The Hard Luck of Evie Sands

evieTeenaged Evie Sands learned early in her career that the music business could be cruel. After recording some singles in her mid-teens that failed to make the charts, she recorded a powerful song called “Take Me for a Little While” in 1965. Thrilled that she was about to have her first hit, Evie waited excitedly for the single’s release. Unbeknownst to her, a test copy of the record had been stolen from the studio by a producer, who sold it to a competing record label. They quickly recorded their own version of the song, featuring Jackie Ross, and released it before Evie’s recording could be shipped. The song worked its way into the charts, beating out Evie’s version when it was released a week later. Sadly, this incident would set the tone for Evie’s recording career.

The Brooklyn-born Evie possessed a darkly beautiful voice that sounded far more mature than her age would attest. Her penchant for soulful material prompted an impressed Dusty Springfield to declare her “My favorite singer”. Despite her failure to chart, those in the know were sure that it was just a matter of time before Evie became a star. After the debacle of “Take Me for a Little While”, she released her next single, “I Can’t Let Go”, in 1966. This time it was the Hollies who would swoop in and score the hit.

eviesingDeciding that a change of record labels might solve some of her problems, Evie signed with Cameo-Parkway the next year. She found and recorded the original version of  “Angel of the Morning”, and the DJ copies sent to radio stations paid off as the record was widely played. The label pressed 10,000 copies of the single and shipped them to stores, where they quickly sold out. It looked as though Evie was about to score her hit, at last. Then Cameo-Parkway announced their bankruptcy, and no more copies of the single could be released. Interest in the song petered out, until a few months later when Merrilee Rush released her version of the song. It became a top five national hit.

evieguitarDevastated and without a record label, Evie began to explore writing songs and playing guitar. Her talent still made her an in-demand performer, and she appeared on the Johnny Cash Show. In 1969 Evie scored another record deal and began recording a batch of songs for a full-length album. “Any Way That You Want Me”, the first single released from these sessions, finally brought Evie to the charts. It eventually sold half a million copies. Momentum was building for Evie, but the delay of the album’s release caused it to miss the charts, despite the strength of each of its tracks. The album Any Way That You Want Me is something of a lost classic. Blue-eyed soul mixed with country and folk on songs like “But You Know I Love You” and “One Fine Summer Morning”. The album saw the debut of one of Evie’s original compositions, “It’s This I Am”, a song that was later covered by both Beck and Beth Orton. She even re-recorded “Take Me for a Little While”, her first near-hit.

After the release of Any Way That You Want Me, Evie began to focus on her writing. Her 1970s albums, Estate of Mind and Suspended Animation, had a singer-songwriter sound that blended more easily with popular music of the day. The 1990s saw a revival of interest in her work, leading her to record a bluesy album called Women in Prison in 1999. Superstardom eluded her, but she remains an icon to fans who have stumbled upon her early singles and her masterpiece debut album.


The Impact of Linda Ronstadt

lindathreeWhen Linda Ronstadt announced that her battle with Parkinson’s had left her unable to sing, the world mourned the loss of one of music’s greatest voices. By turns powerful and delicate, but always beautiful, Linda’s voice brought her phenomenal success in a career that stretches back almost fifty years. Critics and fans alike rightly lauded Linda’s ability to interpret a song, but few noted the impact she had on other musicians of the day, as well as today’s alt. country movement.

When Linda left the folk-rock band the Stone Poneys and embarked on her solo career in 1969, she established herself as an interpreter of songs. Taking a cue from alt. country pioneer Gram Parsons, she  recorded a mix of rock and country songs that set the tone for artists to come, including her friend Emmylou Harris. She covered Waylon Jennings, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Dusty Springfield, and Carole King with equal love and respect. On top of the music, Linda’s innovative “country cool” image had an impact that can still be felt today, with artists such as Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood as heirs apparent. Then, of course, there was the time Linda’s backing band decided to strike out on their own. They called themselves the Eagles and became one of the most successful bands of all time. Below are some examples of Linda’s early country-rock hybrid sound.

In this early music video, Linda performs her debut single “Baby You’ve Been on My Mind”, a Bob Dylan cover.

