Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Bangles vs. the Go-Gos

Most of us who grew up in the 80s will remember the two all-female pop/rock bands that dominated the airwaves for a while. (Yes, I realize there were others, but these two were arguably the most successful.)

The Go-Gos, fronted by Belinda Carlisle (with most songs written or co-written by Jane Wiedlin) had some huge hits, including "We Got the Beat," "Vacation," and "Our Lips are Sealed." While they started out as a punk band, they transitioned to new wave and then on to "power-pop" which is the style they were most known for.

Around the same time that the Go-Gos hit their peak, The Bangles also hit the scene. Their break-through single was "Manic Monday," and they subsequently released a handful of other strong offerings: "If She Knew What She Wants," "Walk Like an Egyptian," "Eternal Flame," and a great cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Hazy Shade of Winter." With a background more in the folk-rock and "jangle-pop" realm, their sound was quite different from The Go-Gos.

My friend Courtney Thompson has an incredible story about her experience as a Go-Gos fan and concert-goer; if you know Courtney, you should definitely ask her to tell you the story. Prepare to be amazed.

It is out of my love for Courtney and her great story that I offer the following suggestion with some trepidation: while I love The Go-Gos, and still enjoy their music, I think it's safe to say that The Bangles out-rocked The Go-Gos.

Rock and roll (or "rock 'n' roll") has always been a lot about letting loose the cares of the impressions and opinions of others and just expressing oneself truly. For all of their musical talent and creativity, The Go-Gos could never quite get there. Whether it was Belinda Carlisle's hunger for the spot-light or her and Jane Wiedlin's feud over credit, they seemed to be held back by concern over the attention they got and the opinions of others.

The Bangles were all about rock. The media attention given to Susanna Hoffs was unintended, garnered mostly because she happened to front most of their hit songs (and thus was the most recognizable of the band). But the typical practice of the band was to share vocals, even splitting some songs between them. While Hoffs' prominence was essentially the fault of the record company (who chose songs with her vocals to release as singles), it was also a sad and significant factor in the band's eventual break-up.

Here's the litmus-test: can you ever picture The Go-Gos doing "Walk Like an Egyptian"? Of course not; it's the kind of song that preys on self-consciousness. Yet, The Bangles not only recorded it, but it's probably the one time-testing single that they released, and not to their discredit. It's still a good song 25+ years later. That is a tribute to the fact that The Bangles weren't just a good band musically, but they were all about rock and roll.

(And now you have a sample of the kind of thing Marcie has to listen to me ruminate about...)

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