Burning an Eternal Flame: The Bangles’ Influences and Legacy

The ‘80s pop-rock group The Bangles are famous for their chart-topping singles, like Manic Monday and Eternal Flame. But what most fans don’t know is that the band didn’t write some of their most popular songs. Despite being classified as a girl band because of their all-female lineup, the Bangles preferred not to be stereotyped and thought of themselves as a band like any other.

The BAngles

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How did original members Susanna Hoffs, Vicki Peterson, Debbi Peterson, and Annette Zilinskas meet, and how did they get so big? What happened to the Bangles? Why did they break up, and what brought them back together? And most importantly, where are the Bangles now? We’ve laid out all the facts below.

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In 1980, Susanna Hoffs moved to Los Angeles and put out an ad looking for like-minded people to be her bandmates in the daily newspaper The Recycler. She only got one response from Annette Zilinskas. Eager to find other women to play with, Hoffs answered an ad she saw in the same paper, written by someone named Lynn Elkind.

A portrait of Susanna Hoffs.

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When Susanna called the number in the ad, Elkind’s roommate and former bandmate, Vicki Peterson, answered the phone. She and Hoffs hit it off right away and decided to form a band together. Vicki and Susanna had a lot in common and shared mutual influences. Vicki’s younger sister Debbi quickly got on board as well, and two became three.

Those Girls: Who Was in The Bangles?

Susanna had experience playing with a band, having sung for the group The Psychiatrists on the East Coast with her brothers and ex-boyfriend Dave Roback, who later was in Mazzy Star. Likewise, Vicki and Debbi had previously been in the band Those Girls, with their roommate Elkind and Vicki’s best friend, Amanda Hills. Sue and Vicki initially bonded over their mutual love of John Lennon, who had just been assassinated.

The Bangles attend an event.

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Lynn Elkind and Amanda Hills had no interest in forming a band with Hoffs and parted ways with the Peterson sisters. So, they formed a group of three: Susanna Hoffs and Vicki, and Debbi Peterson. Susanna and Vicki played the guitar, Debbi banged the drums, and all three sang vocals.

Starting With the Bangs

The group met for their first rehearsal in Sue’s parents’ garage in 1981. They quickly realized that they all loved The Beatles, Love, and The Hollies, and all were fans of the lesser-known band The Grass Roots. After listening to each other’s demos, which had surf and new wave influences, the three women started to jam.

The band rehearses in a garage.

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The trio had a natural flow when playing, and even their early rehearsals were harmonious. For their first few gigs, the girls called themselves The Colours and had Amanda Hills play bass for them, even though she had quit music, for the most part, to focus on her studies. Later they changed the band’s name to The Supersonic Bangs and then to The Bangs.

The Paisley Underground

The Bangs were one of the bands in the L.A. scene called The Paisley Underground, comprised of groups who were playing folk and psychedelic rock, inspired by the music of the ’60s. Many bands in the scene, including The Rain Parade, Green on Red, Dream Syndicate, and The Unclaimed. According to Vicki, they were all “in love with each other.”

The band poses for a portrait.

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The Bangs didn’t mind opening for punk bands or rockabilly bands; as long as they scored gigs, they were happy. The trio released their first self-recorded single, Getting Out of Hand, in 1981. In 1982, Annette Zilinskas joined the band as the official bass player, and they started recording an E.P. together.

From Bangs to Bangles

Just before the E.P. was released, they found out that another group−a boy band on the East Coast had already registered the name The Bangs. This meant that the girls couldn’t use the name without having to pay. So, at the last minute, they changed their name to The Bangles.

A picture of the band members.

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Their first E.P. was titled Bangles without the definite article “The.” After playing with The Bangles for only a year, Annette left the group to start her own band and a country-punk group called Blood on the Saddle. The Bangles then recruited a new bassist, Michael “Micki” Steele.