Johnny Cash introduced Linda the solo artist to the world on his show in 1969. She performs Waylon Jennings’ “Only Mama That’ll Walk the Line”, then duets with Johnny on the folk standard “I Never Will Marry”, to a rapturous audience.

Linda returned to the Johnny Cash Show the next year to perform “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”.

Linda appeared on the Glen Campbell show to perform her first big hit, “Long Long Time”. She also duetted with Glen on James Taylor’s “Carolina in my Mind”.

Linda appeared on Playboy After Dark to perform “Walkin’ Down the Line”….

…and “Living Like a Fool”.

The New York City Soul of Laura Nyro

“Amber was the color
Summer was a flame-ride
Cookin’ up the noon roads
Walkin’ on God’s good side
I was walkin’ on God’s good side…”
-Laura Nyro, “Lu”

lauranyro3For thirty years, Laura Nyro believed she had been booed off the stage after her performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. At just 20 years old, it was only her second live performance ever, and her brand of New York City soul contrasted sharply with the west coast-dominated lineup of pop and rock bands. Footage of Laura performing was not included in the Monterey Pop film, reinforcing the idea that she hadn’t gone over well with the audience. The story of this perceived failure followed her throughout her career, tempering her confidence, until the producers of the film unearthed forgotten footage of the festival in 1997. Their discovery was shocking: no one had booed before, during, or after Laura’s set. Instead, there were shouts of “Beautiful!” and “We love you!” The producers immediately phoned to tell Laura the news, reaching her just weeks before she died of ovarian cancer at age 49.

In retrospect, it’s difficult to imagine failure of any kind for a singer and songwriter as brilliant as Laura Nyro. Her songs, with their dynamic shifts in tempo and mood, incorporated elements of jazz, soul, Broadway, and pop; her vocals were soulful and rich. Staunchly feminist in her vision, her lyrics questioned commonly held views about gender, race, religion, and politics. She boldly confessed her desires and asked for no judgment in return. As a result, her songs dwelled at the top of the charts, but only in versions recorded by other artists. After laboring in obscurity despite releasing five classic albums, she announced her retirement from the music business at age 24.

lauranyro4Born in the Bronx, Laura grew up knowing that she would do something creative. After teaching herself to play piano, at age eight she began to compose songs, and her future profession was chosen. By age 17, she had written most of the songs on her debut album, More Than a New Discovery, including “And When I Die”, “Wedding Bell Blues”, and “Stoney End”. These songs would go on to become massive hits for Blood, Sweat and Tears, The Fifth Dimension, and Barbra Streisand, respectively. The album was released in 1966, and led to Laura’s performance at the Monterey Pop Festival.

lauranyro2Despite the high quality of the songs on her debut, it was Laura’s next three albums that would cement her reputation as one of the most exciting (and most overlooked) performers in rock music. Eli and the Thirteenth Confession marked a step up from her debut, with lush arrangements, wildly inventive lyrics, and more hit songs (Three Dog Night successfully covered “Eli’s Comin’”, and “Stoned Soul Picnic” returned The Fifth Dimension to the pop charts). The album visits characters throughout the urban landscape, culminating with “The Confession”, a song with lyrics that, in the 1960s, were positively shocking for a woman to sing.

Laura continued her vision with her next album, the gritty, mysterious New York Tendaberry. A love letter to her beloved NYC, the album’s title renders Laura’s invented word, “tenderberry”, in a way that evokes her Bronx accent. More stripped-down than her previous records, the album is mostly Laura at her piano, with occasional blasts of horns that feel like gusts of blazing-hot wind on a steamy city street. The painterly lyrics evoke the city at its dirty best. Her fourth album, Christmas and the Beads of Sweat, included a “Seasons Suite”, wherein each song represented one of the four seasons.

lauranyroAfter experiencing her biggest chart success with a cover of “Up on the Roof”, Laura decided to record an entire album of covers. Enlisting her friends LaBelle to sing with her, she recorded Gonna Take a Miracle. She chose what she called her “teenage heartbeat songs”, and brilliantly reinterpreted each of them. After the release of this album, Laura announced her retirement from the music business. Although she would eventually return and record a few more albums before her death, they did not match the simultaneous power and vulnerability evinced by her first five.

