The Bangles

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The Bangles Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The Bangles are inarguably one of the greatest female bands of all time. Their sunny harmonies, jangling guitars, and garage rock sensibilities earned them hit after hit, cementing their place in music history.

Founded by LA natives Susanna Hoffs (guitar/vocals) and sisters Debbi Peterson (drums/guitar/vocals), and Vicki Peterson (guitar/vocals), and bass player Annette Zilinskas, the band first hit the music radar in 1981 as ‘The Bangs’, holding their own in LA’s “Paisley Underground” scene.

Susanna Lee Hoffs was born in Los Angeles, California, on January 17, 1959. Hoffs received a bachelor’s degree in art in 1980 from the University of California, Berkeley. During this time she attended the final Sex Pistols show at Winterland Ballroom.

Guitarist Vicki Peterson was born January 11, 1958 and her sister drummer Debbi Peterson was born August 22, 1961, bassist Annette Zilinskas was born November 6, 1962.

There are different accounts of how Hoffs met the other musicians who became the Bangles. Hoffs either posted an ad in a local newspaper and left flyers at the Whisky a Go Go at a Go-Go’s concert in search of potential bandmates, or Hoffs answered a similar ad asking for musicians to join a group.

The band was originally called the Colours, but changed it to the Supersonic Bangs after Hoffs saw an article about 1960s hairstyles in an old copy of Esquire, and subsequently to the Bangs.

Miles Copeland of I.R.S. Records saw the Bangs at a show and signed them to his Faulty Products label. He had previously signed another group of women, the Go-Go’s, whose albums had been commercially successful. In 1982, following a legal claim by another group called the Bangs, Hoffs and her bandmates changed their name again to the Bangles.

The music video for ‘Going Down to Liverpool’ featured the American actor and director, Leonard Nimoy famed for playing Spock in the television series Star Trek. Nimoy played the part of the chauffeur.

Their debut album All Over the Place was released in 1984. Although the album was not a major commercial success – peaking at number 80 on the Billboard 200 albums chart – and did not produce a hit, it sold respectably, mostly through steady airplay on college stations. It also gave them the chance to perform as an opening act for Cyndi Lauper and Huey Lewis and the News, and brought the group to the attention of Prince, who would write ‘Manic Monday’, their first hit.

All Over The Place was produced by David Kahne who has worked with many artists including: Paul McCartney, Linkin Park, The Strokes, The Rubens, Sugar Ray, and Stevie Nicks.

‘Going Down to Liverpool’, written by Kimberley Rew of Katrina and the Waves, won the Bangles the BPI Award, the British equivalent of the Grammy.

The Bangles second album Different Light released in January 1986 reached number two on the Billboard 200. It became their most successful album producing five charting singles.

‘Manic Monday’ the first single released from their second studio album was written by Prince, under the pseudonym “Christopher”, a character he played in the 1986 film Under the Cherry Moon. Originally it was intended for the group Apollonia 6 in 1984. It became the Bangles’ first hit, reaching No. 2 in the United States (coincidentally, the song was kept from the top spot by Prince’s ‘Kiss’).

Liam Sternberg who wrote ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ began his musical career as part of the late-1970s “Akron Sound” which included Devo and the Waitresses. The song reached a peak of number three on the UK Singles Chart in November 1986 and reached number one in the US on December 20, staying at the top of the Hot 100 for four weeks.

‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ was one of the songs which were claimed to have been banned by Clear Channel following the September 11, 2001 attacks. It was also included in a “list of records to be avoided” drawn-up by the BBC during the Gulf War.

‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ was first offered to Toni Basil, who turned it down. Lene Lovich recorded the first version of the song, but it was unreleased when she decided to take a break from music to raise her family.

The music video for ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ was nominated for Best Group Video at the 1987 MTV Video Music Awards.

The Bangles had another US number two single with a cover of Simon & Garfunkel‘s ‘A Hazy Shade of Winter’ released in late 1987 and reaching its peak position in February 1988.

The Bangles third album Everything was released in October 1988 and produced a US Top 5 hit ‘In Your Room’, and a number one single, ‘Eternal Flame’ which became a chart-topper in almost every major country around the world.

When Susanna Hoffs spoke to The Guardian about ‘Eternal Flame’ in 2021, she revealed that producer Davitt Sigerson, tricked her into recording her vocals for the song without any clothes on. “Davitt had recently produced Olivia Newton-John and pranked me by telling me she did her best vocals in the nude. I imagined it would feel like skinny dipping – vulnerable yet freeing – and I decided to try it. Nobody could see me; there was a baffle in front of me and it was dark.”

In 1991, Hoffs released her first post-Bangles solo album, When You’re a Boy. The album includes a cover of ‘Boys Keep Swinging’, the 1979 song written by David Bowie and Brian Eno. She has since released over 6 solo albums.

The Bangles officially re-formed to record a song for the 1999 soundtrack of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, at the behest of the film’s director Jay Roach (who had married Hoffs in 1993).

Hoffs’s debut novel, This Bird Has Flown, a romantic comedy about a struggling musician, was published by Little Brown in 2023.

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