She Ran Away From The Runaways

Michael Steele moved to L.A. in the late ’70s and played with “as many [bands] as [she] could stand,” including Elton Duck, Slow Children, Toni and the Movers, and more. Her most famous group before The Bangles was the girl band The Runaways. Micki was an original member, along with Joan Jett and Sandy West.

Micky Steele, Sandy West, and Joan Jett as The Runaways.

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However, Steele couldn’t stand the band’s founder and producer, Kim Fowley, and was eventually fired by him. Micki vowed to avoid girl bands after her bad experience with Fowley. However, after becoming Vicki Peterson’s roommate, she broke her vow and joined The Bangles.

Debbi and Vicki

Micki’s roommate Vicki was born in the early sixties in the San Fernando Valley. Vicki had played guitar since childhood and was determined to make it in music. Her sister Debbi was a music lover too but mostly sang in the shower growing up.

A portrait of Debbie / A picture of Vicki.

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Debbi was a bit of a goody-goody, while Vicki was the rebel of the two. Luckily though, she never fell into hard drugs, just into music. Vicki needed bandmates, so she bought her little sister a drum set. She claimed, “I never doubted that the band would work, which makes me totally irrational.” But she was right.

All Over the Place

Together with their highly experienced new bassist, Micki, Vicki, Debbi and Sue began to make their way up in the world and were signed to Columbia Records in 1983. In 1984, they released their first full-length album, All Over the Place. The Bangles were invigorated and newly determined to succeed.

The Bangles perform on stage.

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The women were very defensive about not being another version of The Go-Go’s, but they also didn’t fit into other girl-band stereotypes; they weren’t punk or post-punk, nor power-pop, nor rockabilly. The Bangles just wanted to play ’60s inspired music mixed with a bit of ’80s rhythm and vibe.

Girls Just Want to Have Fun

Both flirty and tough, the Bangles gained a fan base, mostly made up of young men who adored them. In late 1983, they set out on tour with Cyndi Lauper’s On the Fun Tour. Lauper was promoting her first album, She’s So Unusual, which featured Girls Just Want to Have Fun.

The Bangles have a pillow fight in a hotel room.

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While touring with Cyndi, the Bangles became more popular and gained a larger audience and fan base that included more women and girls than before. While on tour, they also attracted the attention of Prince, who developed a major crush on Susanna Hoffs.

Just Another Manic Monday

The Bangles first met Prince in 1984, after the release of their album, and quickly befriended the legendary musician. Supposedly, after that, he came to see them play a couple of times and called Susanna a lot. She modestly found his crush on her to be “very mysterious.”

Prince performs on stage.

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Prince liked the Bangles so much that he wrote a song for them. It was called Manic Monday. He had originally intended to play it himself, with Apollonia 6, but instead gifted it to them. Thanks to Prince, Manic Monday became The Bangles’ first single to reach the Billboard Top Ten.

“The Thing With Prince”

The band called Prince’s crush on Susanna “the thing with Prince,” and it was clear that he had singled Sue out as his favorite in the quartet. Susanna sang the lead vocals on Manic Monday and started to stand out to fans as the band’s frontwoman.

Susanna performs on stage.

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However, the group themselves didn’t feel that way; they’d all agreed to be equal members, with no one person stealing the spotlight. Nevertheless, Susanna’s shorter height made it so that she stood in front of the other girls in all their photos and public perception was that she was the leader.

Do the Bangles Write Their Own Songs?

Speculation about whether The Bangles wrote their own songs arose after Prince penned Manic Monday for them. However, the four women claim that they wrote most of their songs. Nevertheless, Walk Like an Egyptian was written by Liam Sternberg, and Jules Shear wrote If She Knew What She Wants.

The Bangles perform live.

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Furthermore, Billy Steinberg co-wrote Eternal Flame, and A Hazy Shade of Winter is a Simon and Garfunkel cover. So, despite writing most of their music and lyrics, The Bangles’ biggest hits weren’t actually written by them. Some people also claim that they don’t play their own instruments; however, that isn’t true.

