Monday, October 6, 2014

The Bangles: That "Other" '80s Girl Band AKA If Pope Francis And Jesus Had A Fistfight, Who Would Win?

Everybody lumps the Go-Go's and the Bangles together. Somewhere in the world, somebody just did exactly that, maybe like five seconds ago. A lot people probably don't even know which band came first, although it's really not that hard. True, they were both all-female bands, they were both active in the '80s, and they both enjoyed roughly the same amount of commercial success. You're probably thinking I'm about to tell you the similarities end there. Actually, they don't.

Like the Go-Go's, the Bangles started out as part of a very specific Los Angeles alternative music scene. In the case of the Go-Go's, that scene was L.A. punk, but in the case of the Bangles, that scene was the delightfully named Paisley Underground. And like the Go-Go's, the Bangles became pretty much the only band from their scene to hit the big time and infiltrate the Top 40, MTV, etc.

Although in reality the two bands were almost contemporaries (with the Bangles even releasing their first single as early as 1981, the same year as Beauty And The Beat), I think it's more accurate to say that the Bangles were what you'd get if you'd added three years to the Go-Go's. Handily, this three year addition actually describes the differences in the two bands' sounds. While the Go-Go's drew on the pre-British Invasion girl group, surf rock, and Brill Building pop of 1961-1963 (the Beach Boys, the Shangri-La's, The Shirelles, The Ventures, Lesley Gore), the Bangles drew on the post-British Invasion American folk-rock, garage rock, sunshine pop, and early psychedelic rock of 1965-1967 (the Byrds, the Turtles, Buffalo Springfield, the Mamas & the Papas, Nuggets-style garage bands). So they followed the Go-Go's by about three years in both '60s musical influences, and actual '80s popularity!

Every so often the chattering classes will debate the question of which '80s all-girl band was better. But saying that the Bangles were better than the Go-Go's is like saying that Mars is better than Earth. I mean, yeah, Mars is cool and everything, but the best planet is obviously Earth. For me, the Go-Go's simply held more ... drama. The Bangles seemed calmer, more well-adjusted, not as outrageous or comical. Plus, unlike the Go-Go's, most of the Bangles' biggest hits were written by outside songwriters. Also, the Bangles slid further into MOR cheese than the Go-Go's ever did, although perhaps if the Go-Go's had stayed together longer they would have done the same. Let me put it this way: imagine if Belinda had released her solo material under the Go-Go's' name; that's sort of what happened to the Bangles. As for chart superiority, consider this one a draw: while the Bangles never had an album as big as Beauty and the Beat, the Go-Go's never had a single as big as "Walk Like an Egyptian." Still, even if, in my opinion, the Bangles were not as great as the Go-Go's, that doesn't mean they were not also great.

Then there is the question of Belinda vs. Susanna. Although I appreciate Susanna Hoffs' physical appeal (with those sultry ebony eyes and long flowing Jewish locks) and am sympathetic to those who may feel particularly enthusiastic about it, there is no legitimate argument here. It's like Pope Francis vs. Jesus. You may admire Pope Francis, but if Jesus and Pope Francis has a fistfight, I don't need to tell you who would win.

Although it must have been somewhat irritating for the Bangles to hear themselves constantly be compared to a prior band, if you have it in your head that some sort of "rivalry" developed between the Go-Go's and the Bangles, here's the funny part: they were actually friends! Yes Virginia, sometimes all your most precious dreams really do come true. I'm not saying they were good friends, but they probably got along with each other better than, say, they got along with their own band members.

Look at that photo. It's like the Million Dollar Quartet. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but allow me at least fifty. Look at the difference between the facial expressions of Jane, Belinda, et al. and Susanna. The Go-Go's are like, "Aw, look, it's our little sister band! Isn't that cute?" And Susanna is like, "Nobody gonna compare me to anybody. I shouldn't even be standing here." She came clean in a recent interview for Classic Rock Revisited:
I was very inspired by the Go-Go’s. It was a fact that I downplayed during The Bangles because we were compared to them one hundred percent of the time. We started to not want to emphasize that. For me, in particular, maybe more so than the other girls in the band, I was very influenced by the Go-Go’s.
A-ha! But even if a rivalry had genuinely begun to brew, it couldn't have lasted long, since the Go-Go's imploded just as the Bangles first rose to prominence. Mostly, it sounds like the Go-Go's were just too entertaining to hate. From another recent interview with Hoffs:
The problem with the Bangles is that we had a lot of juicy stuff but nobody knows about it because we were very discreet. But the Go-Go's were less discreet [laughs].

The funny thing was the Bangles had less of a good girl image on the outside, and the Go-Go's had this Little Miss Sunshine, sweet American pie image. But they were just crazy! I mean, they were just wild, wild chicks, and they'll tell you that themselves [laughing]. And the Bangles had this other image of kind of being a garage rock band, a little bit less, you know, 'shiny with a bow in our hair.'

I know Belinda and she's great and I can tell you I've had some of the craziest nights of my life with her, oh my God! She's completely fantastic.
Oh we know, Susanna. Believe me, we know. Just one request: next interview, provide more details please?

So, in sum: the '80s were blessed with more superstar all-female rock bands than basically every other decade combined. But long before "Eternal Flame," first there was the Paisley Underground. The Paisley What-erground, you say? All right, give me a couple of weeks.


Unknown said...

Herr Zrbo said...

I know how much you like Belinda and her looks, I gotta say I'm more a fan of Susanna Hoff's appearance. Just look at those eyes, those big anime eyes... hubba hubba.

Little Earl said...

Well, it depends on what era of course. If you're talking 1984 Susanna vs. 1984 Belinda, I'd probably agree with you.

Tell you what: you take Susanna, I'll take Belinda, and everybody goes home happy!

Anonymous said...

Long flowing Jewish locks? WTF"