A Bangle-istory Lesson
By Doyle Tatum

Would a ten year hiatus from performing as the Bangles be too much to overcome? Would the Bangles be able to recapture the original 60’s sounds, harmonies and energy we came to love in the eighties? With the 2003 release of “Doll Revolution” these questions were finally answered. The question is, how did it get to this point in the first place? You’re about to enter the Banglezone……..

Right: Before the hits.

It was Los Angeles, late 1970’s, where the Peterson sisters, Vicki and Debbi, had been skipping around from band to band and club to club. They had played with Aisha, Those Girls, and by 1978, The Fans. The Fans consisted of Vicki's best friend Amanda Mills (bass,vocals) and Lynn Elkland (lead guitar, vocals) along with Vicki and Debbi. While the press was favorable, conflicting personal goals broke up The Fans. Amanda elected to stay in college and Lynn went out on her own. Vicki (by now an accomplished guitarist) and Debbi (a natural drummer) were determined to forge ahead. Lynn had placed an ad in the “Recycler” to help the girls replace herself. Vicki would answer the phone call when Susanna Hoffs answered the want ad for a 6 string musician into The Beatles, Byrds and Buffalo Springfield.

Susanna, just out of Berkley, disillusioned by the December 8th senseless death of John Lennon, was ready for a change and hit it off with Vicki on the telephone. Soon Vicki and Debbi went over to Susanna’s Brentwood home to jam. The first song the girls played together was "White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane! The harmonies were great and the trio clicked instrumentally too. The Peterson sisters left the garage thinking "My God, we have ourselves a band!"

The girls immediately started writing songs separately and together and also chose their name….The Bangs. Needing a bass player they hired Annette Zilinskas. Vicki became the band's lead guitarist, Susanna, played acoustic and rhythm guitar and Debbi played the drums. The chemistry was there when they hit the clubs in 1981. They were described as having a playful but tough, 60’s garage power pop sound with great harmonies. They soon became a feature of the club circuit and with other local bands such as The Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade and The Hoodoo Gurus, the Bangs became a part of a “New Wave 1960s revivalist music movement” dubbed, "The Paisley Underground."

The girls recorded, produced and released a 7" single, "Getting Out Of Hand"/”Call On Me” on their own record label, Downkiddie. When a copy of the single made it into the hands of infamous KROQ radio DJ Rodney Binginheimer, the bands' audience began to multiply. It also drew the attention of a New Jersey band, also called The Bangs, who threatened to sue. The girls then changed their name to "The Bangles".

In 1982, Miles Copeland of IRS Records (instrumental in the Go-Go’s career), attended a Bangles show and was more than impressed. He wanted to sign the band but the girls were nervous. Vicki commented “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." He was able to convince the girls that the Bangles would be treated as their own act, not an offshoot of the Go-Go's or a novelty chick band. They 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.

In 1983, the Bangles plans were interrupted when the IRS subsidiary, Faulty Products, the label that released the EP, went out of business and Annette Zilinskas quit to join the band "Blood On The Saddle." A search for a new bassist resulted in finding Michael Steele. She won the audition by answering Vicki Peterson's question, "Describe your dream band" with "The Yardbirds with Fairport Convention vocals". Michael Steele was from Newport Beach, where she played in several area bands with her first real experience being a member of the all girl, heavy metal/punk band, The Runaways.

With the Bangles sound now set for good they signed with CBS Records (Columbia). Paired with veteran producer David Kahne, the band started recording tracks for their debut album. All Over The Place was released in the spring of 1984 much to the critics delight. The album was described as “rock and roll meets Beatles Revolver sound, with ear shattering guitars, a great beat, awesome singing and lots of hooks and harmonies.” While it didn’t do that well on the charts it started to draw the attention of many more fans. 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.

“Different Light” was the next album and huge success! Producer David Kahne gave the record a very radio-friendly production. The album catapulted the band to superstardom, driven by the Prince-penned "Manic Monday", Jules Shear's "If She Knew What She Wants" and the wacky dance track, "Walk Like An Egyptian", which hit #1 for four weeks in a row. This made the band the first all-female band to have a #1 single for four weeks on the Billboard charts. The band backed this album up with a sold out national tour and 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.

Right: At the height of success.

In 1987, teamed with rap/heavy metal producer Rick Rubin, The Bangles recorded and co-produced and mixed a hard rocking cover of Simon & Garfunkel'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". "That song represented what we sounded like as a band, live," reflected Michael Steele. "Perhaps if we weren't so messed up as a band at the time, it could have been a turning point you know?"

Michael Steele's comments reflect what was the beginning of the end of the Bangles. The band had lost control of their sound as David Kahne, a talented and respected producer and enginner, would bring in session musicians if the girls couldn't give him the perfect sound he wanted. This was humiliating and demeaning to the girls … and was coupled with the media’s growing infactuation for a single Bangle, Susanna Hoffs. In the spring of 1987, in between tours, Susanna surprised her bandmates by acting in the campy beach comedy, "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, but it gave Susanna considerable publicity outside the band...