Walk Like an Egyptian

The Bangles’ second album, Different Light, came out in 1986 and took the world by storm. It pushed the band into the mainstream. Their hitsWalk Like an Egyptian and Manic Monday were on the album, and they became numbers one and two on the Billboard charts.

A picture of The Bangels on stage.

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The band had been skeptical about Walk Like an Egyptian and thought the song wouldn’t succeed. Yet, it surpassed their expectations and became huge, awarding them a new audience of young women and teeny boppers. The Bangles had made it; they were famous and began to be recognized on the street.

What Happened to the Bangles?

Some of their fans were not so happy about the band’s newfound success and wondered what happened to The Bangles they’d known and loved. People felt that the band had sold out, as often happens when musicians reach unexpected levels of success and recognition.

A band portrait from The Bangles.

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People even went as far as to say that The Bangles had gotten too big and forgotten where they came from. But the women missed “the simplistic days” back when they would play in the underground L.A. clubs. Debbi even said once: “it was so hot and sweaty and gross, but wasn’t it fun?”

Feeling Like a Failure

The Bangles also weren’t sure they liked their newest album; it was successful but lacked their personal vibe. Vicki shared, “I feel very detached from the record… I want the new album to be a little more… rock & roll… more guitar-oriented. I feel really strongly about using our songs.”

A close-up on Vicki during a performance.

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Debbi said about Walk Like an Egyptian, “I don’t feel like it’s us.” In truth, Debbi didn’t play in the song; they used a drum machine, making her obsolete. She shared, “I almost feel like a failure in some ways because I didn’t do anything on the record.”

Controversy With Kahne

The band felt dissatisfied with the album and its hits, and the blame fell on the man who produced their album, David Kahne. He loved the synthesizers and drum machines they’d used. Debbi especially clashed with Kahne; she had wanted the band to go with a whole different producer but was outvoted.

A picture of the Bangles at the studio with David Kahne.

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For their next album, Kahne was fired and replaced by Davitt Sigerson. Kahne was resentful at being let go and claimed that the album was “very difficult” for the band to make. He continued saying the Bangles “were insecure, and learning can be very scary.”

Less Than Zero

Even without Kahne, more success was on the way when The Bangles recorded the Simon and Garfunkel cover A Hazy Shade of Winter for the soundtrack of the 1987 movie Less Than Zero. A Hazy Shade of Winter was a giant hit and reached number two on the charts.

Jami Gertz, Robert Downey Jr., and Andrew McCarty in Less Than Zero.

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Producer Rick Rubin worked with the band on the song, and they clashed with him as well. Rubin wanted them to drop the synthesizer sounds altogether, yet the Bangles thought that the synths sounds fit the film’s score and fought to keep them in the song.

That’s the Eternal Flame

In 1988, The Bangles released their third album, Everything. It was a huge success and featured the popular singles In Your Room and, most prominently, Eternal Flame, which went on to be their highest-selling single. The band came up with the idea for Eternal Flame during a trip to Graceland, Elvis Presley’s Memphis Tennessee estate.

The Bangles pose for a studio portrait.

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When they visited the King’s grave, there was a box on it that was flooded with water. The band asked about it and were told, “That’s the eternal flame,” although the flame was out. Billy Steinberg thought it was a great song name.

Skinny Dipping in the Studio

Susanna wrote the song with Steinberg and Tom Kelly, but when the band began to record the album Everything, Davitt Sigerson didn’t like the song, and it was initially shelved. Later, Sigerson realized he couldn’t get it out of it, and the song was recorded.

A portrait of Susanna Hoffs.

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Sigerson played a prank on Hoffs and told her she should record the song naked, as he claimed Olivia Newton-John had done. Susanna acquiesced and afterward discovered she’d been pranked. But the singer enjoyed the experience; she compared it to “skinny-dipping” in the studio and ended up singing the entire album in the nude.

