Back when I was in high school and college, I was kinda fussy when it came to rock bands led by women. I liked The Pretenders more than Blondie because they rocked better and were more consistent for whole album listening; Chrissie Hynde was a better songwriter and Blondie really was more of a singles band for the most part. For me, Blondie kinda lost their way after the brave album called Autoamerican (the one with the groundbreaking smash hit, "Rapture").
The Go Gos stepped up to the plate just around the time Blondie was losing sight of its original intention. I liked their first album just fine - lighthearted fare that it was -- and even had the good fortune to see their show at The Ritz in NY the Summer that Beauty and the Beat came out. But beyond that, I never got into their stuff. It didn't ring true to me.
The Bangles were another group from the LA scene that ultimately didn't resonate with me. Their Prince cover was kinda nice and "Walk Like An Egyptian" was a fun novelty tune but nothing I heard on the radio or saw on MTV compelled me to listen more. In more recent years I've picked up one or two of their albums in the bargain bins at Amoeba Records and they are better than I remember, but the production feels timestamped in that period with a sound that mostly left me cold.
I was pleased they had a hit with Jules Shear's "If She Knew What She Wants" (though I prefer Jules' original version).
Anyhow, imagine my surprise to receive a CD compilation from the good folks at Omnivore Records called Ladies and Gentlemen.... the Bangles compiling early demos and pre-fame EPs that led to their signing to a major label.
If I had heard this material first, I probably would have loved The Bangles back then (and perhaps would have been even more disappointed by their slick major label releases). From the opening instrumental when they were still called The Bangs -- "Bitchen Summer / Speedway" -- you could tell these folks knew how to rock. "Getting Out of Hand" sounds like it might have been a lost track from an opening act for The Mamas & The Papas circa 1966.
What a great band they clearly were... I never got this sense from their major label recordings.
Part of the problem for me then (and now) was simply that production on their 80s albums was just so much of the period. The difference between their early and later sound is subtle yet strikingly different -- when I hear their Craig Leon-produced 1982 EP track "The Real World," I hear a band I would have really gotten into back then (as I do now!). Interesting, and perhaps not surprisingly, Leon produced/co-produced early Blondie and Ramones recordings!
Alas, I didn't know anyone in college who was into The Bangs or The Bangles early stuff, and I certainly didn't hear it on the radio stations in college, so I completely missed them.
Their demo of Warren Zevon's "Outside Chance" (originally covered by The Turtles) is sweet but its their rippin' take on Paul Revere & The Raiders "Steppin' Out" that you need to hear on this compilation. Give me this smokin' live version of Love's "7&7 Is" over Prince's "Manic Monday" any day.
Just to make sure I wasn't being completely blinded by my own memories in preparing this review, I went back and listened to some of the official hits from their studio albums. Indeed -- from my perspective, at least, for what that is worth, your experience may vary -- it seems that much of the original charm of the group was put through that 1980s musical food processor so The Bangles ended up sounding more like everything else on the radio... which was the point, I guess -- that production flavor DID get them played on the radio after all, so I get it...
And... hey... who am I to judge these hits that made a lot of people happy. I'm not saying it was bad. But that flavor of music wasn't my cuppa tea...
But... the music on Ladies and Gentlemen.... the Bangles IS for people like me who perhaps like their indie power pop a little less glossy and pure, so I'm happy to have this in my collection. And if you are like me, maybe you'll like it too!
Another fine archival release on the girl group front comes from The Heaters, a group who were poised for fame but also fell victim to the times. Two albums were released in 1978 and 1980 on major labels but the production apparently lost the essence of the group and nothing much happened with those records or for the band.
In true do-it-yourself, indie rock fashion -- and out of frustration -- at the dawn of the cassette Portastudio revolution the band recorded their songs the way they felt they should be produced. Sadly, those home-brewed tracks were never officially released until now (out also on Omnivore Records).
This is a great thing because The Heaters music sounds pretty timeless. No drum machines. No vocal exciters. No gated snare drums.
No, this is a power pop trio with decided "girl group" leanings. The Heaters music falls closer to the vibe of The Pretenders early albums, with vintage 60s touches like 12-string Rickenbacker guitars and Ronnettes-meet-ShangriLas-flavored vocals and harmonies.
Heck, apparently Phil Spector himself fell in love with their song "American Dream," having heard the industry-circulating tapes, but I guess that never materialized into anything. But just to be sought out by someone like Phil Spector says so much...
I'll put it this way, if you like the sound of The Las' late 80s one-hit-wonder "There She Goes," then you'll probably like The Heaters early 80s demo for "All I Want To Do."
This is a really cool album and fans of DIY/LoFi, indie rock, power pop and authentic girl group sounds should check out The Heaters' American Dream.