The Bangles - Different Light (1986)

Strap on your legwarmers, pop on your shoulder pads and set your hair dryer to stun as we take a retrospective look at our favourite 80s pop records and their influence on current styles.

The 80s had its fair share of female solo acts topping the charts, but girl bands – and I mean girls with guitars – were few and far between. While this is a problem that manifests even today, The Bangles were the girl band that encapsulated the quintessential blend of classic 80s kitsch and a 60s rock inspired sound.

Standing apart from Bananarama’s 80s garishness or The Go-Go’s diluted, new wave sound, The Bangles had their own unmistakable pop-rock vibes. Their 1984 debut had a handful of decent songs but it was their 1986 sophomore release that enabled them to become one of the best-selling all-female groups ever. In Different Light, the group took on a new, slicker direction, catapulting their position into the mainstream. Different Light, however, is typically criticised for The Bangles’ commercial turn, with the band breaking up just three years after its release; a fact mentioned by bassist Michael Steele in a 2003 Guardian interview:

"We were just in this sort of hit machine…the producer knew that this was going to be his shot and so we were sacrificed on the altar of his career…I think Different Light is a really good record. It was just...we kind of got lost in it."

The Bangles as “this sort of hit machine” can be found in their string of hit singles from Different Light, beginning with the Prince-penned "Manic Monday”. The piano-backed track consists of a sappy melodic refrain and the rhyming of “Sunday” with “my-I-don’t-have-to-run-day” is fairly bad, but its sweet, engaging narrative makes for a pretty decent pop song.  The Jules Shear cover “If She Knew What She Wants” is fairly infectious and the funky accents of “Walking Down Your Street” are rather appealing, but it was not until their first number one worldwide hit, “Walk Like An Egyptian”, that The Bangles were propelled to 80s super pop stardom.  The song itself is nauseatingly schmaltzy yet immensely catchy – the groovy whistling, the jangly guitars and the corny dance – the hallmarks of an excellent 80s pop song.

Different Light does come across as a weird, fragmented mix between the band’s front as a “hit machine” and their 60s influences that is reminiscent of other alternative bands in the 80s. “Angels Don’t Fall in Love”, “Not Like You” and “Let It Go” consist of some excellent guitar play that just might pass off as being from The Cure or Orange Juice – that is until lead singer Susanna Hoffs’ breathy vocals and the band’s backup harmonies kick in. “Following”, a ballad composed by Steele, feels almost out of place among the album’s chiefly quicker-paced, snappy tunes.

Yet, Different Light, admittedly, is an inspired record. The clash between The Bangles’ commercial embrace and rock roots contributed to the band’s exceptional success while also further advancing the group’s own undoing. Different Light perfectly encapsulates a band at the beginning of its glorious end, and the songs on the way there are undeniably irresistible.

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