The Bangles

The Bangles

Susanna Hoffs – circa 1986

“Ooh, oh I’ve had sleepless nights / Tossin’, turnin’ wake up burnin’ / For what you inspire” – ‘Walking Down Your Street’ (Susanna Hoffs, Louis Guiterrez, David Kahne)

‘The Recycler’ is a Los Angeles based periodical.  As the name implies, it contains advertisements for second hand items that people wish to sell.  Furniture, items of bric-a-brac and the like are all cleared out of garages and given new homes.  The garage of the Peterson family contains two sisters, Vicki and Debbi, who are putting together a rock band and advertise for members in ‘The Recycler’.  They receive a response from a folk-rock singer named Susanna Hoffs.  And, believe it or not, that ad in ‘The Recycler’ begins the process of creating The Bangles, a successful band on an international level.

Susanna Lee Hoffs is born on 17 January 1959 in Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.  Her maternal grandfather, Ralph Simon, was – in Susanna’s words – “A very prominent rabbi in the Chicago area.”  Susanna’s parents are Joshua Allen Hoffs, a psychiatrist, and Tamar Ruth Simon Hoffs, a film writer and director.  Susanna has two brothers, John and Jesse; one is thirteen months older than her, while the other is the youngest of the three children.  Susanna Hoffs grows up in a relatively wealthy area.  The actor Leonard Nimoy – who would go on to play Mr Spock in the television series ‘Star Trek’ – is a neighbour.  “I grew up with the Nimoys; I went to preschool with his kids,” says Susanna.  “At four years old I met [Leonard Nimoy’s children} Adam and Julie.”  Adam Nimoy becomes a friend of Susanna.

Music is introduced into Susanna Hoffs’ life early.  Her mother plays Susanna the sounds of popular British group The Beatles.  “My mom would listen to top forty radio [the music of} which in the 1960s was incredible,” says Susanna.  As a teen, Susanna Hoffs starts to play guitar.  “I basically taught myself how to sing and play by copying records,” she says.  Susanna Hoffs attends Palisades High School in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, graduating in 1976.  “I went to U.C. Berkeley [the University of California at Berkeley] for college, and it was during the period when the whole punk [rock] movement was happening,” Susanna recalls.  Her tastes in music broaden from 1960s pop to include the punk and new wave acts.  Susanna Hoffs forms her first band while at university.  Her brothers, John and Jesse, make up The Psychiatrists with Susanna – the band’s name obviously inspired by their father’s profession.  Susanna Hoffs studies to be a ballet dancer.  She can do the splits, as she later demonstrates on stage with The Bangles – though not on a regular basis!  “It was so hard to be a great dancer,” Susanna remarks.  “In theatre and dance, I was trying to win someone’s approval, trying to get in, trying to be good.  It felt out of my control, whereas music suddenly felt like this free expression.  It was fun.”  Susanna Hoffs works part-time as a production assistant on her mother’s movie sets and makes her acting debut in a small role in Tamar Simon Hoffs’ ‘Stony Island’ (1978).  In 1980 Susanna Hoffs graduates from the University of California at Berkeley, attaining a Bachelor of Fine Arts in art history.  She changes her plan from being a dancer to being a musician, spurred by the assassination of former Beatle John Lennon on 8 December 1980: “I think it made me feel that you have to do that thing you want to do.  You can’t wait.”  Susanna continues, “Just after I graduated from U.C. Berkeley, I came back to L.A. [Los Angeles] and was trying to put together a band…Then I met the Petersons…”

Victoria Anne Theresa Peterson is born on 11 January 1958.  Her younger sister, Deborah Mary Peterson, is born on 22 August 1961.  Both girls are born in Northridge, Los Angeles, California.  They are the daughters of Milt and Jeanne Peterson.  Vicki and Debbi quickly display an aptitude for music.  “I had an electric guitar when I was 9 years old.  How cool is that?” asks Vicki Peterson.  “I was a kid who brought her guitar to every sleep-over and summer afternoon in the park to play her newest creation to anyone who would listen,” she says.  While Vicki plays guitar, Debbi takes up the drums.  “I liked Karen Carpenter [of The Carpenters],” Debbi admits.  “She had an amazing voice…and she was a drummer.”  Vicki Peterson explains that, “Debbi and I were in a band back in high school and that year, our bass player went off to London to attend school and our lead guitar player just wasn’t working out.  So, it was basically just Debbi and me and through a crazy series of communications [i.e. the ad in ‘The Recycler’], I ended up ‘meeting’ Susanna [Hoffs] over the phone.”