Hoffs Comes From Hollywood Royalty

Aside from being a Bangle, Susanna Hoffs is also a Hollywood actress. The talented musician comes from a film-oriented family; her mother is director Tamar Simon Hoffs. In 1987, Susanna starred as the lead in her mother’s film The Allnighter. Tamar praised her daughter as “the ultimate star.”

Susanna Hoffs attends an event.

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Hoffs loved acting, and The Allnighter wasn’t her first time dabbling in the world of cinema. She’d appeared in a couple of her mother’s films and shorts beforehand, in supporting roles. Starring in Hollywood films made it so that Susanna’s star continued to rise, and she began to eclipse her other bandmates.

Beef Between the Bangles

Even though the Bangles had always planned and attempted to be a democratic, equal quartet, some things were beyond their control. Susanna Hoffs was, without a doubt, perceived as their frontwoman. Sue claimed, “I can’t change the way the world perceives the band,” and she was right.

The Bangles pose for the press.

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Sue’s bandmates were unhappy with this ever-strengthening, unequal dynamic. They felt overlooked and angry that people thought Hoffs was their primary member. In “a lot of the singles that came out,” Susanna was singing lead, which began to “cause some tensions” in the group.

The Band Broke Up

In 1989, after tensions about Susanna taking over the spotlight became unbearable, The Bangles broke up. Micki explained that “the pressure was so intense that it had to stop.” The four women had stopped enjoying themselves and each other and needed a break.

A studio portrait of Susanna Hoffs.

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Hoffs reminisced, “we were thrown together in this kind of band marriage for close to 10 years… on the road or in the studio,” and that intensity “contributed to the break-up.” Vicki explained, “People like to paint it as girls having a catfight, but it was more the frustration of not being perceived as a unit.”

Filling in for the Go-Go’s

After the band broke up in 1989, Vicki Peterson went on to play with many groups, including The Continental Drifters and The Psycho Sisters. In both bands, Peterson played alongside Susan Cowsill of The Cowsills, whom she had idolized growing up. Vicki had been inspired by Susan to pursue a career as a professional musician.

A portrait of Vicki Peterson.

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Susan Cowsill also introduced her bandmate to her brother, John Cowsill, whom Vicki had always had a crush on. Aside from working with Cowsill, Vicki also filled in on tour for the band she’d always tried not to be, The Go-Go’s.

Psycho Sisters-in-Law

Susan Cowsill’s matchmaking was a success, and John Cowsill and Vicki Peterson fell in love. They were married in 2003, making Susan and Vicki sisters-in-law. At the time, John was touring with the Beach Boys as their keyboardist and later their drummer.

Vicki Peterson and John Cowsill attend an event.

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In 2017, the musical couple began a band together called The Action Skulls, along with Bill Mumy of Barnes and Barnes. Peterson and Cowsill have two kids together, named William James and Tenaya Danielle. We bet they’ll grow up to be talented musicians with parents like theirs.

Going Solo

While Vicki was collaborating with other bands, Susanna Hoffs tried her hand at going solo. In 1991, Hoffs released the album When You’re a Boy. The album’s single, My Side of the Bed, reached the top 40 in the U.S. However, Susanna’s next album was never released.

Hoffs poses for a portrait in an office.

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A few years after recording her unreleased second solo album, Hoffs recorded an album titled Susanna Hoffs. The record wasn’t very successful. The musician has also covered and written many songs for films, and T.V. Hoffs recorded two songs for the series and subsequent film, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The Singer Who Shagged Me

Aside from her work on Buffy, Susanna has also recorded songs for the Austin Powers films. She covered the Dusty Springfield track The Look of Love for International Man of Mystery and the Dionne Warwick hit Alfie for Goldmember. In 1993, Hoffs married Jay Roach, the director of the film franchise.

Jay Roach and Susanna Hoffs attend an event.

