The Bridge: Sexism’s Eternal Flame
S1: The ground. Brown and the sky.
S2: Hey, everybody, this is Chris Molanphy, host of Hit Parade Slate’s podcast of pop chart history. Welcome to the British. Play pretend. This is the Bangles hazy shade of winter, from the soundtrack to the 1987 movie less than zero. It was a number two hit in the winter of 1988.
S1: Four seasons change with the same. Any time in.
S2: Orchestrate a cover of the 1966 Simon and Garfunkel hit the Bangles version was truly transformative. Right after the dreamy bridge about seasons changing and the springtime of one’s life, it goes right back to pounding rock and a solo verse from Susanna Hoffs. Brown. You guys, the Bangles called it the truest any of their hits came to sounding like them. Live bassist Michael Steele later said quote, If we hadn’t been so messed up as a band, it could have been a turning point for us unquote. Or you might say, a bridge between the Bangles imperial phase and their last year of hit making stardom. And these mini episodes bridge our full length monthly episodes give us a chance to expand on those episode topics and enjoy some trivia. This month, I’m joined by someone who can bring us up to date on the Bangles legacy. Rachel Brodsky is a music and culture writer, critic and reporter living in Los Angeles. She is a staff writer and editor with Stereogum and has also been published in The L.A. Times, Vulture, BuzzFeed, Spin and Rolling Stone, among many outlets. Among her work at Stereogum. Rachel has written several entries for their ongoing We’ve Got a File on You series, including a very recent, in-depth interview with Bangles co-founder Susanna Hoffs Rachel Brodsky. Welcome to the bridge!
S3: Hey, thank you so much for having me.
S2: I was just talking to you before we got on Mike about how you moved to L.A. and I guess the Bangles probably looms somewhat large in the culture of L.A. music, given their history.
S3: You know, it’s interesting. They absolutely do. I mean, that’s where their roots are. But I think like personally, I had to really educate myself on like the Bangles in their history because I think when you are in L.A., you know, like there’s so many louder bands, right? You have to just dig a little bit more. I think that kind of is connected really with the overall underrated aspect to the Bangles in general.
S2: Well, OK. And speaking of your getting up to speed on the Bangles history, what’s your entry point with them? Do you remember any of their 80s heyday? When did you first become aware of them and do they fit into your personal canon of music?
S3: I mean, absolutely, because I’m such a pop head, like, I’m just obsessed with pop music. I always have been. I admittedly a little bit young for, you know, the Bangles were really becoming famous when, you know, to be honest, I was I was born. I was born in 1986, so I was not, which
S2: is like ground zero for their popularity. You were born in like the year of the.
S3: Yeah, so I guess you could argue that it’s, you know, bad to be. But I really became familiar with the Bangles and this is going to this is going to date me again. But you know, I was such an avid pop culture and TV watcher when I was in my teens. And so, of course, of course, I caught the Bangles on season one of Gilmore Girls.
S2: Oh, right.
S3: I have here in my hand, as requested by Miss Lorelai Gilmore for fabulous tickets to the Bangles at the Pastorally Theater on Saturday. That was really my entry point. If I’m being honest because I mean, the creator of Gilmore Girls and Amy Sherman-Palladino managed to get fans she liked in a number of episodes. You know, that’s of course, the Bangles and like Sonic Youth and the countless others. But you know, to be honest with you, like that was really my entry point, such as like this iconic TV character and, you know, very like complex and and always like referencing something new. OK, here now with these Typekit, you’re about to enter sacred space. You’ll be treading on hallowed ground. You will be walking like an Egyptian mom. Those two episode where the Bangles are performing in New York and I talked to Susanna about this and in our interview for Stereogum, and it was a live show that they recorded for that episode. So it looks very real. You feel like you’re watching them perform. And it’s and it’s kind of like marking this new chapter in the band’s history. Like, because they are only just getting back together after, like a decade of being apart. There’s a concert going on, but the band won’t miss us. We can’t just leave Louise. It’s America, right? We have to meet my mom after the show. OK? What do you mean? Oh, come on, we have to meet my mother after the concert, of course, and I get to sort of revisit this and look back at it like as an older failure. More adult. Like now I am more like a more age and I can fully appreciate each chapter individually. But that was really my entry point is living. I was like 13 or 14 at the time.
