Monday, 11 July 2016

Clandestine Classic XLVII - Dover Beach

The forty-seventh post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

Today's song was a serendipitous find for me. I bought an album on a whim because I had a massive crush on the lead singer. Don't judge me - I was in my mid-teens. But what do you think about when I say "Bangles" to you? Manic Monday, I expect. Walk Like An Egyptian, quite possibly. Eternal Flame, too. Maybe you'd trot out your Bangles pop quiz fact about Manic Monday being written for them, under an alias, by Prince. All fine, and perfectly understandable. But before all that commercial success, there was another story and another kind of band. The Bangs, formed by Susanna Hoffs and sisters Vikki and Debbi Peterson, were a spiky post-punk trio with a penchant for harmony-led Sixties music. When guitarist Michael Steele joined she brought a whole lot of crunchy guitar riffs with her, and the band changed their name to the slightly more straightforward Bangles, a name that still played on their femininity but in a less double-entendre-prone way.

Commercial success was still a little way off though. Early EPs performed unspectacularly, and their debut LP, from which today's clandestine classic is drawn, hardly fared better. Released in 1984, All Over The Place showcased the prototype Bangles sound and style perfectly, with Rickenbacker guitars chiming over four-part harmonies and just a little bit of an edge... you know, the sort of edge that later gets sanded off by record labels in the quest for mainstream success. But this LP, together with appearances on TV shows like Rock and Roll Alternative (and let's now forget, this is the kind of show that R.E.M. were also doing at the time), led to the band supporting Heart and Huey Lewis and the News, and catching Prince's eye/ear. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today's classic is a perfect example of that 1984 sound and style I was rambling about. There are big, crunchy, open chords and deceptively simple riffs, even a nice solo. And even, once, the merest trace of feedback. It's not Eternal sodding Flame, is it? Vocally, it's a case of harmonies, harmonies, harmonies. I'm trying to think of another four-piece band who all sing and whose voices mesh as well, in the same greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts way, and I can only really think of Queen. That's high praise.

Lyrically, the song seems to me to be about lost love, specifically lost through bereavement. Witness the second verse: "Late last night you cried and I couldn't come to you. But on the other side, you and I, inseparable and walking." Okay, so it's not Morrissey, but it's not girl-band pap either. Anyway, I don't know if the ladies have been to Dover, probably not since it's hardly famous for its unremarkable beach, but since those words are not even mentioned in the lyrics, who cares? Maybe the lost love of the song chucked themselves off the rather-more-famous white cliffs. Who knows? If I ever meet Susanna, I'll ask her.

You can pick up All Over The Place on Amazon, and you really should because it's far better than you'd expect. Nothing will prise my vinyl copy away. In the meantime, here is today's clandestine classic. Enjoy.

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