Bangles: Top Ten Divas

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By Moira Cue

On August 4, 2012, The Hollywood Sentinel attained VIP (i.e. third row) seating for the Bangles' concert in Pershing Square. Although I have loved the Bangles since I was more or less in diapers, seeing the band live brought a whole new level of appreciation for their musicianship and craft. (Not to mention, I think the band nearly broke character and started laughing when they saw how excited I became when they played “Walk Like an Egyptian.”)

While most of the DIVAS on my top ten list are solo artists, Susanna Hoffs, the best known lead vocalist for the group, can hold her own against the likes of Madonna and more. Hoff's unique, sexy voice has not diminished with age, and her breathy tone is instantly recognizable. Hoff and the other ladies of the Bangles are all toned and fit, without looking like they've gone through any of the typical plastic surgery or diet nightmares that plague so many women in Hollywood. Perhaps this is because beauty, though certainly a part of their allure, is only the least interesting thing about these girls. (I use the term “girl” without any disparagement, but rather, as a compliment and acknowledgement of a history of “girl bands” that goes back as far as there have been both girls and rock and roll.)

Though now in their fifties, the ladies don't look much older than their early thirties, and yet they look completely natural. This band formed in Los Angeles in 1980, in a Brentwood garage, with Susanna joining sisters Vicki and Debi Peterson as the original three members. Hits later included “Manic Monday,” “Walk Like an Egyptian” and the 1988 number one single, “Eternal Flame,” all of which were performed in Pershing Square. The latter song was created after the group visited Graceland, Elvis Presley's estate in Memphis, Tennessee. On the day the band visited, the “eternal flame” maintained for Elvis had gone out and its clear-plastic enclosure was flooded. (When they asked what was in the box, they were told, "That's the eternal flame.")

What separates the BANGLES from girl bands that came before is that unlike singing trios such as the Supremes, this group has no real “diva” and plays all their own instruments with a level of skill that puts some traditional male groups to shame. Watching them live, the one word that really signifies their ability would be “tight.” And though you may have not heard their new music, they continue to defy the odds. From the Official Bangles website:

“Recorded by Matthew Sweet (Susanna’s frequent collaborator) at his home studio in the Hollywood Hills, with much of the overdubbing done at the home studios of Vicki and Susanna, and mixed by Jim Scott (Tom Petty, Wilco), SWEETHEART OF THE SUN reveals The Bangles at their equally beguiling extremes, as soaring folk-rock harmonies coexist with adrenalized rave-ups inspired by the band’s roots in Nuggets-era garage rock. The latter move is made overt by the two covers: a wild and woolly recapturing of the obscure British Invasion treasure Sweet and Tender Romance by Scotland’s McKinley Sisters, on which Vicki thrillingly channels Jimmy Page, who played the guitar solo on the original, and a blistering take on Todd Rundgren’s Jazz classic Open My Eyes, which they’ve been playing live since the mid-’80s.”

To say that Vicki Peterson channels Jimmy Page, or any other “guitar god,” is no understatement. The guitars, drums, and vocals were so clean and in sync that it seemed as if their audio engineers were either better than everybody else's, or, more likely, simply not needed. The musicianship and perseverance of the BANGLES is the main reason that Susanna, Vicki, and Debi, along with former and new members including Annette Zilinskas and Michael Steele, are among the TOP TEN DIVAS of all time.

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