S2: That’s a great entry point and you’re you’re bringing up something that I didn’t have time for in the full length episode I did about the Bangles, Cyndi Lauper and Aimee Mann, which was, you know, how their second way of fame kind of kept them aloft through the 2000s and 2010s. You know your interview with Susanna? Really touches on a lot of that. Like many female acts, the Bangles were basically uninterested in defining themselves based on gender, yet they were pigeonholed, especially coming after the Go-Go’s. Do you think that they transcended this definition? You know, are they an inspiration? Should they transcend that definition? What do you think? I mean,
S3: I think that they should absolutely transcend that definition, you know, in the 80s. It’s like having a an all girl band. This is like a novelty. And there could only be a few, you know, I mean, there were the record labels and like the major music industry engine, only really made room for a couple and the couples that there were. If we’re talking about the Go-Go’s and the Bangles, these are two very different bands. I mean, they have similar roots. Both are from L.A., but both did technically come from different scenes. I mean, the Go-Go’s were really had more of a like punk underground background. Bangles were really more in what’s called the Paisley Underground in L.A. and I think now in retrospect, we can appreciate those differences. We can talk about them can have a more nuanced conversation. But these, like competitive narratives, seem to like be created to foster interest, which is really unfair.
S2: I mean, you see it up to the present day. I totally agree with you in hip hop. You know, when Cardi B broke on the scene about four years ago, immediately she was pitted in the media against Nicki Minaj, even though they were coming at it from totally different time periods and different scenes, so to speak. I don’t dance
S3: now. I make money moves. We still got to dance to make money moves.
S2: The need to kind of pit women against each other just seems sadly eternal.
S3: Yeah, yeah, it’s the eternal flame,
S2: no pun intended.
S3: Yeah, but even the women among in the Bangles themselves were pitted against each other, right? As you know, they were coming up and becoming more and more popular.
S2: I’m glad you brought that up. I mean, let’s talk about that. You talked to Susanna Hoffs specifically, and Susanna Hoffs is kind of at the center of all this drama, whether she wanted the drama or not. You know, she was the promotional focus. And what fascinated me about the Bangles as I was researching them for this episode is they really presented themselves as an egalitarian foursome of singer-songwriters. That, by the way, is another difference between them and the Go-Go’s. Because the Go-Go’s had a lead singer, Belinda Carlisle. They had a couple of guitarists like Jane Wheatland, who wrote Kathy Valentine wrote, whereas the Bangles were presented in theory like four equals. But very quickly Susanna sort of stepped forward or was pushed forward as the promotional focus. Having interviewed her, do you feel like she was comfortable with this role? Where do you think she’s coming at it?
S3: She seemed to go out of her way to present herself as one among the rest. Like, I never got the impression that she stepped forward. She was very much, as you said, pushed forward. She is a very beautiful woman and, you know, the industry tends to fixate on that kind of superficial aesthetic. So I never once got the impression that she herself, like, wanted to be or was comfortable with that kind of attention. You know, to be honest, we really we did not have the chance to really talk about that kind of tension within the group. But when we were talking about the Bangles today and how they’re asked to appear on shows, you know, if they’re asked to reunite, get back together, that sort of thing. She seemed more interested in talking about the many other projects that she is involved in and how varied her actual workload today is and how busy she stays. I mean, she was just she mentioned she was working on a novel, a work of fiction. She mentioned she’s constantly courting, collaborating, working with different artists. She has that ongoing relationship with Matthew Sweet, where they recorded a number of covers albums together. She’s a very multi-faceted artist and performer, so I don’t think she even likes being just thought of as, oh, just about. I mean, she said, I am a Bangles. I always will be a Bangles. I love singing these songs. Your songs will always mean something to me. But she really seemed very interested in discussing the holistic side of who she is as a performer and artist. But to really answer your question, no, she seems very uninterested in kind of being like the Bangles selling point. Right?
S2: One thing that you mentioned in your piece was that just this year, 2021, Susanna Hoffs and Aimee Mann, one of the other subjects of my episode. Paired on a cover of a bad finger, Song.
S1: If he sees me you.
S2: And honestly, I missed putting it in the episode as I was doing my research. Do you see parallels between them? I imagine you must have some familiarity with Aimee Mann’s work as well.
S3: Yeah, I love Aimee Mann, but I think they’re very different performers and songwriters. That said, they crossed paths a lot. I mean, the Susanna spoke to me about how you know, the Bangles would cross paths with till Tuesday. I think they were probably marketed it in a similar fashion. And as a result, they’ve had this ongoing decades long relationship. Fish Susanna mentioned that they’ve performed together. They like to do, I think, a Christmas show, she said at Largo in L.A. And now, you know, she’s getting Aimee on a cover song with her, and it’s almost hard to believe that there’s not. I think this is the first time they’ve formally recorded together.
