Part of the beauty of compilations and box sets are the other worlds they suggest. They serve as samplers, the perfect introduction to new bands and new worlds. And occasionally bands that are familiar to you, their songs seeped deep into the cultural consciousness, reward deeper delving.
The Bangles are one of those acts. The band is perhaps best known for “Manic Monday”, “Eternal Flame”, and “Walk Like an Egyptian” but began life as a ’60s-fixated group called the Bangs. Ladies and Gentlemen… the Bangles! is a compilation of some of the groups earliest songs, rarities, and live cuts.
This is the Bangles at their earliest, when they were just another member of the Paisley Underground, a loosely affiliated collection of West Coast acts with a strong ’60s influence. It was a term coined by Michael Quercio of the Three O’Clock in what he described as an off-hand remark, but publications like LA Weekly began using it and it soon caught on. The Bangles took their cues from the usual suspects: the Byrds, the Beatles, Buffalo Springfield, as well as Big Star and Cheap Trick.
This compilation serves as a good introductory tool for new fans, those interested in exploring the group’s work, as well as die-hards interested in rarities and outtakes. You get the first single released by the group, when they were still called the Bangs, the first Bangles EP, as well as demos, live cuts, demos, and hard to find tracks. The initial songs by the group are great; it’s fun to play spot the reference with the tracks, such as the McCartney-inflected bassline on “I’m in Line”.
This compilation is all the more poignant given the loss of Prince earlier this year. He was a huge proponent of the group after viewing the music video for “Hero Takes a Fall”. He began attending their shows and offered them a song penned by him: “Manic Monday”. That song broke them to the mainstream and alerted the rest of the world to how good they were. The Bangles sing and play the hell out of these songs, all the while demonstrating a clear understanding of harmony vocals and displaying a knack for a good melody.
The songs recall older tunes, but there’s never the sense that one would be better served just listening to the originals instead. The debut single and first EP are wonderful, but where the compilation and the Bangles really shine (no pun intended) are on the covers: “Outside Chance”, “Steppin’ Out”, and the high-velocity “7 & 7 Is”. The latter two are live recordings which imbues them with a frenetic energy. “7 & 7 Is” features a notoriously difficult drum part; Love drummer Alban “Snoopy” Pfisterer ceded the drum throne to Arthur Lee because Pfisterer found it so difficult. Which makes these cuts all the more impressive.
A common criticism thrown at the Paisley Underground is that it was derivative: turning out B+ versions of A level material. Retro-influenced guitar pop by its very nature isn’t likely to turn heads or explore new sonic territory, but there’s plenty of merit to making well-crafted songs, understanding hooks, and being able to execute the tropes in a successful fashion, all things the Bangles have in spades.
The Bangles were the only Paisley Underground group to break out to the mainstream and that speaks to the quality of their work and their enthusiasm. One can tell that there’s a tremendous amount of affection for the music that inspired them.
Stranger Things has been a big hit on Netflix partially for how it mines those feelings of ’80s nostalgia. Nostalgia is Greek for “old wound” and you can’t spell nostalgia without a little jangle. Mediocre attempt at word play aside, there’s something tremendously joyful about recapturing the spirit of a bygone age. It’s never the same as it was, but it’s a source of comfort and a shelter from a weary world full of ugliness and misery. It’s an oasis, a place to be recharged and made fresh, made ready to venture once more unto the breach.