lauranyro5Today, Laura is remembered for the hits other bands had with her songs, and the influence she had on other, more popular artists. Her devotees include Jenny Lewis, Elton John, Bette Midler, Cyndi Lauper, Sara Bareilles, Rickie Lee Jones, Jackson Browne, Todd Rundgren, and, most famously, Joni Mitchell, who admitted that hearing Laura’s early albums inspired her to take up playing the piano again after a hiatus (resulting in all those lovely, piano-driven ballads on Ladies of the Canyon and Blue). Despite her lack of commercial success, one listen to a Laura Nyro album removes any doubt of her maverick genius.

Char Vinnedge & the Luv’d Ones

luvdOffstage, Char Vinnedge was bespectacled and unassuming. Onstage with her band, the Luv’d Ones, Char became someone else. Her fuzzed-out guitar sound was innovative and heavy, creating a noise that few could believe an all-girl band capable of generating—at least, not in 1966. Along with her sister, Chris, and their two friends, Mary Gallagher and Faith Orem, Char formed the Luv’d Ones in 1965. Completely obsessed with music, Char had already been part of one all-girl band, the Tremolons, although that one didn’t really count since she’d played all the instruments herself. With the Luv’d Ones, Char had finally surrounded herself with like-minded ladies who just wanted to play rock n’ roll in a time when girls just didn’t do that.

luvd2The Luv’d Ones were quickly signed to a deal with Dunwich Records, and the label sporadically released singles from the band over the next few years. None of them charted, but Char was always sure they would make it with the next single. She devoted all her time to promoting the band, writing songs, and even making flyers for their shows. Her guitar playing became very impressive, and their sound evolved from typical 60’s garage rock to something more complex. Char came to idolize Jimi Hendrix, and began to play with a fuzz pedal to emulate her hero. Despite their talent and Char’s drive to succeed, the Luv’d Ones called it quits in 1969.

luvd3Char formed another group, Syrup, which quickly dissolved. Then, in 1971, Jimi Hendrix Experience bass player Billy Cox asked Char to be the guitar player in his new band, Nitro Function. Thrilled to be acknowledged by one of her biggest influences, Char joined the group, which only lasted for one album. Char’s life quieted down for the next two decades. In 1997, Sundazed Records signed the Luv’d Ones in order to reissue their singles and unreleased demos. Just after the deal was inked, Char died of a heart attack. The Luv’d Ones have since gathered new fans through the reissues of their music. Arguably the most talented of the all-girl bands of the 60’s, the Luv’d Ones are a lost treasure.

Emmylou Harris’ Cosmic American Dream

emmylou3How does an artist who formerly disdained country music end up releasing a country album? It was a question Emmylou Harris had to ask herself in 1975, when she issued Pieces of the Sky. She freely admitted that, as a young adult, she’d found country music to be “kind of corny”; when cult hero Gram Parsons asked the then-struggling Emmylou to be his duet partner in 1972, she’d agreed only because it was a paying gig. As a divorced mother, she needed the money for her young daughter’s support. Instead, she found herself falling in love with the purity of the music, as Gram Parsons shared his formidable knowledge of country music past and present. Gram dreamed of popularizing what he called “Cosmic American Music”, a blend of country, rock, and soul that would seamlessly entwine the various genres of music birthed in America. After releasing two solo albums, he died of a drug overdose at age 26. Emmylou was devastated, left to process her complicated feelings for Gram and his life’s work. She decided to carry on with his vision, and with the release of her debut in 1975 she displayed Cosmic American Music at its very best.