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Roach and Hoffs have two boys together and maintain a vegetarian lifestyle. The film director converted to Judaism for Susanna. Jay is an acclaimed filmmaker and has directed many successful films, including Meet the Parents, Bombshell, and Game Change, for which he won two Emmys and a Golden Globe.

Debbi’s Kindred Spirit

In 1989, when The Bangles disbanded, Debbi Peterson got married to Steven Botting, a British sound engineer. But that didn’t mean she was done with music. In 1990, the drummer set out on a solo career and formed the musical group Kindred Spirit two years later.

Debbi and Steven Botting attend an event.

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She started the group with Gina Schock from the band The Go-Go’s. Aside from Gina, members included Sara Lee, from the B-52’s, and Wendy & Lisa, who had worked with Prince. In the end, the final duo of Kindred Spirit was Debbi and Siobhan Maher, from the band River City People.

Reunited by Austin Powers

In 1999, The Bangles reunited to record a song for Susanna’s husband’s first Austin Powers film. The girl group met up in the studio and recorded the song Get the Girl. They must have had a good time because, in 2000, the Bangles officially got back together.

The Bangles attend an event.

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Michael Steele was hesitant and wanted to make sure they weren’t going to focus on old material. The Bangles went on tour playing their existing songs while hinting that they were working on something new. That same year, they also had the honor of being inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.

Banned After 9/11

In 2001, after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., The Bangles’ hit single “Walk Like an Egyptian,” was supposedly banned by Clear Channel Communications. Apparently, its content could be construed as problematic as the song references Egypt, which is in the Middle East.

A band portrait of the Bangles.

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This wasn’t the first time the song was considered unfit. During the Gulf War in the early ’90s, the BBC released a list of records to be avoided. In it, the single “Walk Like an Egyptian” appeared as well. If the song came out today, it would definitely be considered offensive.

Recording Doll Revolution

In 2001, the Bangles convened in the studio to record their reunion album, Doll Revolution. Doll Revolution took a while to complete and was only released in 2003. Only one song on the record, Tear Off Your Own Head, wasn’t written by the band but by Elvis Costello.

The Bangles attend an event.

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The other fourteen tracks were written by the Bangles themselves, although some of the songs were written and performed during the band’s time apart. Doll Revolution wasn’t very successful anywhere except Germany, where it made an impact. The Bangles released the album themselves, on their label, Down Kiddie!

Awarded by a Beatle

In 2004, The Bangles were awarded “honorary rock’n’roll diplomas” by Paul McCartney of the Beatles, from the school he founded, the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts. As diehard fans of the Beatles, this was a great honor for the band, and it meant the world to them to be recognized by their hero.

Sir Paul McCartney poses next to Vicki Peterson and Michael Steele.

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Not all four Bangles attended the diploma ceremony. Only Vicki Peterson and Michael Steele were there in person to accept the award for the band. However, despite being honored by Sir Paul, not all was well with the band.

Goodbye Micki Steele

Micki Steele was upset with her bandmates for not committing 100% to the promotion of their new album. Steele wanted to tour the U.S. after Doll Revolution’s release. But her three bandmates had familial obligations and young children and couldn’t spend all their time touring.

Vicki Peterson, Susanna Hoffs, and Debbie Peterson attend an event.

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Therefore, in 2004, Steele left the band mid-tour to pursue her own career, separate from the rest of the band. She officially parted from The Bangles in 2005. So, the band needed to find a bassist to replace Steele to continue touring and recording.

Abby Travis Stepped In

Abby Travis stepped in to replace Steele in 2004 for the remainder of The Bangles tour. Though she was never considered part of the band, Travis stuck around as the stand-in bassist for four years. The reason for this has been attributed to Micki Steele’s fanbase, who never accepted Travis.

The Bangles and Abby Travis pose backstage.

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It’s rumored that The Bangles didn’t treat her with respect or offer her a permanent place. Instead, they tried not to call attention to the fact that Steele had left. Abby was fired from The Bangles in 2008. She refused to explain why saying, “ask them.”

