1986 – Manic Monday, The Bangles

Moody

Prince is, it will come as no surprise to anyone to discover, an astoundingly talented individual. He’s one of the icons of the 80’s, a gifted multi-instrumentalist and, during his Imperial phase, apparently incapable of touching anything musically that didn’t immediately turn out to be insanely successful. This gets mentioned because “Manic Monday” – a song written by Prince – was held off the Number 1 in America spot by “Kiss”. A song written by Prince. Sometimes it just seems like showing off, y’know? He’s playing synth and piano on this version too. There was just no stopping him.

Anyway. “Manic Monday” is basically the polar opposite of our last entry, yet still feels absolutely of the decade it was released in. It’s a song that makes its mileage in the details of the everyday, and in doing so aligns itself as much with the likes of The Jam and Madness, who catalogue and celebrate the ordinary, as it does with the big-hitters of the decade. It’s a simple tale of someone grudgingly dragging themselves to work while they wish it was yesterday so they didn’t have to be arsed with it all. And who enjoys having dreams of a sexy movie star in a romantic location interrupted by their damned alarm? I mean, sure, Valentino is a quirky choice for the 1980’s, but nothing wrong with the classics. But there’s no big hair, wind machines, overly hilarious videos or pompous camp here. Just… you know. Normality. If there’s a word to describe “Manic Monday” that word would be “relatable”. And that’s one of the key charms of it – it something that basically anyone can identify with. But if “relatable” is the best descriptor then we shouldn’t neglect the other one that applies almost equally, and that’s “charm”. “Manic Monday” is an absolutely charming song, beguiling in its simplicity but arranged with enough complexity to be thoroughly engaging. So where does this charm come from?

Well, the most obvious place to start is with the band members themselves. Susanna Hoffs simply has a great voice for this kind of song. The Bangles – previously The Bangs until their discovered someone else had that name and stuck an l, e and s on the end to avoid a clash – emerged from the Paisley Underground scene in LA, which favoured complex, layered harmonies, lots of guitars playing with each other (if you will excuse the expression) and a somewhat old-fashioned sound compared to much of the electronic music around at the time. Not that synths were barred or anything – as mentioned, Prince is doing the duties there on this recording – but listen to The Bangles and, say, Eurythmics side by side and the difference is pretty stark.

This has a more… well, old-fashioned sound probably isn’t quite right but it’s certainly more traditional, and that certainly has its charms in charts awash with colder synths and endless movie soundtrack songs. Susanna Hoffs has a very warm, appealing voice that draws out natural sympathy and suits the slightly old-fashioned Paisley Underground sound very well. It’s also an ideal match for this particular song – listen to Prince’s demo alongside The Bangles version and it’s immediately apparent why the song ended up being sung by someone else. That’s not a slight on Prince, but his version is a bit… well, aggressive isn’t exactly the right word but the charm that Hoffs brings to the material is wholly lacking, and the song suffers for it not being there. Prince has many attributes but “lightly charming” isn’t one of his go-to movies.

Hoffs’ voice elicits natural sympathy, so it’s easy to warm to a version of the song where she’s wistful and at least a little self-aware.  That warmth helps the universality of the song – who hasn’t disconsolately wished it was still the weekend while realising there’s a less than zero percent chance of getting to your job on time? Prince’s lyrics are excellent at capturing a sense of slightly mordant ennui that doesn’t quite dwarf the protagonist, but it’s Hoffs’ voice that really brings the whole thing to life. “Blame it on the train / but the boss is already there,” she sighs. Yeah. Been there, done that.

But let’s not undersell the contributions of the rest of the band, nor indeed the production. The song was produced by *checks notes* oh wow, it wasn’t Prince! No, it’s produced by David Kahne, who seems to have worked with just about all of music in its entirety, and has produced records by everyone from Paul McCartney to Lana Del Ray, from New Order to Fishbone. A varied CV, let’s say, but certainly a steady hand on the tiller because “Manic Monday” really is an extremely well-produced song.

All those tinkling pianos and keyboards could sound insufferably twee, and they are fairly bright and treble-heavy, but they never tip over into typical 80’s over-produced instrumentation. Vicki Peterson, too, deserves some credit for some really great supporting work on guitar, understated enough not to dominate the keyboard line where the principal melody is being carried but distinctive enough to really add something to the material. Again the production gets the placement of the guitar just right, and it sits perfectly in the mix. These sound like easy things to get right but, as 1988 will prove, you can’t make that assumption by default. It can (and will) go horribly wrong. But here it is, in fact, perfect – “Manic Monday” is a perfectly produced song. So all respect to David Kahae, who knows what he’s got and knows how to pull it all together. It’s another reason the song is charming – it’s produced to be that way and it’s just done extremely well. Sometimes that’s all it takes, and “Manic Monday” absolutely lands it.