Susanna Hoffs, Vicki Peterson and Debbi Peterson begin rehearsing together.  The first song they play is The Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 hit ‘White Rabbit’.  The three girls dub their trio The Colours, with Vicki Peterson switching to bass.  This appellation is soon discarded in favour of The Supersonic Bangs.  This, in turn, is abbreviated in December 1980 to The Bangs.  In the U.S.A., ‘bangs’ is another word for a fringe, a shaped cutting of the front part of the hair so that it lies over the forehead.

The Bangs expand to a four piece band in 1981 with the addition of Annette Zilinskas on bass.  This allows Vicki Peterson to go back to playing guitar again.  Annette Celia Zilinskas is born on 6 November 1962 in Van Nuys, Southern California.  Her unusual surname reflects her Lithuanian ancestry.

The Bangs first come to notice as part of the Los Angeles ‘paisley underground’ scene.  Paisley shirts with exotic, colourful patterns were popular in the mid-to-late 1960s.  They were worn by bands that played chiming guitars and sang songs with spacey lyrics.  In the early 1980s bands like Rain Parade and Dream Syndicate seek to reinvent the style and music of those times.  Initially, The Bangs is lumped in with these acts.

“We made a single for thirty-five dollars at a ten-dollar-an-hour studio called Radio Tokyo in Venice, California,” notes Susanna Hoffs.  The Bangs’ first single is ‘Getting Out Of Hand’ (written by Vicki Peterson) backed with ‘Call On Me’ (written by Susanna Hoffs, Vicki Peterson and David Roback.  The last named is a member of Rain Parade and a friend of Susanna’s brother).  It is released in 1981.  On ‘Getting Out Of Hand’, Susanna Hoffs provides the lead vocal with Vicki Peterson in support.  The riff boils upwards in the song in contrast to the tuneful harmonies.  The disc is self-produced by The Bangs.  It is issued on their own Downkiddie record label.  Susanna Hoffs hustles to get influential disc jockey Rodney Bingenheimer to play the disc.  The airplay gets the band more attention.

Miles Copeland becomes the manager of The Bangs.  Copeland is the manager of new wave / reggae band The Police, whose drummer – Stewart Copeland – is Miles’ younger brother.  Miles Copeland is also the manager of all-girl group The Go-Go’s.  “We’re not some poor man’s Go-Go’s,” Vicki Peterson asserts.  Copeland gets The Bangs a recording contract with the small Faulty Products label.  The group records a new EP, but just as it is about to be released, a name change is necessary for the band.  ‘A legal issue’ forces this move because it transpires that there is already a New York group called The Bangs.  The girls from Los Angeles modify the name of their group to The Bangles.  A bangle is a feminine item of jewellery or adornment worn on the wrist, but the name modification also pays tribute to one of their biggest influences.  “It was sort of a Beatles reference in an odd way…Bangles, Beatles,” explains Susanna Hoffs.

The EP from 1982, ‘The Bangles’, is the first release credited to the band under their new name.  Issued by Faulty Products, the disc is produced by Craig Leon.  The single from the EP is ‘The Real World’, a song co-written by Susanna Hoffs and Vicki Peterson.  It is a choppy arrangement, yet also light and airy.  Susanna Hoffs has the lead vocal but the group’s harmonies are emphasised.  The other tracks on this EP are: ‘I’m In Line’ (written by Debbi Peterson, Vicki Peterson and Susanna Hoffs), ‘Want You’ (penned by Vicki), ‘Mary Street’ (written by Susanna and Vicki) and a cover version of the 1966 song ‘How Is The Air Up There?’ first performed by a band called Changin’ Times.  The Faulty Products label folds just after the EP is released so ‘The Bangles’ is rereleased in 1983 by I.R.S. Records.  I.R.S. is run by Ian Copeland, younger brother of Bangles manager Miles Copeland and older brother of Police drummer Stewart Copeland.

In the middle of 1983 bass player Annette Zilinskas leaves The Bangles.  She goes on to Blood On The Saddle (1983-1987) and ‘The Ringling Sisters (1990-1993).  Annette’s departure “did scare me because I was aware that chemistry can make a band good or incredible,” reports Vicki Peterson.  The Bangles search for a new bassist and come up with Michael Steele who, despite her masculine forename, is another woman.  Before Michael joins, Vicki recalls that, “We asked her to describe her dream band.  She said, ‘[Guitar-heavy 1960s Brit band] The Yardbirds with [U.K. folk group] Fairport Convention vocals.’  That sounded great to me.”  Michael Steele declares, “We want to keep the intensity of those great guitar bands but with our vocals.”  In regard to her joining The Bangles, Michael says, “It was one of the few times in my life that I did a totally calculated thing and said, ‘I really like this band.”  In this way, the definitive Bangles line-up comes together: Susanna Hoffs (vocals, guitar), Vicki Peterson (vocals, guitar), Michael Steele (vocals, bass) and Debbi Peterson (vocals, drums).

