Manic Monday …

So, in the vehicle on the way to and from work I’ve been listening to the Bangles and, specifically, at least one of their greatest hits CDs. And something struck me that I knew before but didn’t really realize the importance of: unlike some or perhaps most other bands, they had more than one member who was capable of singing lead vocals. In fact, according to Wikipedia they divided their vocals fairly evenly.

This should surprise many people who know the band primarily from songs like “Manic Monday”, “In Your Room” and “Eternal Flame”. These are certainly among their most famous songs, and all of them were vocalized by Susanna Hoffs. So, when people think of the band, they tend to think of her as being the lead singer (a fact that, again, according to Wiki caused some friction in the band). Listening to the greatest hits CD, it’s clear that at least half if not more of them were vocalized by someone other than Hoffs, and so in terms of music, at least, the band members were pretty good at mixing up the vocals. And, in fact, in “Walk Like an Egyptian” Hoffs only sings the last part, and the first two were done by Vicki Peterson and Michael Steele, making for a nice divide among the group.

What this means is that this band had some fairly rare qualities. One was that because it seems that pretty much all members could sing lead vocals, it impacted back-up vocals. For most bands, the back-up vocals are meant to be fairly unobtrusive, and so they consist generally of simple, safe singing that doesn’t stand out and that you often cannot tell is not just the lead singer singing (except for the fact that, well, they’re singing lead [grin]). The Bangles didn’t have that; their back-up vocals are distinct and noticeable. You can pick out, if you listen, each member’s voice in the back-up vocals.

This also leads to them being able to do more things with vocals than you could do normally. For example, on “A Hazy Shade of Winter” for most of it all of the members are singing in unison. Again, you can pick them out if you listen and it gets into nicely different harmonies that appeal to their specific voices. If you’re simply listening to it, you notice that there are multiple voices but the blend works. If you listen to it more carefully, you can pick out the different harmonies and voices. This also allows them to play “If She Knew What She Wants” in the point/counterpoint style they do, where Hoffs sings the first part of the sentence and the rest finish it. Without having a unique sound in the background vocals, this wouldn’t come off well; it would be a bit dull and might seem overly complicated. But because the background vocals are strong and distinct, it sets off a nice comparative vibe and so really works.

Finally, this also allowed them to experiment with different styles, because different members’ voices were better for different types of songs. For example, it would have been difficult for Hoffs to pull off the darker sound of “Following”, but Steele’s voice works really well with that tone due to its deeper and perhaps more rich sound. That being said, Hoffs’ lighter, bouncier voice works really well on a song like “Manic Monday” where Steele’s voice might not have been able to convey the appropriate whimsy necessary for that song. Which also might explain Hoffs getting more attention later on, in a time where bouncy and light was what audiences were looking for.

Ultimately, while they may be portrayed as a light band, there’s a lot more artistic merit to their music than you might think.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, as it’s a Manic Monday I have to Walk Like an Egyptian now because I’m Going Down to Liverpool. If She Knew What She Wants, she’d be Following me, but really she’s Walking Down Your Street to Be With You because it’s a Hazy Shade of Winter. So, she’ll be In Your Room with an Eternal Flame which, really, is Everything I Wanted. So, the Hero Takes a Fall, and perhaps I’ll Set You Free … but Where Were You When I Needed You?


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