S2: I think you’re right, which kind of blew my mind, too. It’s like, you know, I did the episode putting these three careers, including Cyndi Lauper in parallel because they broke in the same kind of two year window and I saw them fighting some of the same record company shenanigans and everything. But I was really looking for more places where Aimee Mann and the Bangles crossed paths, and I wasn’t finding very much. Whereas the Bangles and Cyndi Lauper were actually friends, you can see the Bangles in a Cyndi Lauper video, for example. But it was kind of sweet to read in your interview that they were always friends and admirers of each other’s work, which is very heartening, I guess.
S3: Yeah, it’s really nice, I think, Susanna said. Something like Amy’s voice gives me the best kind of shivers. So although they’re they’re very different, I think, but there is overlap there. Aimee Mann diagram, for sure.
S2: Well, and I love that as two artists who they were born a couple of years apart. They were kids in the 60s, and the Song they wound up covering is the Song name of the game, which is a deep cut by Badfinger, who are most famous in like the early 70s, probably when they were each about 10 to 12. So clearly they are pulling from a similar pool of influences. And yet, to your point, they veer off in completely different directions after that.
S3: You know, it’s interesting too, actually is, I mean, Aimee. For all of the record label difficulties she faced towards the end of ‘til Tuesday and then the beginning of her solo career, she went on to have an incredibly prolific solo career. I think that she might be just a bit under the commercially recognized radar. But you know, it’s it’s sort of ironic that Susanna, when she was in the Bangles towards the end, the industry just really wanted her to go solo. They were like, We really, we really, really think you’d be great as a solo artist. I mean, to to the industry, she was like, quote unquote, the main attraction. They really pushed her to the front. Whether or not she wanted it, they really, really wanted her to go solo. And then, you know, her solo work, while wild wonderful, was never quite as embraced, I think as Aimee as was right.
S2: And now Aimee is this kind of, dare I say it, indie pop avatar. And she’s quite literally when you say the word indie, that can mean a lot of things. But she is quite literally independent. She’s been releasing music on her own label for like two decades. So she really has, you know, gone all the way around the bend in the industry, which is something I find inspiring, honestly.
S3: Yeah, she definitely knows what she wants to do and that that is inspiring.
S2: So assuming that you are a fan not only of the Bangles, but maybe also you said Aimee Mann and maybe Cyndi Lauper.
S2: What do you hear in their music that remains relevant
S3: in the year 2020, when you hear this like obsession right now with like turn of the century pop music like you have so many artists, contemporary artists like taking massive inspiration from like Britney Spears R&B and pop just from like Y2K. Like today, all you hear is like Y2K pop. That’s like the selling point. The tag, if the artist is coming to mind right now is like Pink Panther us anyway, I can’t believe. When you are details to attend just bones. And it’s just this like 20 year breed rehash, if you will, of pop music that happens, you know, in the 80s, you have this like excitement and rethinking reimagining of 60s music. And you know, when I was when I was younger, you know, in the 90s, I remember, you know, this guy was a huge deal in the 90s. Yes.
S1: Cyndi around the world. I can’t buy my feet. Well, I don’t know why he’s gone away, and
S3: there’s there’s this, you know, toying with having fun with the 70s music, but 70s pop in particular. So I really think there’s just this like 20 year reimaginings cycle that takes place. You see it everywhere, you see it in fashion.
S2: Yeah. The 20 year nostalgia cycle is powerful because and I do firmly believe this. What happens is a certain generation reaches a point where you know, they are in their 30s, 40s and or even their late 20s. And this music is the music of their youth, and just enough time has passed that they have some distance and they want to reach back toward it. But the point you are making is that the 20 year cycle also works as an influence cycle for a younger act that maybe can’t remember it or just remembers it as kids and reea pollsters, it reinvents it in their own idiom, which is a really nuanced point. It’s not just trafficking in nostalgia for nostalgia sake, it’s updating and rethinking and reinventing, which it seems to me is what the Paisley Underground was all about.
S3: Oh yeah, a hundred percent. I think that’s what they were doing. I like the term Repulse strings. I mean, another amazing example of this is like Olivia Rodrigo. I mean, how many influences are present from, you know, 20, 40 years ago on sour? Like, you know, she’s she grew up listening to Avril Lavigne and paramour, that’s there. But also her mother got her listening to like, Carole King.
S1: You betrayed. And I know that she’ll.