Michael Steele is born Susan Nancy Thomas on 2 June 1955 in Pasadena, California.  She is the daughter of Nancy Thomas.  The young girl’s stepfather is Tommy Steele.  This seems to be the source of the latter part of Michael Steele’s stagename.  Susan Thomas (Michael Steele) grows up in the suburban area of Newport Beach.  She plays in approximately fourteen different bands before joining The Bangles.  Perhaps the most notable of these acts is the all-girl hard rock group The Runaways.  As Micki Steele she provides lead vocals and bass for The Runaways in 1975 but leaves before their first real album.  (Some recordings of Micki Steele with The Runaways are made.  They eventually surface on the album ‘Born To Be Bad’ (1993).)  The reasons for the exit of Micki/Michael from The Runaways are varied.  According to the lady herself, she is fired by The Runaways manager/producer/songwriter Kim Fowley ‘for refusing his sexual advances’ and for calling ‘Cherry Bomb’ ‘stupid.’  The track goes on to become The Runaways’ breakthrough hit.  Another account claims that she ‘gets kicked out of The Runaways for being too old’ since the members’ jailbait status is part of Fowley’s plan.  Although the experience is unpleasant for Michael Steele, she recovers and goes on to work with such acts as Toni & The Movers, Slow Children (1979), Elton Duck (1979-1980) and Nadia Kapiche (1981) before joining The Bangles.  “It was kind of funny,” Michael reflects.  “After the whole Runaways thing, I said, ‘I will never do a girl band again.  Never!’  [laughs] So never say never!”

The Bangles fortunes are improving but, in retrospect, drummer Debbi Peterson sees storm clouds on the horizon.  “We had this budding baby band going…We had an EP out and all of a sudden we find record companies are interested in us, and we’re thinking, ‘Oh, that’s really nice, but we don’t think we’re ready for it…’”  Ready or not, The Bangles move to a major label, signing with Columbia.

The music of The Bangles is usually described as pop or rock, though sometimes new wave is also cited.  Susanna Hoffs and Vicki Peterson both point to The Beatles as a major influence and that group’s mastery of pop music and harmony singing is reflected in The Bangles.  Mid-1960s British rock bands such as The Kinks and The Yardbirds are added to the blend as are American folk rock acts like The Byrds and The Mamas And The Papas.  British female singer Dusty Springfield is another influence from the same era.  The Bangles draw heavily on the sounds of the 1960s which is an unusual move for such young girls.  1970s singer-songwriters Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell are incorporated in The Bangles more thoughtful moments.  Then the late 1970s punk and new wave acts Television, Talking Heads and Blondie lend an aggressive and quirky edge to The Bangles’ overall sound.  Susanna Hoffs sums it up, saying, “We were these sunny California girls who played garage pop.”

All the members of The Bangles contribute to the group’s songwriting to varying degrees.  They also work with professional songwriters in collaboration or just make use of such full-time tunesmith’s compositions (“We wouldn’t not do a great song just because we didn’t write it,” points out bassist Michael Steele).  Completing the package, The Bangles record a handful of cover versions, though most of them are songs that are pretty obscure.  The emphasis is mainly on the group as songwriters.  Susanna Hoffs enunciates the band’s mission statement: “Everybody writing, everybody singing, everybody playing and everybody harmonising.”  Although this theoretical democracy sounds fine, in practice the spotlight falls on Hoffs most often.  “I suddenly became the lead singer and, y’know, how do I deal with that?”

Dark-haired Susanna Hoffs is the most diminutive member of The Bangles, standing five feet and half an inch.  Vicki Peterson is five feet, six inches; Michael Steele is five feet, eight inches; and, at five feet, nine inches, blonde drummer Debbi Peterson is the tallest Bangle.  Debbi is also the youngest of the group (born 1961).  Next comes Susanna (born 1959), then Vicki (born 1958), leaving Michael (born 1955) as the eldest of the quartet.  With Debbi and Vicki being sisters, there is an added layer to their relationship.  “With me being the younger sister, she tends to be a bit mumsy to me,” notes Debbi with a laugh.