Pieces of the Sky combined covers of pop songs by the Beatles and the Everly Brothers with those of country songs by Merle Haggard and the Louvin Brothers. It included the work of unheralded contemporary songwriters like Rodney Crowell, and an original song by Emmylou. The music hearkened back to traditional country, treating each song as an equal in arrangement and worth. To Emmylou’s surprise, she scored a hit on the country charts with the top 5 “If I Could Only Win Your Love”. The heart of the album was Emmylou’s “Boulder to Birmingham”, a song she wrote for Gram Parsons after his death. Her voice, which her friend Linda Ronstadt likened to “cracked crystal”, clearly conveyed her pain at the loss of someone so dear.

emmylou2Emmylou’s next album, Elite Hotel, continued the template set up by Pieces of the Sky. There was another Beatles cover, a Buck Owens song, and songs by new writers. The album also contained Emmylou’s versions of three Gram Parsons songs. She’d decided to use her new platform to share his music with the audience that had largely ignored him in the past, carefully choosing the songs she considered his best. Elite Hotel topped the country charts, and even crossed over to pop audiences. For the coming decades, Emmylou stood out as a country artist that appealed to everyone, even those who didn’t normally listen to country music. The irony was not lost on her.

emmylou4Luxury Liner, Emmylou’s third country album, was another country #1. It also just missed the top 20 on the pop charts. Again featuring several Gram Parsons songs, the album was another blend of country and rock. She duetted with Dolly Parton, and Nicolette Larson— a country star and a pop star. Emmylou’s backing musicians, The Hot Band (who got their name when Emmylou was told WB records would record her if she could just “get a hot band”) were on fire, turning in classic performances. The Hot Band’s fiddle and mandolin player was a then-unknown Ricky Skaggs, who would soon become a bluegrass legend. One of the record’s many highlights was a cover of Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell”.

Feeling that her Cosmic American quest had been successful, Emmylou recorded newer songs for her fourth album, Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town. She continued to champion the work of unsung writers like Townes Van Zandt and Jesse Winchester, while blurring the line between country and pop. “Two More Bottles of Wine” was a number one song on the country charts, and its driving sound ensured its play on pop radio.

emmylouEmmylou would go on to record several bluegrass records before returning to her tried-and-true Cosmic American roots. A consistently strong artist, Emmylou has been universally hailed as a brilliant interpreter of songs. Her look and sound made country cool, and helped to birth the “alt. country” movement, inspiring the likes of Lucinda Williams, Ryan Adams, and Wilco. Her tireless devotion to Gram Parsons helped bring his work to the attention of music fans, and her championing of unknown songwriters brought success to many of the artists she covered. With her induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008, Gram Parson’s dream of respect from the country music elite in Nashville was brought to bear. Emmylou’s heart and soul have made her one of the queens of country music.

Ten Reasons Why Joan Jett Rocks

joanShe’s been called the “Queen of Rock n’ Roll”, the “original Riot Grrl”, and the “female Chuck Berry”, but if you still needed more reasons why Joan Jett rocks:

1. The Runaways. Joan teamed up with Sandy West in 1975 to form the Runaways, the first highly successful all-girl rock band. Just seventeen years old, Joan quickly became the band’s primary songwriter and shared lead vocal duties with Cherie Currie. As the band’s rhythm player, Joan was a reference point for girls who wanted to play electric guitar, while her risqué songs brought the band all kinds of attention. Although they saw their greatest success in Japan, not the United States, the Runaways were ultimately a major milestone in rock n’ roll. A film based on their experience was released in 2010.

2. She doesn’t take “no” for an answer. When the Runaways disbanded in 1979, Joan recorded her debut solo album. After being rejected by 23 major record labels, Joan decided to start her own record label and release the album herself. It contained hits like “Bad Reputation” and “Do You Wanna Touch Me”, and her gamble paid off when she was signed to a record label shortly thereafter.

3. Awesome cover songs. Even though Joan is more than capable of writing a compelling song, she also chooses excellent songs to cover, with great success. Selecting songs from artists as diverse as Sly and the Family Stone to Iggy Pop, Joan always adds her own touch. Covers like “Crimson and Clover” and “Light of Day” rank among her greatest hits, while her version of The Arrows’ “I Love Rock n’ Roll” is the definitive one. With its monster guitar riff and lyrics that seemed tailor-made for Joan, the song was #1 for seven weeks in 1982.

joan24. Her consistency.  Joan has been making records for nearly forty years, and she has never wavered from her original attitude and sound. Her albums are consistently good, and she has had no period of decline.