S3: So it’s like the more time that passes, the more errors there are to choose from, but at, you know, at the time, of course, in the 80s, you know, the the record itself, there are fewer decades, of course, but that there’s still that that wish to celebrate and also sort of re-imagine. That’s a
S2: wonderful point. Well, Rachel, a hugely appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. So is Twitter the best way for folks to keep up with the vast array of things you’re working on?
S3: Yes, I think so. So you can find me on. Rachel Brodsky is the Twitter handle Rachel spelled out like Rachel Green on Friends and Brodsky B-road. Yes.
S2: Excellent. Well, Rachel, thanks so much for joining us on Hit Parade the branch.
S3: Thank you so much for having me. This is a lot of fun.
S2: Now comes the time in hit parade, the bridge where we do some trivia. And joining me from I kid you not South Korea is Paul. Paul, are you there? I’m here, Chris. My goodness. What time is it where you are right now?
S4: It’s almost 4:00 in the morning.
S2: See, this is great because as you were telling us just before we got started here, if the trivia doesn’t work out for you today, you can always just say, Well, hey, it’s the crack of dawn, and I’m tired.
S4: I’ve got an excuse, so that’s fine. But it’s worth it. It’s worth it to be joining you at any time. Yeah, I’m happy to be here. So wonderful.
S2: Well, thank you. I assume you are a fan of the show. If you’re willing to be up in the wee wee hours talking to us about pop trivia. Big time. That’s great. And I understand that you are a longtime fan of British pop trivia as well as that, right?
S4: Yes, I have a blog and it’s based on the British music magazine Smash Hits back in the day. Were you ever a reader of of star hits?
S2: I was in like eighth grade. The girls in my school who were obsessed with Duran Duran were picking up star hits, and if they could get the British edition, they would do that even better.
S4: Yeah. So my background, I spent a year in England in the 80s and I really got into music, top of the pops and smash hits. And a few years ago, I rediscovered it and I got this idea that I should keep a blog of all the singles of the fortnight recommended in each issue. It’s kind of a strange concept, but so what I went with
S2: seems like a worthy blog project, and that level of pop minutia probably prepares you pretty well for our trivia round. Are you ready for some trivia? I am. All right. Well, Paul, I think you know how this works. First of all, I want to thank you for being a Slate Plus member. As you know, we only open our trivia rounds to Slate Plus subscribers. So if you Sleep Plus subscriber would like to be a trivia contestant, visit Slate.com slash hit parade. Sign up! We’re going to ask you three trivia questions. The first will be a callback to our most recent episode of Hit Parade, and the next two will be a preview of our upcoming episode. Are you ready for our trivia? I’m ready. Here we go. Question one! In our last episode, I noted that Aimee Mann, after the 1985 breakthrough of Till Tuesday, sang backup on tracks by Cyndi Lauper and what all male rock trio a the police b rush c genesis or D Z.Z top.
S4: Oh. I’m pretty sure it was Bobby Rush
S2: and you are correct, the correct answer is rush, the Canadian power trio wrote the song. Time stands still planning to include a female vocal and when their first choice, Cyndi Lauper, couldn’t do it, they went with Aimee Mann. Time stands still became one of Russia’s biggest radio hits. It peaked at number three on the Billboard album rock chart in 1987. Very good. Good memory.
S4: I’m Canadian, so I should know Russian. They’re not my favorite band in the world,
S2: but I mean, I guess they qualify as Kanchan, right? So that’s right on that. On that level alone, you should probably know Rush. All right, Paul, you’re one for one. Let’s move on to preview trivia. Are you ready for a question to go for it? Here we go. Using Hot 100 data, according to Billboard Chart historian Joel Whitburn, the top three chart acts of the 1960s were The Beatles, Elvis Presley and Ray Charles, who is fourth for the 60s. The act behind the number one hits I’m sorry and I want to be wanted a Connie Francis be the Supremes. See the Four Seasons, Audie.
S4: Brenda Lee Oh my sixties trivia. I’m going to have to go with Dee and
S2: your guest was correct. The correct answer is Brenda Lee. I’m sorry.
S3: So sorry. That.
S2: John, Connie Francis, The Supremes and the Four Seasons do rank among the top chart acts for the 60s. But Brenda Lee outranks them all. She scored a dozen top 10 hits from 1960 to 1963. And by the way, in the 60s, rockin around the Christmas tree wasn’t one of those top 10 hits. Excellent. You are now two for two. Here we go with Question three. Among the top hot 100 acts of the 1980s was George Michael, including his Wham hits. He ranks fifth for that decade, according to Joel Whitburn. Which of these Wham hits never made the Hot 100 in the 1980s when George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley were still together? A bad boys b Where did your heart go? See last Christmas or D the edge of heaven?