The Bangles’ first album is ‘All Over The Place’ (1984) (US no. 80, UK no. 86), released by Columbia in May.  The disc is produced by David Kahne.  The first single is ‘Hero Takes A Fall’ (UK no. 96), co-written by Susanna Hoffs and Vicki Peterson and featuring a lead vocal by Hoffs.  With swooping guitar chords and plummeting vocal harmonies, it sets out The Bangles stall in fine style with a sideline of female empowerment in the lyrics: “I won’t feel bad at all / When the hero takes a fall.”  ‘Going Down To Liverpool’ (UK no. 79) is a cover version of a 1983 song by Katrina And The Waves.  This is a glum account of unemployment: “Where you going with that UB40 in your hand? [The British claim form for unemployment benefits]…I’m going down to Liverpool to do nothing / All the days of my life.”  Debbi Peterson handles the lead vocals for this song.  The video for ‘Going Down To Liverpool’ is a hoot.  Susanna Hoffs calls upon her long acquaintance with Leonard Nimoy (‘Star Trek’), having him play ‘dad’ to the four Bangles piled into his car.  ‘All Over The Place’ includes another cover version, ‘Live’, a song originally recorded in 1967 by U.S. psychedelic band The Merry-Go-Round.  In addition to ‘Hero Takes A Fall’, the album has three more songs co-written by Susanna Hoffs and Vicki Peterson: ‘Dover Beach’, ‘Tell Me’ and ‘Restless’.  However the bulk of the album – five of the eleven tracks – is written by guitarist Vicki Peterson alone.  The best of these may be the dismissive put down of ‘James’.  Vicki explains that ‘James’ “was written when I was in college and my roommate was having a clandestine affair with a professor.  So it wasn’t autobiographical, but it was real-life.”  Additionally, punishing tracks like Vicki’s ‘Silent Treatment’ show The Bangles really can whip up a storm musically.  “I think there was more of a defensive attitude on the first LP,” is Susanna Hoffs’ assessment and it is this kind of full-on arrangement to which she refers.  The Bangles are out to earn their credentials on this ‘rocking first album.’

‘Different Light’ (1986) (US no. 2, UK no. 3, AUS no. 2), The Bangles’ second album, is issued in January.  David Kahne is again the producer for this album.  ‘Manic Monday’ (US no. 2, UK no. 2, AUS no. 3) is credited as being composed by Christopher.  This is a pseudonym for U.S. funk popster Prince, ‘Christopher’ being the name of his character in the concurrent movie ‘Under the Cherry Moon’ (1986).  Apparently Prince is a fan of The Bangles.  Rumours persist that his interest in Susanna Hoffs is more personal in nature.  “We never dated,” she insists.  “There was never anything romantic between us.”  With its pretty piano line, ‘Manic Monday’ is a bit atypical for The Bangles, but Susanna Hoffs’ vocal is charming and the song resonates with working week office drones everywhere.  ‘If She Knew What She Wants’ (US no. 29, UK no. 31, AUS no. 31) is a cover version of a 1985 Jules Shear song.  Once again, Susanna Hoffs is the lead vocalist.  With more guitars than ‘Manic Monday’ – but still plenty of pop sweetness – this is a sighing ode to the inexplicable (“Then one day she’s satisfied / And the next I find her crying / And it’s nothing she can explain”).  The kooky ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ (US no. 1, UK no. 3, AUS no. 1) is written by Liam Sternberg.  Originally, drummer Debbi Peterson is slated to handle the lead vocal.  However, producer David Kahne decides to ‘audition’ all The Bangles and ultimately elects to hand the vocal around from verse to verse from Vicki Peterson to Michael Steele to Susanna Hoffs.  In other words, everybody but Debbi!  “I didn’t sing on it, I didn’t play on it.  It was a drum machine,” grumbles Debbi.  Bassist Michael Steele says of the success enjoyed by ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’, “The god of irony was laughing down on us; ‘You’re going to have a huge record but it’s the song you fell most estranged from as an artist.’”  However, even Debbi Peterson concedes with a shrug, “It’s the signature song.”  Of the singles lifted from ‘Different Light’, the best is actually “Walking Down Your Street’ (US no. 11, UK no. 16, AUS no. 56).  In fact, it’s The Bangles all-time best song.  This is a propulsive tribute to hopeless crushes and all that goes with it.  It is helped along by lead vocalist Susanna Hoffs co-writing the song (with Louis Guiterrez and producer David Kahne).  ‘Different Light’ is also home to a cover version of Big Star’s 1974 song ‘September Gurls’ with Michael Steele as lead vocalist.  Counting ‘Walking Down Your Street’, ‘Different Light’ has eight songs out of twelve composed by members of The Bangles.  Susanna Hoffs and Vicki Peterson co-write the iridescent title track, ‘In A Different Light’, the jazz-inflected ‘Return Post’ and the melodramatic ‘Angels Don’t Fall In Love’.  ‘Not Like You’ is written by Susanna Hoffs, Debbi Peterson and David Kahne, while all four Bangles share the credit for ‘Standing In The Hallway’ and the gusty ‘Let It Go’.  Perhaps the most unusual moment is ‘Following’ (UK no. 55), a brooding acoustic ballad written and sung by Michael Steele.  ‘Different Light’ is the highpoint of The Bangles’ album catalogue because it balances crowd-pleasing commerciality with solid playing and composing from the band.  The album is described as ‘more polished’ than its predecessor, though Susanna Hoffs sees it as “more romantic.”