5. Her style. In her days with the Runaways, Joan favored glam-rock influenced jump suits. In her solo days, she gravitated towards black leather (jackets and pants) and her trademark Converse hi-tops. With her shag haircut and heavy black eyeliner, Joan’s look became as distinctive as her music.

6. Her activism. Joan has supported causes like PETA and Farm Sanctuary, but she is best-known for her work with the investigation of the murder of Gits lead singer Mia Zapata. Joan collaborated with the remaining band members on a live album, contributing all proceeds to the investigation. She also appeared with the band members on America’s Most Wanted to make an appeal for any information that could help solve Mia Zapata’s murder. After 11 years, the case was finally solved in 2004.

joan37. Her guitar. Joan’s guitar, which she bought from Eric Carmen after the breakup of the Raspberries, has become an icon in its own right. Gibson manufactured a Joan Jett Signature Melody Maker that is now out of production. Joan says, “I got my Melody Maker in 1977. It was light and it sounded great. It was the guitar I had in the Runaways and then played on all my hits…It’s my baby.” Playing with all the attitude of her idol, Keith Richards, Joan appeared on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists. Shamefully, only two women were included.

8. Her record label. Although it was founded in a moment of desperation, Blackheart Records is still going strong today. Joan uses it to release her new music, as well as reissues of her classic albums, solo and with the Runaways. New artists like Endless Bummer, The Eyeliners, Girl in a Coma, and The Vacancies are signed to the label. Joan is particularly passionate about signing up-and-coming female bands, giving them the break that she didn’t have as a new artist.

9. Freaks and Geeks. When the legendary cult TV favorite Freaks and Geeks was looking for a song for their opening credits, they turned to Joan’s music and found a kindred outsider spirit. “Bad Reputation” became the show’s theme.

10. Her legacy. After three and a half decades in the music business, Joan has rightfully earned her place in the “living legends” category, while still remaining an impressively current artist. Her kindness to new bands and loyalty to old friends have set her a cut above the rest. The Riot Grrl movement came to life in her wake, and countless people have gleaned music history from her seamless mix of punk, glam, metal, and straightforward rock n’ roll. She remains the patron saint for every girl who just knows that learning to play guitar will change her life.

Bobbie Gentry’s World

“It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty delta day…”

bobbieThe summer of 1967 belonged to The Beatles, The Doors, and Bobbie Gentry, who was all of 23 years old when her debut album knocked Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band from the top of the charts, where it had been the number one album for months. Her album’s namesake song, “Ode to Billie Joe”, also replaced “All You Need is Love” in the number one spot on the singles chart.

One of pop music’s most haunting songs, the Southern Gothic “Ode to Billie Joe” started Bobbie’s career off with a bang. The story of a suicide set deep in the Mississippi delta, the track raises more questions than it answers: Why did Billie Joe McAlister jump off the Tallahatchee bridge? What was the nature of his relationship with the song’s narrator, who hears the news of his death from her too-casual family members around the dinner table? For her part, Bobbie has always maintained that the mysteries surrounding the song are not the point; for her, the core of the story is in the nonchalant description of the suicide by the family around the dinner table, and the abject cruelty of this discussion in the presence of Billie Joe’s girlfriend. As a piece of writing, the song is brilliant—the plot advances solely through dialogue, and there’s enough richness of character to make Carson McCullers jealous. The arrangement, stark and absolutely chilling in places, ensured its stand-out status, while Bobbie’s husky voice sang a melody that seemed to have written itself.

The Ode to Bille Joe album featured ten songs, nine of them authored by Bobbie Gentry. It invited listeners into the world of the midcentury south—hot, hazy, and populated with interesting characters. There were songs about bugs, dressing up in one’s sunday best, going to town at the end of a hard work week, and overcoming poverty. Bobbie wrote these songs from her own experiences.

bobbie3Born in Mississippi in 1944, Bobbie was raised by her grandparents on their farm. When she showed an early interest in music, her grandmother traded a cow to their neighbor in exchange for a piano, which Bobbie used to write her first song at age seven. She later taught herself to play guitar, bass, and banjo, before moving to Las Vegas to become a showgirl. From Vegas, she travelled to Los Angeles, where she enrolled in UCLA and began performing her songs in night clubs. When a producer heard her demo recordings in 1967, she snagged a record deal.

