Ladies and Gentlemen... The Bangles!

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Before they were the Bangles, Susanna Hoffs and the Peterson sisters, Vicki and Debbi, were known as the Bangs. They didn't play power ballads, do novelty songs, or pout at the camera from underneath giant hairdos. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's quite a contrast with the punky, punky garage pop with loads of vocal harmonies they played and their brilliantly retro visual style. As a trio they recorded a single in 1981, "Getting Out of Hand"/"Call on Me," then with the addition of bassist Annette Zilinskas and a name change, they put out a five-song, self-titled EP on I.R.S. Records offshoot Faulty Products that had great songs, energetic performances, widescreen vocal harmonies, and enough zip to impress garage rock mavens, jangle pop devotees, tie-dyed-in-the-wool paisley undergrounders, and pretty much anyone with a working set of ears. After the EP's release, Zilinskas left the band, ex-Runaway Michael Steele joined, they signed to Columbia, and they were quickly, almost completely, chewed up by the music industry. Ladies and Gentlemen...the Bangles! is a collection put together by the Bangles that focuses on their formative years, gathering up their first single, the Bangles EP, a surf instrumental released on Rodney on the ROQ, Vol. 3 in 1982, and a handful of rarities. Demo versions of the EP's lead song "The Real World" and the single's B-side "Call on Me" show that they didn't need much studio polish to sound like a great rock & roll band, and their demo takes on the Turtles' "Outside Chance" and Paul Revere & the Raiders' "Steppin' Out" are scrappy and prove that the band could have made a solid living doing nothing but garage covers like a Day-Glo Fuzztones. An ad for No Mag and a radio show theme are nice little treasures and the two live tracks from 1984 with Steele in the band sound tough and raw, especially their thrashing take on Love's "7 & 7 Is." The well-chosen collection is a perfect glimpse of the band before it left the garage behind and made the big leap out of the kiddie pool, losing a big chunk of its exuberance and energy along the way. Part cautionary tale, part necessary excavation, Ladies and Gentlemen is a vital piece of the '80s musical puzzle and essential listening for Bangles fans, especially those who have never heard their early work before.

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