Around this time, Bangles bassist Michael Steele is romantically linked to Brad Shepherd, guitarist for Australian rock band The Hoodoo Gurus.  The Bangles provide backing vocals on The Hoodoo Gurus’ album ‘Blow Your Cool’ (1987), most notably on ‘Good Times’.

Susanna Hoffs stars in ‘The Allnighter’ (1987), a movie directed by her mother, Tamar Simon Hoffs.  The film is ‘critically panned and fails at the box office.’

After six years as The Bangles’ manager, Miles Copeland is sacked in 1987.  “We just felt that Miles Copeland was not there enough for us,” explains drummer Debbi Peterson.  Replacing Copeland are Arnold Stiefel and Randy Phillips.  Bassist Michael Steele describes the change in management as, “The biggest mistake The Bangles ever made.”  This is because, according to Steele, “They were interested in Sue [i.e. Susanna Hoffs] as a solo artist.”  Debbi Peterson says, “I think Susanna at the time was a little sex kitten and I personally wanted The Bangles to be seen as musicians and a band, not little sex poodles, y’know?”  Thinking Hoffs is perhaps not fully committed to the band, Debbi asks her, “Are you still into this?”  The drummer muses, “She was very positive about it but I didn’t feel at that time, that she was telling me the truth.”

The Bangles record a ‘hard rocking version’ of the 1966 Simon And Garfunkel song ‘Hazy Shade Of Winter’ (US no. 2, UK no. 11, AUS no. 7) for the soundtrack of the movie ‘Less Than Zero’ (1987).  It is Susanna Hoffs who suggests the song, though Vicki Peterson – a big fan of Simon And Garfunkel – is quick to agree.  Although Simon And Garfunkel are usually associated with gentler fare, ‘Hazy Shade Of Winter’ is probably their most rock oriented song.  The Bangles run with it.  Vicki Peterson puts the pedal to the metal, amping up the guitar riff and executing some sharp corners.  Rick Rubin’s hard-edged production job is a considerable boon.  “It was a moment when we sounded the most on record like we actually sounded live,” claims bassist Michael Steele, perhaps mourning The Bangles not pursuing that direction further.

In 1988 Bangles guitarist Vicki Peterson begins a romantic relationship with Bobby Donati.

The Bangles’ third album, ‘Everything’ (1988) (US no. 15, UK no. 5, AUS no. 7), is described as ‘slicker’.  Released in October, this set is produced by Davitt Sigerson.  In contrast to previous releases, there are no cover versions on ‘Everything’ and no songs provided by songwriters from outside the band.  However, ten of the twelve tracks are songwriting collaborations by members of The Bangles with professional composers or other external friends.  The two exceptions are ‘Watching The Sky’ (written by Susanna Hoffs and Debbi Peterson) and ‘Bell Jar’ (written by Vicki and Debbi Peterson – and probably inspired by Sylvia Plath’s 1963 novel of the same name).  The first single is the swirling psychedelic track that opens the album, ‘In Your Room’ (US no. 5, UK no. 35, AUS no. 41).  “I love it in your room tonight,” purrs Susanna Hoffs, “When you’re gone I like to try on all you clothes / You won’t regret it if you let me stay / I’ll teach you everything that a boy should know.”  Hoffs co-writes ‘In Your Room’ with Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg.  The same trio is behind the second single, ‘Eternal Flame’ (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1).  The song is inspired by a visit to ‘Graceland’, the home of the late King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley.  When Hoffs describes a memoriam to Presley at ‘Graceland’, her co-writers Kelly and Steinberg help her turn the idea into this ‘lovely ballad.’  “’Eternal Flame’ was a beautiful song,” admits guitarist Vicki Peterson.  “[Dance pop star] Whitney Houston could have a hit with it.  Why were we [as a rock band] doing it?”  ‘Eternal Flame’ features an orchestral backing ‘and barely any instrumental contribution’ from The Bangles themselves.  “I was feeling emotionally divorced from a lot of the music that was going on,” Vicki says.  Younger sister Debbi Peterson co-writes the third single, ‘Be With You’ (US no. 30, UK no. 23, AUS no. 37), with Walker Igleheart.  Debbi also provides the lead vocal to the song.  Bassist Michael Steele’s contribution to ‘Everything’ is substantial since she co-writes three songs (‘Complicated Girl’, ‘Something To Believe In’ and ‘Glitter Years’) with Dan White.  Eric Lowen and Dan Navarro are also co-credited with ‘Something To Believe In’.  Lowen and Navarro collaborate with Susanna Hoffs on the album’s fourth and final single, ‘I’ll Set You Free’ (UK no. 74, AUS no. 81), a song on which the gorgeous harmonies almost outweigh the heartache.  That leaves Vicki Peterson’s songs ‘Make A Play For Her Now’ (written with Vinnie Vincent) and the ominous closing track, ‘Crash And Burn’ (written with Rachel Sweet).  As an album, ‘Everything’ has ‘a kind of autumnal beauty.’