Set up for super stardom after the success of “Ode to Billie Joe”, Bobbie promptly began writing and producing songs for her second album, The Delta Sweete. When it was released in 1968, it barely charted, despite containing high-quality songs. This set the pattern for the rest of her career, as her subsequent albums never repeated the triumph of her first. She fared slightly better on the country charts, although no matter which chart she landed on she was always labeled a “crossover”—a little too pop for the country sphere, her Mississippi twang rendered her hopelessly exotic in the pop world. Finally, in 1970, Bobbie hit the Top 40 again with “Fancy”, a song she referred to as her “strongest statement for women’s lib.” The tale of a girl in dire poverty, turned out by her mother to work as a call girl, the song would be resurrected twenty years later and turned into a massive hit by Reba McEntire. Bobbie’s version of the tune is, as always, more harrowing and leaves the listener feeling unsettled.

bobbie2Shortly after the relative success of “Fancy”, Bobbie retired from the music business and now lives a quiet life in California. Her legacy— six albums of exquisite stories and character sketches— is largely neglected today. But one listen to songs such as “Casket Vignette”, “Courtyard”, “Seasons Come, Seasons Go”, and “Papa’s Medicine Show” reveals a supremely gifted writer in the vein of Eudora Welty.  It’s possible that her songs and skills are continually overlooked by people who are more likely to notice her beauty, her miniskirts and her now-kitschy bouffant hairstyle. An adept musician and producer, she was ahead of her time during the span of her career. And, thanks to Bobbie Gentry, it is possible to put on a record and be instantly transported into a vivid, fascinating world called the Mississippi delta.

The Teenage Dreams of Janis Ian

janisJanis Ian was not the stereotypical thirteen year old girl. Having already mastered five musical instruments, she had been writing songs since she was a child. Her parents, summer camp directors who were frequently under FBI surveillance due to their leftist political views, did what they could to encourage her. This included sending Janis to a performing arts high school in New York City, where her talent caught the eye of music industry insiders. Just barely in her teens, she was given the chance to record a song she had written: “Society’s Child”. The record label took one listen and refused to release the song, fearing controversy. It took three releases of the recording on other labels, over the next three years, for the song to catch on with radio listeners. In 1966, at age 16, Janis had a top 20 hit. There was just one problem: “Society’s Child”, which told the story of an interracial romance, was too much for some people to handle during the firestorm of the civil rights movement. Janis received hate mail and death threats, and some radio stations refused to play it. She proudly continued to play it anyway, as in this clip from 1966:

janis2After the minefield of “Society’s Child”, Janis fell off the pop charts, although she continued to record. In 1975, almost ten years after her only hit to date, Janis released a song called “At Seventeen”. Though she was no longer a teenager, Janis clearly remembered those years with a mixture of humor and rancor. At age 24, her reflection on her teenage years paid off, and Janis’ new song eventually reached #3 on the charts. She was the musical guest on the very first episode of Saturday Night Live, where she performed “At Seventeen” to a rapt audience. Though she never had another hit on the pop charts, Janis’ name would become synonymous with adolescent angst, with Tina Fey naming a character after her in the screenplay for Mean Girls.

Toni Basil’s Secret Past

toni2The daughter of an orchestra conductor and an acrobatic comedienne, Toni Basil (born Antonia Basilotta) grew up dancing and leading cheers in Philadelphia. In 1964, at age 21, she landed a job choreographing dances on the hit show “Shindig”. She choreographed several movies and other television shows, and when casting directors began to notice her striking looks, she also won a few small acting parts. By 1966, Toni was a real triple threat; she recorded a single for inclusion on a movie soundtrack. The song, “Breakaway”, failed to chart, but later became a dance floor classic in England’s Northern Soul scene.