S4: Oh, I was counting on you saying, Wham, rap, I’m going to have to say C
S2: and you are correct yet again. The correct answer is last Christmas. Lamb’s Holiday Perennial didn’t touch any billboard chart until the holiday season of 1997, when it briefly made the radio songs chart and it didn’t crack the Hot 100 until 2016, when streaming revealed its enduring popularity. It finally cracked the top 10 on that chart during the last holiday season, peaking at number nine less than a year ago. Well, you just round the table, Paul. Well done. Three for three. Nice going.
S4: Ooh, wow, yeah, thank you.
S2: I guess we’re not going to have to use that late night excuse, after all.
S4: I guess. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just dumb. All the coffee is helped.
S2: Clearly, now here comes the fun part. I understand that you have a trivia question for me. That’s right. All right. I’m ready for it.
S4: OK. So as I said, I’m Canadian, so I thought I’d give you a question about Canadians who’ve topped the hot 100.
S2: OK, that sounds like fun. Great.
S4: So on a handful of occasions, there have been back to back Canadian acts at the top of the hot 100, such as in April of 2020, when the weekend’s Blinding Lights was succeeded by Drake’s Toosie Slide. Yeah, but what about the first time this happened when there were two consecutive Canucks at number one? Was it a Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks, followed by Sundown by Gordon Lightfoot? B You’re Having My Baby by Paul Anka and Odia Quotes, followed by Rock Me Gently by Andy Kim C. Hot Child in the City by Nick Gilder, followed by You Needed Me by Anne Murray or D. All for Love by Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart and Sting, followed by the Power of Love by Celine Dion.
S2: Wow. I know that Nick Gilder, followed by and Murray, happened in late 1978. I know that the Bryan Adams trio, followed by Celine Dion, was early 94. But the other two choices you offered a and B were from the early 70s. And I’m just racking my brain to try and figure out whether the Paul Anka pairing came first or the pairing of Terry Jacks and Gordon Lightfoot. I’m going to go with my gut and go for Terry Jackson, Gordon Lightfoot, which I think was a
S4: Oh, I’m sorry, Chris. The answer is C Asha Cyndi. Cyndi, I’ll tell them the city, and you needed me, as you say, we’re back to back chart toppers in October and November of 1978, right? Seasons in the sun and sundown, we’re at number one about three months apart.
S2: Oh my goodness, OK.
S4: While you’re having my baby and brought me gently. They were separated by only two weeks, just interrupted by Eric Clapton’s cover up. I shot the sheriff and Barry White’s Can’t get enough of your love, babe. While the Bryan Adams Rod Stewart sting of all four love and Celine Dion’s cover up the power of love, that was the second time there were back to back Canadians at the top of the charts. Wow.
S2: So there’s a gap of about six years, 15 years, roughly between those two instances. That’s amazing, right? Yeah, you have really run the table because you not only got all three of my questions, but you stumped me on turning the tables trivia. So nice job, Paul. Thank you. And I feel edified by your question and humbled. Oh, great. Paul, thank you so much for taking part in our hit parade. The Bridge trivia.
S4: It’s been a treat, Chris. Thank you.
S2: So as those last two trivia questions indicate, our next episode of Hit Parade just in time for December will be about careers that have been commanded by Christmas music. So when you look up Brenda Lee or Wham on streaming services, their biggest hit by a mile is their holiday single Rockin Around the Christmas Tree and Last Christmas, respectively, are how these acts are best known now, far more than the multiple number one hits that they scored in their heyday. But the Billboard charts in the streaming era have only begun to reflect this. Now it’s a music business truism that holiday hits are better than shares of stock, an annuity that keeps paying dividends, especially if you’re the songwriter. But what if a holiday album or even a single Christmas song becomes the main thing you’re known for? Is it reductive to think of Gene Autry, Bobby Helms, Andy Williams, Darlene Love, Jose Feliciano, Wham! Or Michael Bublé as primarily Christmas artists? And is it possible that artists as massive as Mariah Carey or even John Lennon will generations from now become known primarily for their holiday standards? So that’s what we’ll be talking about in our mid-December episode of Hit Parade. Look out for that in just a couple of weeks. This episode of Hit Parade The Bridge was produced by Asha Saluja, and I’m Chris Molanphy. Keep on marching on the one.