Susanna Hoffs begins a romantic relationship with Donovan Leitch Jr. in 1989.  Her beau is the son of British folk rock singer from the 1960s, Donovan.

Debbi Peterson began dating The Bangles British-born sound engineer and tour manager Steve Botting in 1988.  Debbi and Steve marry in a quiet English village on 10 June 1989.  Neither Susanna Hoffs nor Michael Steele is at the ceremony.  Vicki Peterson says, “We had a great time.  It was a great wedding.  But it made us feel as though they [i.e. Susanna and Michael] didn’t care.  I think the fact that Susanna and Micki did not attend Debbi’s wedding should have been a wake-up call to me and I think, in a way, it was.”

The Bangles play their last show in Santa Clara, California, on 2 September 1989.

The Bangles officially disband in 1990.  “Everything was great on paper, but we all became miserable because we were so caught up in the machinery of how you make that happen, it took away the sheer joy,” claims Susanna Hoffs.  “I just wanted to get as far away from the source of stress and anxiety as I could,” she says.  It is said that ‘most of the conflict was due to the disproportionate attention paid to Hoffs.’  Vicki Peterson mourns, “This was my baby.  This was the band I had started and now it was disappearing…Susanna said, ‘I don’t think I can make another record with The Bangles,’ and that was it.”  Debbi Peterson says, “We were exhausted, about like 1989.  We were touring constantly…We needed a break.”  For Michael Steele, the ‘late 1980s is marked by tension and depression’ due the ‘compromises of fame’ as well as Susanna Hoffs being considered the frontwoman.  “We would have torn each other to pieces,” says Michael.  “I just said, ‘Sue, I can’t do this anymore’…and that was all the managers needed.”

‘The Bangles’ Greatest Hits’ (1990) (US no. 97, UK no. 4, AUS no. 6) collects together the group’s singles.  It also includes a cover version of The Grass Roots’ 1966 song ‘Where Were You When I Needed You’ (which was the B side to ‘Hero Takes A Fall’) and ‘Everything I Wanted’ (written by Susanna Hoffs, Eric Lowen and Dan Navarro), a previously unreleased song from the sessions for ‘Everything’.

Susanna Hoffs begins a solo career with the album ‘When You’re A Boy’ (1991) (US no. 83).  This yields the singles ‘My Side Of The Bed’ (US no. 30, UK no. 44) and ‘Unconditional Love’ (UK no. 65).  While working on a second album, Hoffs is dropped from the Columbia Records roster.  “The solo career was much harder than I ever thought it would be,” she says.  In 1992 Susanna Hoffs breaks up with boyfriend Donovan Leitch Jr.  In the early 1990s, Susanna Hoffs helps comedian Mike Myers put together a band for a skit on the television comedy show ‘Saturday Night Live’.  The group is dubbed Ming Tea.  “We got the name Ming Tea from a very obscure 1960s Italian movie starring Ursula Andress,” Hoffs reports.  The movie to which she refers is ‘The 10th Victim (La Decima Vittima)’ (1965), an Italian-French co-production.  The general plot of this science fiction film has giant corporations sponsoring contestants in a lethal hunt against each other.  Ursula Andress’ character is sponsored by Ming Tea.  For the purposes of the TV parody, the members of Ming Tea adopt silly fictitious names.  The line-up of the band is: Austin Powers (Mike Myers) (vocals, guitar), Gillian Shagwell (Susanna Hoffs) (guitar, vocals), Trevor Aigburth (Christopher Ward) (lead guitar, vocals), Sid Belvedere (Matthew Sweet) (bass, vocals) and Manny Stixman (Stuart Johnson) (drums).  On 17 April 1993 Susanna Hoffs marries Jay Roach, a man who becomes known for directing comedy films such as ‘Meet the Parents’ (2000).  Susanna and Jay have two sons: Jackson Wiley Roach (born 9 February 1995) and Sam Rayfield Roach (born 10 November 1998).  A second solo album, ‘Susanna Hoffs’ (1996) includes the single ‘All I Want’ (US no. 77, UK no. 33).  The Austin Powers character created by Mike Myers is expanded upon for the full-length movie ‘Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery’ (1997), directed by Susanna Hoffs’ husband, Jay Roach.  Ming Tea contributes the song ‘BBC’ to the film’s soundtrack.

