey, also called The Bangs, threatened to sue over the use of the name. The band then changed its name to "The Bangles". By 1982, The Bangs were well known in the Los Angeles club scene. Talent scouts for IRS President Miles Copeland, who was instrumental in the breakthrough success of the Go-Go's, were out looking for new talent, and found it in the Bangles.
They were weary of his overtures at first. Says Vicki Peterson, "I was very defensive at first. I thought, 'Oh, here it is: he wants to make us the poor man's Go-Go's,' and I wasn't interested in that at all."
Ultimately, The Bangles decided to sign with Copeland. The band then recorded a five song Ep titled simply, "The Bangles" in May 1982 and were booked as the opening act for the British group, The English Beat. That this extended play release sold some 40,000 copies soon drew the attention of other, larger record labels.
In 1983, the Bangles plans for stardom were almost derailed when the IRS subsidary label, Faulty Products, the label that released the EP, went out of business and Annette Zalinskas decamped for the country-punk outfit, "Blood On The Saddle." This touched off a search for a new bassist. They found one in Michael Steele, who had the distinction, (or misfortune, as she believes) of being The Runaways original lead singer. She won the audition through answering Vicki Peterson's question, "Describe your dream band" with "The Yardbirds with Fairport Convention vocals."
Later that year, The Bangles signed with CBS (Columbia) Records. Teamed with producer David Kahne, the band started recording is major label debut.
"All Over The Place", was released in April of 1984. The album was a critics gem, bouyed by the band's competent songwriting, rough and ranchy guitars, and those always brilliant and lush harmonies. With so many great songs on the album, it was almost impossible to pick favorites. AOTP didn't burn up the charts, but it won favor with the college radio crowds. The singles, "Hero Takes A Fall" and "Going Down To Liverpool", won extensive airplay on college radio stations. The band backed this LP up with dates ranging from being club headliners to the opening act for Cyndi Lauper.
The Bangles raw edge was smoothed over slightly for their second album, "Different Light". David Kahne also produced this album, which catapulted the band into superstardom. The disc was sent to the top of the charts, assisted by the Prince-penned "Manic Monday", Jules Shear's "If She Knew What She Wants", and the wacky, angular dance track, "Walk Like An Egyptian". All three were big hits, the latter reached #1 on the Billboard charts for a history making four weeks in a row. No other all-female band ever had that honor before. The band backed this album up with a sold out national tour. They also picked up several awards, including Single of The Year, Best MTV Video Performance, both for "Walk Like An Egyptian." They also were named Best International Artist at Brittan's own Music Awards.
In 1987, teamed with rap/heavy metal producer Rick Rubin, The Bangles recorded and co-produced and mixed a hard rocking cover of Simon & Garfunkle's "Hazy Shade Of Winter" for the soundtrack to the film "Less Than Zero." The song, released as a single on Rubin's Def Jam Label, became another huge hit - the song rocketed up the charts, settling in at #2 behind Tiffany's "Could Have Been". "We were all so surprised that it did so well," says Michael Steele. "We didn't expect it to be released as a single."
In between tours, Susanna Hoffs found the time to pursue her other interest: acting. She landed the lead role in the 1987 feature film, "The Allnighter." (The film was directed by her mother, award winning short film director and writer, Tamar Hoffs.) The movie was not a big box office draw, and failed to ignite a career in films for Hoffs. It did give Hoffs considerable publicity.
Following that 2 to three month interlude, The Bangles were back on tour for the summer of 1987. The tour was entitled the "Bitchn Summer Tour." The Bangles performed several songs off their first two albums, and also debuted four new songs, slated for their forthcoming new album. Michael Steele's "Happy Man Today", and early versions of "I'll Set You Free", "Be With You" and "Crash and Burn" were performed. The tour was a resounding success. Soon, the girls traded the stage for the confines of the recording studio.
In January 1988, the Bangles set out to record their third album. First, they had to make some changes. They fired producer David Kahne, saying that the producer pushed the band in musical directions they didn't want to go. In his place, they hired Davitt Sigerson, best known for making David & David's album "Boomtown" such a smash.
Before going into the studio, Vicki Peterson had vowed that the record would be more rock and roll, a return to roots. She told a reporter from "Rolling Stone" magazine, "I am perfectly willing to accept the fact that it won't be a hit."
So the band concentrated on writing and more writing. There would be no cover songs this time around. In October, the band's third album, "Everything", was released. The album featured a harder rock sound mixed in with more pure pop and blues numbers, an indication of the growing artistic differences within the band. All of the songs were written by the band members, though mostly in collaboration with outside writers rather than with each other.