The band continued touring through the summer of 1987 - touring the nation three times over for their "Bitch’n Summer" tour. The Bangles performed several songs off their first two albums, and also debuted four new songs, slated for their forthcoming new album. These included "Happy Man Today" a breezy rocker turned in by Michael Steele. Susanna debuted "I'll Set You Free". Vicki and Debbi contributed "Crash and Burn" and "Be With You" respectively. At the end of the tour the band was able to agree on one thing…David Kahne had to go. They auditioned several producers before deciding on Davitt Sigerson, the man who had recently produced David & David's album "Boomtown" and had worked with Olivia Newton John. Davitt was easy going and supportive.

No cover tunes would be recorded for "Everything", released in October of 1989. All of the songs were written by the band members, though mostly in collaboration with outside writers rather than with each other. This being, just another sign of the deteriorating band relationships. “Everything" shot up the charts, producing two more big hits, the rocking "In Your Room" and the orchestral ballad, "Eternal Flame", which went on to #1 on the Billboard charts and became the fifth biggest selling hit single for 1989.

The Bangles had hit pay dirt on the edge of breakdown. The "Everything Everywhere Tour" would bring out all the hidden tensions and frustrations. The other Bangles were growing increasingly resentful of the "star treatment" given Susanna Hoffs by the media, the public, and by this time, the band's management and record label. While the situation was simmering during the summer of 1987, it was starting to boil over by 1989. Shortly after "Eternal Flame" hit #1, the Bangles decided to part ways with Miles Copeland's Firestars 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.

In retrospect Michael Steele would later state about the switch, "They were only interested in Sue as a solo artist." 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 situation had grown intolerable and the girls were starting to experience serious health problems. 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."

Right: The Bangles reunite.

A "Greatest 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.

For much of the 1990s, the Bangles persued their own musical ambitions and attended to domestic matters. While they were still aquantances, prospects for a reunion were slim to none... Vicki Peterson was busy rocking with the Continental Drifters and Psycho Sisters. Debbi was busy with Siobhan Maher in the band, Kindred Spirit, and Michael Steele, after testing her own solo career waters, had decided to decamp from LA entirely to focus on art and more important things in life. Meanwhile, Susanna Hoffs was working on her solo career.

Susanna was the first to suggest a reunion back in 1993, but the other band members just weren't interested. Bit by bit however, the other members resistance was starting to crumble. Susanna Hoffs and Debbi Peterson had become fast friends in 1997 after having kids. Both former Bangles actually spent time on the phone sharing parenting tips. From there, the two decided that perhaps it was time to write together and see what happens. In 1998, Susanna was working on songs for her fourth solo record, and it seemed logical to work with Debbi on a few things. Well, the early results went so well that Sue's husband, TV producer/film director Jay M. Roach approached the duo to write a song for Austin Powers: The Spy That Shagged Me.

The two agreed, and it wasn't long before both Debbi and Susanna were on the phone with Vicki, trying to convince her to fly to LA to help them finish this cool little song.... So Vicki did and the trio churned out several possible songs. They would soon enter the recording studio to record one of them. It was the perfect opportunity to bring Michael Steele back onboard. After all, they needed a bass player right? 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.

The ease at which everyone came into the studio pushed things to the final step, and by September of 1999, the girls decided to reactivate the Bangles after clearing the air and resolving some of the conflicts that plagued the band. They began writing more songs, and even put in an appearance at the Hollywood Bowl in which they sang six Beatles songs in a Beatles Tribute conducted by legendary 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.

The tour, which would eventually encompass 15 dates was a resounding success! The girls appeared to having more fun onstage than that had had during their heyday, and they were at times overwhelmed by fan reaction and appreciation. The Bangles played updated versions of Bangles classics and also introduced a sample of the huge new catalog of songs they have been writing. Michael Steele contributed the rocker "Between The Two." Debbi Peterson contributed the lovely, mid tempo song, "Here Right Now." Vicki Peterson performed "Rain Song," which she transplanted from her other band, The Continental Drifters. Susanna Hoffs contributed "I Will Take Care of You," a lush yet reflective ballad about motherhood. New songs "Ride The Ride", "Get The Girl" and "Stealing Rosemary" showed the band was more than just a pop band... they were a rock and roll band.

For well over a year, the band would work on perfecting their new songs. Adding new arrangements and lyrics here, deleting there. In November of 2001, the band went into a secluded house up in the Los Angeles mountains with instruments in toe... and producer Brad Wood to record a new album. All in all, it took the band nearly six months to record and mix 15 songs. After still more months shopping the album around to other record labels and distributors, the band struck gold with distribution deals with EMI-Liberty Records in the UK and Europe and JVC/Victor Entertainment in Japan.

"Doll Revolution" was released in both countries to much fanfare. While on tour, the girls were greeted by enthusiastic fans, both old and new that really dug their sound. In particular, the band did extremely well in Germany, where "Something That You Said" the album's first single hit #3 in national airplay and also cracked the Top 20 in Spain. The song was also a Top 40 hit in Japan, as was “Tear Off Your Own Head". In July of 2003, the band signed a record deal with KOCH, the largest Independent Label in the United States. "Doll Revolution" was released in the US on Sept 23rd to rave reviews. The album makes you remember the 60’s garage sounds the band had at the beginning, with a mixture of all their work both together and solo. The time off didn’t seem to affect the harmonies or the tightness of the instruments. It is a great CD, fun to listen to and hopefully not the last. The Bangles are back, for a good while I hope!

The above article is from MELODY HILL issue #7, used with kind permission by the author and by Circle Sky Records. To find out more about this fab record store in Atlanta, visit

Click here to visit the official Bangles website