Vicki Peterson’s boyfriend Bobby Donati contracts leukaemia in 1990 and dies in 1991.  In 1991 Vicki Peterson takes part in the foundation of The Continental Drifters, a kind of casual supergroup that includes Susan Cowsill (The Cowsills), Peter Holsapple (The dBs) and Mark Walton (Dream Syndicate). The group releases the self-titled album ‘The Continental Drifters’ (1994).  Also, by 1994 Vicki Peterson and Susan Cowsill are playing gigs as a duo under the name of The Psycho Sisters.  In 1994-1995 Vicki Peterson appears with The Go-Go’s, the all-girl group Miles Copeland managed before The Bangles.  Vicki fills in for The Go-Go’s pregnant guitarist, Charlotte Caffey.

“I just didn’t even talk to Vicki for weeks,” says Debbi Peterson of the aftermath of The Bangles’ break-up.  Debbi Peterson forms an act with Siobhan Maher called Kindred Spirit (1992-1997).  Debbi Peterson and her husband Steve Botting have two children: a son named Brian (born 1997) and a daughter named Keira (born 2004).

Michael Steele plays in a band called Crash Wisdom (1993-1994).  She then leaves Los Angeles.  Moving to northern California, Michael concentrates on painting rather than music.  Michael Steele returns to the fray with Eyesore for four months in 1996.  She fills in for bassist Mark Walton in Vicki Peterson’s Continental Drifters in 1998.

The mutual bond of motherhood brings Susanna Hoffs and Debbi Peterson together again.  Susanna manages to talk The Bangles into a reunion to record ‘Get The Girl’, a song for the soundtrack of the second Austin Powers film, ‘Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me’ (1999).  The movie is, again, directed by Susanna Hoffs’ husband, Jay Roach.  Susanna Hoffs, Vicki Peterson, Michael Steele and Debbi Peterson decide to reactivate The Bangles in 1999 but the bonds are looser, allowing them space and time for solo works or side projects if they choose.

Vicki Peterson’s other band, The Continental Drifters, release the albums ‘Vermilion’ (1999) and ‘Better Day’ (2001), as well as the 2001 EP ‘Listen, Listen’, before folding in 2001.  Two more albums are issued by the act after they disband: ‘Nineteen Ninety-Three’ (2003) consists of previously unreleased material recorded in 1993 while ‘Drifted: In The Beginning & Beyond’ (2015) is a more wide-ranging compilation.

The Bangles’ hits are repackaged as ‘Eternal Flame’ (2001) (UK no. 15).

Ming Tea contributes ‘Daddy Wasn’t There’ to the soundtrack of ‘Austin Powers in Goldmember’ (2002), the third and final in the Austin Powers series of films.  As with its predecessors, this movie is directed by Susanna Hoffs’ husband, Jay Roach.

The Bangles release a new album, ‘Doll Revolution’ (2003) (UK no. 62), on Koch Records in September.  The disc is produced by Brad Wood.  The first single from the album is ‘Something That You Said’ (UK no. 38), a song co-written by Susanna Hoffs and Vicki Peterson.  Susanna Hoffs is the lead singer on this dreamy tune with a substantial amount of synthesisers in the instrumentation.  The album title comes from a line in the song ‘Tear Off Your Own Head (It’s A Doll Revolution)’ (UK no. 79).  Susanna Hoffs provides the lead vocal on this chiming and rattling tirade against women being plastic Barbie dolls and urging female empowerment.  This is a cover version of an Elvis Costello song that first appeared on his album ‘When I Was Cruel’ (2002).  When released as a single, ‘Tear Off Your Own Head’ is backed by ‘I Will Take Care Of You’, a quietly pastoral piece written and sung by Hoffs.

On 25 October 2003 Bangles guitarist Vicki Peterson marries John Cowsill.  He is the brother of Susan Cowsill, Vicki’s partner in The Psycho Sisters.  Both John and Susan belong to The Cowsills, a family vocal harmony act that has existed in one form or another since the mid-1960s (1965-1972, 1978-1990, 1990 onwards).

Bassist Michael Steele grows disenchanted with the reunited Bangles.  It appears the source of her discontent is that The Bangles don’t go on tour very often anymore.  Michael’s final concert with The Bangles takes place early in 2004, but her departure from the band is not made official until May 2005.  It is said that Michael Steele’s leaving takes place for ‘artistic reasons.’  The decision is made that there will be no formal replacement for Michael Steele in The Bangles.  Nonetheless, for practical purposes, The Bangles need a bass player.  So it is that Abby Travis (born 10 November 1969) is brought into the band.

Under the pseudonym of Sid ‘n’ Susie, Susanna Hoffs and her Ming Tea companion Matthew Sweet release ‘Under The Covers Vol. 1’ (2006) (US no. 192).  This is a collection of the duo’s renditions of classic rock songs from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.  Sid ‘n’ Susie follow this with two more similar albums, ‘Under The Covers Vol. 2’ (2009) (US no. 106) and ’Under The Covers Vol. 3’ (2012).