After this foray into music, Toni went back to choreography. She worked with The Monkees, appearing as Davy Jones’ dancing partner in their movie, HEAD:

toniThe next year, Toni co-starred in Easy Rider, playing one of the prostitutes picked up by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper on their way to Mardi Gras. She also appeared with Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces. As a choreographer, she co-directed Talking Heads videos with David Byrne, worked with David Bowie on his elaborately staged tours, appeared as a dancer on Saturday Night Live, and choreographed films like American Graffiti. Known in the dance world for her truly innovative style, she was a member of The Lockers, a revolutionary street dance group that merged modern and classical styles.

Then, in 1980, Toni directed and starred in a series of music video shorts. One of the videos, “Mickey”, caught fire two years later when MTV began airing it. It was a cover of “Kitty” by Racey, a band from England. Toni changed a few lyrics, and added the cheerleader chant to the song, inspired by her days as a high school cheerleader. The cheer concept shaped the video. One of the major icons of the early video age, “Mickey” made Toni a huge pop star at age 39.

After “Mickey”, Toni had one more hit, “Over My Head”, in 1983. She continued to work as a choreographer, on movies like That Thing You Do!, My Best Friend’s Wedding, and Legally Blonde. For all her talent, she continues to be known for “Mickey”, despite her vast contributions to the worlds of dance and film.

The Go-Gos vs. The Bangles, Part 2: Fame and Fights

“Am I only dreaming?”
go-gos80sAfter signing with I.R.S. Records, The Go-Gos released their debut album, Beauty and the Beat, in 1981. A re-recorded version of “We Got the Beat” preceded the album, becoming a huge hit in the United States and Europe. The album went to #1 on the Billboard chart, becoming the first— and, to date, the only— album written and performed by an all-female band to reach that position. A second single from the album, “Our Lips Are Sealed”, became the band’s biggest hit later that year. Beauty and the Beat was a fine example of the New Wave sound, and the songs were consistently good. The band’s look, a hybrid of pop and punk, was fresh and exciting. Young girls around the world found inspiration in the story of five girls who joined together to conquer the pop universe.

The crush of tour dates and personal appearances didn’t leave much time for the band to write the songs for their follow-up record, so when Vacation was released in 1982 the reviews were not as positive as those for Beauty and the Beat. The album and its title track both made the top 10, but failed to repeat the success of their earlier efforts. Band members were beginning to disagree more often, and drug use was becoming an issue for the band. They continued to tour, with great success, and took more time to work on their third album. Talk Show, released in 1984 to positive reviews, sold even less than Vacation. “Head Over Heels” just missed the top 10, despite its high quality. The strain within the group had reached unbearable levels, and Jane Wiedlin left the group in 1984. The other band members replaced her, but quickly realized that they did not want to continue on with the group. The Go-Gos officially disbanded in 1985, but it was not the end of their story.

bangles80sThe Bangles’ career took a little longer to get started. After signing with Columbia, they released All Over the Place. The album received great reviews for its jangly pop sound (see “James”), and mixed covers of classic 60s songs with Bangles originals. The album was not a commercial success, peaking in the lower rungs of the charts, but it did win one very important fan: Prince. After hearing The Bangles, Prince became enamored of Susanna Hoffs; in an effort to meet her, he offered The Bangles a song called “Manic Monday”. The band released the song along with their second album, Different Light, in 1986. This album placed less emphasis on the band’s 1960s influence, although they still covered some classic songs. “Manic Monday” shot up the charts and into the top 5, while the album reached #2. A second single from Different Light, “Walk Like an Egyptian”, was released later that year and became a phenomenal success, topping the charts around the world.

The next year, The Bangles scored again with a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade of Winter”. Of all the Bangles’ singles, this one came closest to capturing their original sound, and it reached #2. In 1988, they released Everything. The album missed the top 10, but “In Your Room” was a top 5 hit, and “Eternal Flame” was a number one smash. With millions of young fans around the globe, many of them girls, the band was poised for even more success. Unfortunately, in-fighting and the record label’s elevation of Susanna Hoffs to lead singer status left some of the band members feeling neglected. It was all too much, and the band broke up…for the time being.


Read Part One, “Origins”