The Bangles wanted to be an all-girl Beatles from California: four pop stars who played competently, wrote good songs, and had distinct personalities. The group formed when a "band members wanted" ad in an L.A. newspaper led Hoffs to the Peterson sisters. The group first called themselves the Colours, followed by the Supersonic Bangs, which they shortened to the Bangs. When a group with prior claim to that moniker showed up, they became the Bangles. Early on, the group was heralded as part of L.A.'s "paisley underground," a constellation of folky psychedelic bands that included the Rain Parade and the Dream Syndicate. After establishing a reputation through a self-released single and live shows, the band signed a management deal with I.R.S. Records head Miles Copeland.
In 1983 the Bangles signed to Columbia. Bass player Zilinskas quit and joined Blood on the Saddle; she was replaced by Michael Steele, who had once sung for the Runaways. Veteran power-pop producer David Kahne produced All Over the Place, which featured such classic Bangles songs as "Hero Takes a Fall" and Kimberley Rew's (Soft Boys, Katrina and the Waves) "Going Down to Liverpool." The record initially sold a respectable 150,000 copies and earned critical praise. After seeing the video for "Hero Takes a Fall," Prince became a fan of the Bangles, particularly of Hoffs. He gave them the song "Manic Monday" (#2, 1986), written under the pseudonym Christopher; the single paved the way for the breakthrough success of Different Light (#2, 1986). The Kahne-produced album included "Walk Like an Egyptian" (#1, 1986), Jules Shear's "If She Knew What She Wants" (#29, 1986), "Walking Down Your Street" (#11, 1987), and a cover of Alex Chilton's "September Gurls." In 1987 the Bangles' version of Paul Simon's "Hazy Shade of Winter" from the Less Than Zero soundtrack became their second #1.
Everything (#15, 1988) yielded the hits "In Your Room" (#5, 1988) and "Eternal Flame" (#1, 1989). The group's plan to share songwriting, vocals, and fame had been steadily eroded by the media's focus on Hoffs, especially in light of her feature role in the largely forgotten 1987 film The Allnighter, which her mother, Tamar Hoffs, cowrote, directed, and produced. The other Bangles resented the star treatment and the musical direction in which it pushed the band. In late 1989 the group broke up.Hoffs' first solo album (produced by Kahne) featured songs by or cowritten with such diverse figures as Diane Warren, Cyndi Lauper, and Juliana Hatfield. A version of David Bowie's "Boys Keep Swinging" (with the Who's John Entwistle on bass) gave the album its title, When You're a Boy. Vicki Peterson began collaborating with Susan Cowsill; they billed themselves as the Psycho Sisters and played clubs backed by the Continental Drifters (which the two eventually joined), and also sang backup for Giant Sand. In 1994 Peterson joined the Go-Go's' reunion tour, filling in for Charlotte Caffey, who was pregnant. Debbi Peterson formed the band Kindred Spirit, which released a self-titled album on I.R.S. in 1994.
Hoffs released her second solo album in 1996. The record included hidden bonus covers of Stealers Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle With You" and Lulu's "To Sir With Love." Hoffs and Debbi Peterson began writing together again in 1998, and the entire group reunited in 1999 to record "Get the Girl" for the movie Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. In June 1999 the Bangles sang with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by George Martin, in a tribute to the Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl. The following year the band began recording a new album and in September 2000 embarked on a brief tour.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
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