Abby Travis leaves The Bangles in 2008.  Asked for the reasons for her departure, Travis responds “No comment” and “Ask them.”  Derrick Anderson takes over as the bassist for The Bangles in 2008.  This makes him the first male Bangle, but since his appointment is as informal as that of Abby Travis his official status is highly questionable.

The fifth Bangles album, ‘Sweetheart Of The Sun’ (2011) (US no. 148), is released by Waterfront Records.  It is produced by The Bangles and Matthew Sweet.  The single from the album is ‘Anna Lee (Sweetheart Of The Sun)’.  It is co-written by the three Bangles, Susanna Hoffs, Vicki Peterson and Debbi Peterson.  The song’s almost gentle riff is accompanied by a chant-along vocal by Vicki Peterson with support from Susanna Hoffs.  The bass playing on this album is by Derrick Anderson.

Susanna Hoffs releases a solo album, ‘Someday’ (2012).  She also releases two EPs in 2012: ‘Some Summer Days’ and ‘From Me To You’.

The Psycho Sisters – Vicki Peterson and Susan Cowsill – finally release an album after more than twenty years together.  The disc is called ‘Up On The Chair, Beatrice’ (2014).

The Bangles came together as a result of an advertisement in ‘The Recycler’.  This proved quite apposite since they recycled the sounds of the 1960s bands that influenced them.  Their best work was the three albums recorded from 1984 to 1988 even if, behind the scenes, things were stressful for them.  The Bangles went on to recycle their own career, reuniting at the turn of the century.  The Bangles were ‘four California girls who dreamed of being The Beatles.’  They ‘combined the chiming riffs and catchy melodies of British invasion guitar pop with a hint of the energy of new wave.’

Sources:

  1. wikipedia.org as at 14 November 2015
  2. ‘The Bangles’ Greatest Hits’ – Sleeve notes by Mark Rowland (Liberation Records, 1990) p. 2, 3, 4, 5
  3. The Jewish Chronicle Online – ‘The Bar Mitzvah Girl Who Walked Like an Egyptian’ by Paul Lester (21 October, 2010) (reproduced on thejc.com)
  4. Notable names database – nndb.com as at 15 November 2015
  5. Hollywood Jew – ‘Susanna Hoffs Walks Like a…Rockstar, No, a Mom…Rockstar/Mom’ by Tom Teicholz (28 September 2006) (reproduced on jewishjournal.com)
  6. ‘Behind the Music’ (U.S. television program, VH1 cable channel) ‘The Bangles’ – Season 3, episode 40 (30 July 2008)
  7. classicrockhereandnow.com – Susanna Hoffs interview by Ray Shasho
  8. brainyquote.com as at 15 November 2015
  9. Internet movie database – imdb.com – as at 17 November 2015
  10. suite101.com – ‘Interview with Vicki Peterson of The Bangles’ by Chad Bowar (30 June 2004) (via (1) above)
  11. popcultureclassics.com – ‘Bangle the Drum Slowly’ – Debbi Peterson interview by Paul Freeman (October 2011)
  12. guitarworld.com – ‘Interview: Guitarist Vicki Peterson Discusses Influences and The Bangles’ Latest Album “Sweetheart Of The Sun”’ by James Wood (25 September 2012)
  13. thebangles.com/historyofthebangles.html as at 15 November 2015
  14. You Tube as at 17 November 2015
  15. allmusic.com, ‘The Bangles’ by Stephen Thomas Erlewine as at 15 November 2015
  16. biography.com – ‘Bangles Fan Q & A: The Band Answers Your Questions’ (17 June 2014)
  17. ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock And Roll’, ‘Women In Revolt’ by Holly George Warren (Plexus Publishing Limited, 1992) p 615
  18. oneweekoneband.tumblr.com – ‘Winners Never Quit Waiting for that Hit’ (The Hoodoo Gurus) by Joe Bonomo (2012)
  19. famousflix.com as at 15 November 2015
  20. sonicnet.com – ‘The Bangles’ (no author credited) as at 20 March 2001, p.2
  21. thebangles.com – ‘The Bangles Fan Mail’ via (1) above
  22. tvtropes.org – ‘Music: The Bangles’ as at 17 November 2015
  23. lyricsfreak.com as at 8 September 2014

 

Song lyrics copyright as follows: ‘Walking Down Your Street’ (Universal Music Publishing Group, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.); ‘Hero Takes A Fall’ (Bike Music obo Lovolar Music, Bike Music obo Bangophile Music); ‘Going Down To Liverpool’ (EMI Music Publishing); ‘If She Knew What She Wants’ (Universal Music Publishing Group, EMI Music Publishing); and ‘In Your Room’ (Universal Music Publishing Group, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, EMI Music Publishing)

 

Last revised 30 November 2015

 

 

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