Sweetheart of the Sun

After Travis was kicked off the band’s roster, Derrick Anderson replaced her as bass player. Anderson was the first male to play for The Bangles and, like Abby, was never officially considered a member of the band. Nevertheless, Anderson played bass on their 2011 album, Sweetheart of the Sun.

The Bangles attend an event.

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The band started recording the album in 2009 and took two years to finish because of their respective family obligations. The band received good reviews and reminded fans of the group’s early music. Out of the album’s twelve songs, ten are written by the band, and two are covers.

The Whiskey a Go-Go

In 2013, the Bangles had a chance to reunite with their friends from the Paisley Underground scene, out of which they had bloomed. To the delight of old fans, they played two shows in California alongside bands like Rain Parade and The Dream Syndicate as part of the L.A. scene’s reunion.

A picture from the live show.

Photo by Alex Kluft

A year later, they again returned to one of their old venues, the Whiskey a Go-Go, in West Hollywood, for the concert hall’s 50th anniversary. The Bangles, like many other bands, including The Door, Fleetwood Mac, and Guns N’ Roses, had gotten their start at the legendary venue.

Back to Bassist

In 2018, the band’s search for a permanent Bangle bassist came to an end when their long-lost original member Annette Zilinskas rejoined the group. Along with Annette, The Bangles recorded three new songs for the album 3 x 4, a compilation with their old friends from the Paisley Underground.

Annette Zilinskas performs on stage.

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They made the record with Rain Parade, Dream Syndicate, and The Three O’Clock, and it was officially released in 2019. On the album, each band covers songs by the other bands. The collaboration was very nostalgic for the bands, who feel “like [they] went to high school together.”

She’s Still Got It

Despite not having toured in 2020 and 2021, The Bangles are still at it, or at least Hoffs is. On July 4, 2021, the singer performed some of The Bangles’ greatest hits, like Manic Monday and Eternal Flame, on CNN with a string quartet.

A picture of Hoffs performing on stage.

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Likewise, in 2020, Susanna joined Billie Joe Armstrong of Greenday when he performed a virtual cover of Manic Monday as part of his quarantine series, No Fun Mondays. Hoffs rocked the electric guitar in the video from her home music room while Armstrong played from his couch.

Not Your Stereotypical Girl Band

The Bangles were never a stereotypical girl band; they tried their best to be a band and not be pigeonholed by their gender. They never joined the riot grrrl scene or became pop stars like their contemporaries, The Go Go’s or Cyndi Lauper.

A vintage portrait of The Bangles.

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Perhaps they were born in the wrong generation. The Peterson’s and Hoffs were inspired by Laurel Canyon and the rock of the 1960s and attempted to bring those genres into the 1980s. Walking the line between rock and pop is tricky and even harder for a girl group that doesn’t use their gender as a gimmick.

An Eternally Great Soundtrack

The Bangles may not be currently touring or recording, but their hit singles are still relevant and appear in numerous soundtracks. Eternal Flame has been on the score of many films and shows including, Wine Country, Love, Lucifer, Scream Queens, How I Met Your Mother, True Blood, and Gilmore Girls.

An album cover from The Bangles.

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Likewise, other songs like Manic Monday, Walk Like an Egyptian, and Hazy Shade of Winter have graced the scores of shows like The Sopranos, Stranger Things, The Good Wife, Impeachment: American Crime Story, Family Guy, Black Mirror, and American Dad.

Where Are the Bangles Now?

When asked how The Bangles have lasted so long as a band, Vicki explained, “The three of us who started it, Debbi, Susanna, and I — it just works. We’re like a girl gang, and we’ve got each other figured out. We love each other in kind of a family way.”

The Bangles attend an event.

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The Bangles aren’t going anywhere and have “always said that for as long as it’s fun,” they’ll “keep doing it.” The band has promised to continue “their legacy of delighting and inspiring old and new generations of fans worldwide.” Hopefully, they’ll resume touring and recording soon.