Sweeping aside the terminally lovesick “Eternal Flame” and the novelty hip-pop of “Walk Like An Egyptian”, two tracks of career-defining chart contrivance, The Bangles were always too cool for school — mine, yours or anybody else‘s for that matter. It all can be summed up in two words — “September Gurls”. How many pop bands do you know of that were covering Big Star in 1986? None. Over in the Midwest, punk-pop progressives The Replacements would later pay tribute to Big Star with the track “Alex Chilton”, but The Bangles beat them to it with their offering. With that song alone, The Bangles became like your cooler older sisters with a bitchin’ record collection to prove it.
Following in the footsteps of other LA girl-bands like The Runaways and The Go-Go’s, but flying in the face of then-present new wave, The Bangles were a more retro, 60’s influenced band — The Monkees, The Beatles, Mamas & The Papas — filling their songs with layered harmonies, jangling guitars, and goddamn they were easy on the eye. In the same way everybody had their favourite Beatle, who didn’t have their favourite Bangle? Everyone used to fawn over Susanna Hoffs, but a fascination with bass players that started with John Taylor from Duran Duran, there was no doubting the tempered sass of bassist Michael Steele. She played it like this pop music thing was just a lark, and what she really wanted to do was drink and raise hell. Hoffs was just too squeaky clean…
Lumped in with the retro-decked “Paisley Underground” bands like Rain Parade and Opal, the sound of The Bangles 1984 debut All Over The Place, was just too idiosyncratic for a larger audience. The 60’s garage feel rode large on tracks like “James” and “Restless”, but was let down by odd bursts of misjudged country pop and bluesy rock n’ roll. The album’s not without some great moments (Kimberley Rew’s “Going Down To Liverpool” for one) but like The Seeds cover they’d whip out in their live shows, it just felt like The Bangles were “pushin’ too hard”. All Over The Place they called it, and All Over The Place was how it sounded. Not quite the breakthrough album they would’ve hoped, but enough to attract some fortuitous attention.
Working with producer David Kahne once more, their follow-up Different Light dropped the 60’s garage fixation for a more focussed, radio-friendly sound. As the legend goes, so enamoured he was by the band, Prince (under a pseudonym) gave the band their first hit with “Manic Monday”. Along with Jules Shear’s sublime “If She Knew What She Wants”, the irritating but addictive “Walk Like An Egyptian” and The Bangles own “Walking Down Your Street”, Different Light was on another pop plane from the calm and over-collected All Over The Place. With that cover of “September Gurls” strengthening the tail end of the album, along with Michael Steele’s starkly personal “Following”, Different Light unsurprisingly rode to the top of the charts in indefatigable style.
Both albums were recently reissued through catch-all label Cooking Vinyl with new liner notes and extras, with All Over The Place given a cursory extra track (a cover of “Where Were You When I Needed You” from their 1982 Bangles EP) but Different Light is expanded by an extra disc of (superfluous to the regular listener, but fan essential nonetheless) remixes and b-sides. You wouldn’t be losing any sleep if you passed on All Over The Place, but for the guitar-pop aficionado, Different Light is not to be overlooked.