1984 – All Over The Place (Columbia)
Just by looking at the track-listing and notes for this record, you know it’s going to be great. How so? Let’s break it down:
– The year is 1984, and it’s an all-girl group that plays all the music. That’s already a major “win”.
– Nine of the eleven songs are group originals, and one is by a cool, slightly-obscure 60s’ band (the other was by… er, Katrina & The Waves, but that one’s a great song, too).
– Only three of the eleven cuts break the three-minute barrier. Yes! (The 80s has a lot to answer for, but in the pre-CD era songs could still be very short, which is good.)
So, I’m already sold just based on these factors. And All Over The Place doesn’t disappoint, as it churns out one easy-on-the-ears, slightly rockin’, guitar-janglin’ tune after the other. And just to make it even better, the California girls who made the record are hotties (see back-of-LP sleeve photo, above-right)!
The Bangles, by the way, consisted of (by 1984) the Peterson sisters – that’s Vicki (the elder) and Debbi (the younger), on lead-guitar and drums, respectively; Susanna Hoffs on rhythm guitar; and Michael Steele (a one-time founder member of 70s’ jail-bait group The Runaways) on bass. And all four can sing! What makes their vocals great, though, is the blend of voices and the harmonies.
This long-player debut followed two singles and an EP on the small IRS label. None of those had charted, but they were well-received and helped build a following in the L.A. area. Then, signed up by Columbia Records, in late 1983 and early 1984 The Bangles laid down All Over The Place. Elder-sister, Vicki, by the way, has done the lion’s share of the songwriting here, with a solo or shared (with Susanna Hoffs, on four tracks) writing-credit on all nine of the Bangles’ originals here.
"Hero Takes A Fall" – The first single, and an absolutely incredible track. I'd rate this as one of the great 80s' singles by anyone. It is probably the most perfect Bangles' song, in that it's a fabulous group composition (great lyrics, catchy tune) and a fabulous performance, and, was “pure” Bangles in sound and approach. It's just perfect. Susanna’s little-girl vocals have just enough gravitas to give this track some attitude in addition to charm. But it’s a wonderful composition, with sharp lyrics, cool guitar riffs, and excellent layered backing vocals. They had other tracks as good as this, but none that were better, I think. (The single version of this song, by the way, is a different mix, is a bit punchier, and is perhaps a little preferable to the LP track.)
Live – A great pop tune from The Merry-Go-Round, in 1967, given a great vocal turn by Debbi Peterson. Debbi may actually have a more attractive voice than Vicki's (not that Vicki's is bad), and I wish she had been given more leads... instead of producer David Kahne trying to take away her solo spots later on. I can't imagine any functional human not enjoying this track. It's fantastic, and shows The Bangles’ great taste in re-presenting an overlooked 60s-era gem.
James – Another Bangles' classic; yet more pure guitar-pop. As with “Live”, but even more so, I cannot imagine anyone with an ounce of taste not enjoying this. Vicki wrote it and sang it in the early days, but I think it was a good move to give it to Susanna to sing. Along with “Hero Takes A Fall”, it's one of the two best songs on the record and a timeless recording. Interestingly, both of these standouts are dump-the-guy kind of songs. Maybe Vicki was going through a tough time in her personal life….
All About You – Another very strong Vicki song, and she finally gets to sing lead. The little guitar solo in the middle is nice. This track’s not quite as distinctive as the first three, but it’s still very good.
Dover Beach – Rickenbacker! This track is some fans’ favorite. I like it, too, though I’m not quite as sold on it because the main verse melody isn’t particularly arresting (though the “If I had the time” bit is beautiful). Guitars are prominent, and the various solos and riffs are very interesting. By the way, this is a Susanna / Vicki co-write, and, being the longest track on the album and having some “layers” of sound, it feels like they were trying for something a bit deeper and denser here, and they mostly succeeded.
Tell Me – The first track on side two. This is an up-tempo, punchier-than-usual Susanna / Vicki co-write (the second of three such in a row). Michael Steele’s bass is really pumping away in busy fashion. It isn’t the strongest Bangles’ melody, but because the track is short and urgent, it’s still arresting. Yet another lyric about dumping a guy, by the way.
Restless – Begins with some almost (dare I say it?) 80s’-sounding guitar riffing. It’s certainly a harder-edged guitar song than we expect from The Bangles, but those trademark harmonies and backing vocals are as great as ever. And about the lead vocal, Vicki sings this very, very well. (Lyrically, this time the girl is just thinking about dumping the guy!)
Going Down to Liverpool – Kimberly Rew’s second most famous song (in North America, anyway), and it’s a real 80s’ jangle classic. “Going Down to Liverpool” sardonically celebrates the unemployed dole life in northern England under Thatcher. If authenticity is your thing, be warned that Rew himself is from Bristol and Cambridge, and one also wonders if the California Banglettes knew what a “UB40” was. But never mind. A great version of a cool song, which earned single status and briefly charted in (of course) Britain. Drummer Debbi sings it, and does a great job. The track is very effectively produced, too.
He’s Got A Secret – As with “James”, here’s Susanna singing a slightly angry Vicki song. There are some big production touches, and again some really crunchy guitar riffs, so maybe David Kahne liked this track and thought it had hit potential (he was later to favor Susanna’s vocals on A-sides, which might also explain why she sings this on record). I like the chords here, and the vocals are as good as usual, but the tune is a bit lacking. Yet, still a quite enjoyable track, which sounds a little different from everything else on offer.
Silent Treatment – This one, however, kind of ends up nowhere. This is the shortest track on the record, and maybe that’s a good thing as it’s kind of much ado about you-know-what. The discordant synthesizer stabs between verses do not help.
More Than Meets The Eye – The final cut on All Over The Place is a great closer. The two Petersons share the songwriting credit, which happened only twice more between this record and 2011’s Sweetheart Of The Sun. The arrangement is a real one-off, with no jangling guitars and instead a Jimmie Haskell string arrangement only (with some acoustic guitar at the end). The lyric is quite interesting – for me, it’s impenetrable and… a bit creepy. I think we can conclude that Vicki was having some guy-issues while writing a lot of these songs.
My only disappointment in the track listing for All Over The Place is that the girls (or David Kahne) couldn’t make space for their sparkling cover of The Grass Roots’ “Where Were You When I Needed You”, which for me is one of the group’s greatest moments. Someone may have belatedly realized this, as the track does appear on The Bangles’ 1990 Greatest Hits album.
All Over The Place, by the way, got strong reviews and did some decent business, charting within the US top-100 (according to Wiki, it was eventually on the charts for thirty weeks, which is really good). However, unless you were an L.A. gig-goer or a cool-kid who could stay up and watch David Letterman, chances are you weren’t aware of The Bangles in 1984. That would all change at the dawn of 1986, for better and for worse. But in 1984, these ladies were just getting hot… and were still cool. It’s good to know that even in 1984, an album of quality classic guitar-pop songwriting could be recorded and issued on a major label.