Saturday, October 11, 2014

Adventures In Recordland, Post #5: The Bs, part 1

Five more done today. Let's take a look.

#1: Mildred Bailey- "The CBS Radio Shows", 1979

Not a lot to say about this one, really. Mildred Bailey was a great and very underrated jazz singer. On this record is an hour-long radio show of hers from 1944. It's quite entertaining, but pretty average as far as 1940s jazz radio shows go. I have several of Mildred's 78s from the late '30s and prefer those. Not to say that this record isn't worthwhile, but it doesn't stand out.

#2: The Bangles- "All Over The Place", 1984

I have more to say on this subject, however. I'm actually quite a Bangles fan. In fact, I just saw them live in concert last weekend, for the second time.
Most of you probably know them for their hit singles, "Walk Like An Egyptian" and "Manic Monday." Depending how much radio you listened to in the '80s, you might also know "Eternal Flame" and a couple others. But I think it's unfortunate that the singles are all they're known for by most people- especially "Walk Like An Egyptian", which is really not a typical Bangles song in any way, was not written by them, and apparently they were not very happy about recording it either. I think it made them come across as a novelty act, so the fact that that's their bid for posterity is disappointing to me as a fan. If you look at their whole body of work, they are tremendously talented musicians and songwriters- especially when you see them live, where they really bring the house down. Those women can ROCK, so don't let the slick commercial "image" they were later given fool you.
For proof, look at this album. This was their first full-length album (they did a five-song EP in 1982, which I'll get to in a moment.), at a time when they were still a raw, hard-edged garage band, before record companies got ahold of them and softened them into a more commercial pop group.
The truth is they never made a perfect album- who has?- but while there may be a few songs that aren't favorites of mine, this album is a great demonstration of who they were at this time- young and energetic and full of ideas- especially the five songs on side 1.
And while I like the later hit singles as much as anyone else, and much as I, like every other guy, have always had a crush on the later more sexualized Susanna Hoffs image, I kinda wish that THIS early incarnation of the Bangles had received a little more attention at the time so that the record company hadn't felt the need to change them. You can see in their concerts today that they're really going back to the 1984 version of their band, definitely not the 1987 version.

#3: The Bangles- self-titled EP, 1982

This is where it all started. Their first album. Only five songs, less than 15 minutes altogether. I'm very lucky to have this because it's hard to find, but it's not their best work. The songs are pretty good, you can see they had potential, but they hadn't quite gotten there yet. Although it was a treat to hear them perform all five songs live last weekend. I wish I had something more insightful to say here, but go listen to it yourselves and see what you think.

#4: The Bangles- "Different Light", 1986

This was the album they released at the height of their success. In fact, it went all the way to #2 on the Billboard charts. Almost all the hit singles are here. "Walk Like An Egyptian", "Manic Monday", "If She Knew What She Wants", "Walking Down Your Street."
As I've already indicated, Columbia records took a rock band and turned them into a pop group to make them more commercial. Many of the songs were written by other people and given to them. This, unfortunately, is what happens often in the music business- an executive sees something they can make money with, removes the rough edges to avoid the artist doing anything offensive or, God forbid, DIFFERENT, and proceeds to crank out a nice piece of product. This seems to be what happened to the Bangles, and it's only since their reunion at the turn of the 21st century that they've managed to get back to making their music their way.
That said, I enjoy "Different Light." They're a changed group, but still a lot of fun. But remember what I said about how they've never made a perfect album? Side 1 is fun, but a lot of the songs on side 2 are less memorable to me (although bassist/vocalist Michael Steele's solo song "Following" is a strange standout). So, here was a band still struggling to reach its peak, was catapulted to that peak by execs who probably didn't care very much about music or art, and suddenly things were out of control, and they broke up just a few years later. But they still managed to make a very entertaining, if flawed, record. I'm glad to have it in my collection.

#5: The Bangles- "Everything", 1988

This was their last album for 15 years. They broke up shortly after it was recorded, and got back together in the early 2000s only after many years of estrangement. You can tell from that front cover that they're not exactly thrilled to be there. Even in the inside sleeve photo where they're smiling, the smiles look quite forced.
So unfortunately, this album shows a band falling apart. Again, the first side has some wonderful material- "Complicated Girl" is one of my favorite Bangles songs, and I think it could have been a great radio hit. "Bell Jar" is different and intriguing. Their hit songs "In Your Room" and "Eternal Flame" (the latter of which went to #1 on the charts) are here. It's a strong beginning. Then you flip over to side 2 and find that they're running out of steam. I've heard this album several times over the years and almost none of the songs on side 2 have stuck with me. They were not getting along well by this time, and I'm sure they were phoning it in- it's no coincidence that the last track involves Vicki Peterson repeating "I wish I could crash and burn." But there are a handful of diamonds in the rough to be found here.
I'm just glad that they got back together and seem to have rekindled their friendship with each other. By all means, go see them live if you get a chance!

That's about all I have to say for tonight. See you again tomorrow.

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