Nonetheless, "Everything" almost did just that, following "Different Light" up the charts and producing two more big hits, the rocking "In Your Room" and a rare, orchestral ballad, "Eternal Flame", which went on to #1 on the Billboard charts and became the fifth biggest selling hit single for 1989. All the hidden tension and frustraitions came to a head during the Bangles' "Everything Everywhere Tour." The other Bangles were growing resentful of the "star treatment" given Susanna Hoffs by the media, the public, and by this time, the band's management and record label. This was doubly ironic because the band never had, or intended to have, one primary singer. The other members of the band saw their own contributions being overlooked. In addition, other pressures, including the girls inability to really communicate with one another, contributed to widely growing rifts in what was once a strong, unified friendship. Shortly after "Eternal Flame" hit #1, the Bangles decided to part ways with Miles Copeland's Fires
tars Management Company and signed with Stiffel-Phillips, a relatively new company out of Los Angeles. The switch came out of dissatisfaction with how Firestars was handling things, with the media and with the label. However, the management switch was not the quick remedy that everyone thought it was going to be. In the end, it made things worse and only lead to the inevitable...
While Miles Copeland had managed the Bangles as a band, more or less, Stiffel-Phillips was interested only in Susanna Hoffs as a solo artist. Weighed down by ever growing tension and alienation from each other, the Bangles abruptly cancelled the rest of their planned world tour. A fall/winter leg, and preparations for a possible new album and concert film were put on hold. At first it was believed that the time off would save the group from self destruction, but a month later, Susanna Hoffs and Michael Steele called a meeting of the band to announce that they were leaving the group. The Bangles were at the top of their game, but were shattered beyond repair.
Afterwards, the band issued a statement to the media, announcing that they were "going on haitus" after ten years together. However, the haitus soon became a more prolonged separation/divorce as band members moved into other projects.
"We were together nine years, you know," said Debbi Peterson in a 1992 radio interview. "We did all sorts of tours, and just done everything together, and it's just, you know, after a while it's time to move on. You just feel like - Ok I can't do this with these people anymore, I have to find myself."
Hoffs in particular seemed to want out for similar reasons.
"There was a quota system for every single thing we did," Susanna said in post-Bangles 1991 interview. "I thought it was really hurting the music, not to mention that it was very unappealing on an emotional level to work that way. It was like: "Your gonna make a record. You are gonna have three songs. And whose to say what impact your songs are going to have on everyone elses songs because everyone was very individualized in the way they were working. Compound that with all the tension that was going on and the stress everyone seemed to be experiencing because of all that since of compromise, it seemed that it wasn't worth it."
A "Greatist Hits" collection was released in May 1990. It contained all the Bangles hits plus three non album tracks. It sold well in the U.S., but broke sales records in Britain, charting in the UK Top 10 for an incredible 97 weeks and eventually becoming the #4 album in the country at that time.
In the meantime, while the other Bangles members have moved on to other projects, the four albums that the band recorded continue to sell well in catalog sales. In July 1994, "Different Light" was certified platinum four times over, the first of the Bangles' albums to reach that mark. Those four albums have also spun off at least 4 Best of Packages that have sold reasonably well. Those collections have featured special remixes, but no previously unreleased material.
In the years that followed, each Bangle continued on her own path. Susanna Hoffs would launch a solo career, and Vicki, Debbi and Michael would surface in many different bands over the years. During that time, they remained aquaintances. Every one in a while, a rumor would surface about an offer to get the group back together from some record company or charity group, but to one degree or another, the girls would not bite. However, as time progressed, these four friends gradually came back together, renewing their individual friendships as individual members started families. (By 1998, Susanna Hoffs and Debbi Peterson would become mothers.) The bonds of motherhood planted the seeds for what would follow:
In the fall of 1998, Susanna and Debbi took the first steps that lead to a Bangles reunion by getting together to work on songs - just to see what would happen. Those sessions worked so well, that Vicki Peterson later joined in the writing as well. This lead to talks about reforming The Bangles. This received a jump start when Mike Myers and Jay Roach (Susanna's husband, and film director of Austin Powers, and its sequel - as well as other films..) asked the three if they would write a song for the soundtrack to Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.
This became the perfect opportunity to bring Michael Steele back onboard. Soon, the new song was written and the four Bangles were in the studio. Over a three day session, they recorded the song, "Get The Girl." The song was penned by Susanna, Debbi and Vicki and it recaptured the vintage 60s oriented vibe and sound that punctuated the Bangles early recordings. The track has been described as sounding like something off the "All Over The Place " album. (And what a great song it is!!)
The ease at which everyone came into the studio pushed thing one final step, and by September of 1999, the girls decided to reactivate the Bangles. They began writing more songs, and even put in an appearence at the Hollywood Bowl in which they sang six Beatles songs in a Beatles Tribute conducted by ledgendary producer, Sir George Martin. Scheduling around each others individual projects and lives, the girls continued to quietly collaborate on new songs. In July 2000, The Bangles formally announced their return with a September club tour, to be followed by a new album and a much larger tour next summer.
Stay tuned folks, the fun is only just beginning!