And, great though it is, it wasn’t even their most successful song. “Walk Like An Egyptian”, also released in 1986, would blow it out of the water – solidly good song, bit of a novelty hit – and things would get even bigger in 1989 with “Eternal Flame” – fucking great, shows off what an amazing voice everyone in the band has. There’s other good songs in their back catalogue as well – “Hazy Shade Of Winter” is worth anyone’s time – but 1989 and “Eternal Flame” was both their biggest hit and pretty much the end of the line for The Bangles.

They fell apart with various degrees of acrimony not long after and so in many ways “Manic Monday” has remained their best song, despite “Eternal Flame”’s great success. It’s one that synchs up nicely with the times, it feels honest and heartfelt in a way neither of their other two biggest hits, and there’s… well, look, there’s just something nice about it. Maybe that’s not the most devastatingly powerful characterisation an act or song has ever had but it’s still accurate. The truth is, “Manic Monday” is just a great song, written and sung to perfection by a band doing their absolute career best, and if we’re being strictly honest here there’s just not a vast amount more to say about it than that. Sometimes, just being a really, really good example of what you can do is enough. And that’s exactly what “Manic Monday” is.

What Else Happened In 1986?

The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is founded, meaning every year from 1986 until the end of time people can argue about how unfair it is that X hasn’t been included while it’s a travesty that Y got in. So that’s fun. 1986 is also Peak Madonna – True Blue becomes the biggest selling album of the year, she becomes a bona fide icon, and she has the second-biggest single of the year with “Papa Don’t Preach” (outsold by “Rock Me Amadeus”, a better song). One of the most successful UK chart acts of all time, Pet Shop Boys, reach Number 1 on both sides of the Atlantic with “West End Girls” – it’s the fourth biggest-selling single of the year – while the shine finally comes off Kraftwerk with their mediocre Electric Café. Paul Simon embraces World Music/exploits World Music (delete as appropriate) with Graceland. The Smiths play their last live gig, and music magazine Q is founded (it lasts until 2020, when Covid finally forces its closure). Both The Pixies and The Goo Goo Dolls are founded, and Wham! go their own way. The Beastie Boys release their first album, Licenced To Ill, and both They Might Be Giants and The Housemartins release their debuts. Lionel Richie is Dancing On The Ceiling, Slayer Reign In Blood, Prince is on Parade, Robert Palmer is “Addicted To Love” and, horrifically, New Kids On The Block arrive. Yikes.

What Did We Nearly End Up Discussing?

In the UK David Bowie’s “Absolute Beginners” got to Number 2 at the start of the year and was definitely a contender, but elsewhere there’s a lot of chaff in our hallowed position this year. Five Star. Sinitta. Nu Shooz. Su Pollard! It’s not a catalogue of quality I’m afraid. Simply Red’s defining hit “Holding Back The Years” dripped its way up to Number 2 in the summer, and Status Quo were “In The Army Now” near the end of the year but… yeah. Over the pond, Eddie Murphy got to Number 2 with “Party All The Time” which would have been different I guess, and Billy Ocean delivers another none-more-80’s Number 2 with “When The Going Gets Tough The Tough Get Going”.

Rankings:

1.   The Beatles – “Strawberry Fields Forever” / “Penny Lane”
2.   Stevie Wonder – “Sir Duke”
3.   The Kinks – “Lola”
4.   Jean Knight – “Mr Big Stuff”
5.   Eurythmics – “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)”
6.   Ultravox – “Vienna”
7.   Elvis Costello – “Oliver’s Army”
8.   The Animals – “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”
9.   Sly And The Family Stone – “Everyday People”
10. Adam And The Ants – “Antmusic”
11. The Sweet, “Ballroom Blitz”
12. The Bangles – “Manic Monday”
13. Petula Clark – “Downtown”
14. Queen, “Killer Queen”
15. Blondie, “Denis”
16. Dire Straits – “Private Investigations”
17. Elton John – “Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going To Be A Long, Long Time)”
18. Tom Jones – “Delilah”
19. Gloria Gaynor – “Never Can Say Goodbye”
20. Cyndi Lauper – “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”
21. Eddie Cochrane – “Three Steps To Heaven”
22. Bonnie Tyler – “Holding Out For A Hero”
23. Wings – “Let ‘Em In”
24. The Troggs – “Wild Thing”
25. Jimmy Dean – “Big Bad John”
26. Chubby Checker – “Let’s Twist Again”
27. Billy J Kramer And The Dakotas – “Do You Want To Know A Secret”

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