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‘Egyptian’ made them famous, but Bangles were born of punk


“It’s such a freakin’ weird song.”

Vicki Peterson laughs.

“It’s quite the aberration.”

Her chuckles subside, though she still sounds tickled, as if a feather was being brushed across her toes.

“It’s something that I never would have written.”

“Walk Like An Egyptian.”

1986.

Lots of arms bent at opposing right angles and stiff strutting at junior high dances everywhere.

Apparently, this was the manner in which pharaohs got from point A to point B, back in the day.

At least this is what the video for “Walk Like An Egyptian” informed us.

The song was inescapable, a quirky pop brainworm.

It became the definitive hit for The Bangles.

Thing was, though, “Walk Like An Egyptian” didn’t really define them.

It was an outlier in The Bangles’ preternaturally catchy catalog, which was largely rooted in sun-baked ’60s pop.

When guitarist-singer Peterson, her drummer sister Debbi and singer-guitarist Susanna Hoffs formed the first incarnation of the band that would become The Bangles back in 1980, it was with the intention of being a female Beatles.

They were no prefab pop band, instead, they came of age in L.A.’s Paisley Underground scene, developed an early following in the college rock circles and toured with The English Beat, among others.

But with their aptly titled second record “Different Light,” released in 1986, everything changed for The Bangles.

The album’s first two singles, the Prince-penned “Manic Monday” and “If She Knew What She Wants,” were both hits, but then came “Walk Like An Egyptian,” which became the first song by an all-female group playing their own instruments to top the Billboard singles chart.

They didn’t write the song, recording it was an unpleasant chore and it didn’t sound like anything else they had ever done.

Nevertheless, it was a game changer, and quickly became synonymous with the band, so much so that they got seriously burnt out on the thing.

“There was a moment in the ’90s when somebody asked me about ‘Walk Like An Egyptian,’ and I looked at them like, ‘I couldn’t even tell you what the first three lines of that song are,’ ” Peterson recalls. “I was so emotionally divorced from that. I had separated myself from it.”

It wasn’t that they didn’t appreciate the song or what it did for their career.

“I was pleased to do it,” Peterson says, “because it was so weird.”

It’s just that it came to obscure the true nature of the group.

“A lot of people just say, ‘Oh, The Bangles, ‘Walk Like an Egyptian,’ I kind of like that song,’ ” Peterson says. “They don’t realize that we were this garage rock band.”

Instead, they were often seen as this manufactured pop act.

“I think we sort of morphed into that in the public eye,” Peterson says. “We might be more closely identified with some of our pop hits, which is great. I’m very grateful that we were able to have mainstream success like that, but the other aspects of the band were overshadowed.”

The one aspect that wouldn’t be overshadowed, though, was the significance of an all-female band channeling the radiant harmonies of the Byrds and the Beach Boys with punchy New Wave energy, creating something distinctly their own.

It was something new, and they were initially met with plenty of skepticism within the music industry.

“We definitely got some resistance,” Peterson says. “There was always the struggle to move beyond the dancing flea novelty aspect of what we do. For some reason, and it still kind of boggles the mind, it was an oddity for a young woman to be playing guitar and hitting drums. It seems so silly now. I used to long for the day when we wouldn’t get the question, ‘What’s it like being an all-girl band?’ ”

That day has come, for the most part.

Now, The Bangles are as much about excavating their garage rock roots as they are airing their many ’80s MTV staples.

They’re playing songs at their shows that they haven’t performed live in 30 years.

They’ve come full circle: The band was formed in Hoffs’ parents’ garage, and three decades later, it’s the garage to which they’ve returned.

“That’s always been a part of who we are, but even more so now,” Peterson says of revisiting the band’s early sound. “We perform very stripped-down. We’re doing these old punk pop numbers. It’s really fun to surprise people.”

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.