For 10 of the 20 years on my little 80s radio program, STUCK IN THE 80s, on WMPG community radio in Portland, Maine, I aired a special series called FAST FORWARD, which featured new music from 80s artists, reissues, new covers of 80s songs, and artists who had nothing to do with the 80s but whose music was inspired by the 80s and sounded like it could have come from there.
This past Sunday (10.9.2016), I aired the first installment in a five-part series, titled THE NEXT GENERATION, highlighting those non-80s artists that kept the 80s revolution going well past Y2K.
With 17 shows left to go before I retire the show from WMPG on my 50th birthday in February, four of those remaining shows will be dedicated to the FAST FORWARD: THE BEST OF 2000-2016 series. One of those shows will feature the cream of the crop of amazing 80s covers since 2000. I’ve been listening to them for a month now. It’ll be so hard to whittle down hundreds of swell covers to just 20-25 of them. Today, one of those cover songs was instrumental in creating an “earworm” for me – “Walk Like An Egyptian” by The Bangles.
The cover of “Walk Like An Egyptian” I’m referring to is a 2007 gorgeous 1940s style remake by the London Swing / Vocal trio, The Puppini Sisters, from their second album, THE RISE AND FALL OF RUBY WOO.
The Puppini Sisters, who, like Sheffield, England’s Thompson Twins, are not related, found a niche of covering 40s and 50s classics like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (Of Company B),” “Mister Sandman” and “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend,” as well as more modern gems like Blondie’s “Heart Of Glass,” Beyoncé’s “Crazy In Love” and “Panic” by The Smiths. Their first three albums all reached the Top 10 on BILLBOARD’s Jazz Albums chart.
Rewinding now to the four-woman, Los Angeles-based Pop / Rock band, The Bangles, they had already released an EP and a popular full-length album when they released their second album, DIFFERENT LIGHT, in January 1986. Their first single from the album, the Prince-penned “Manic Monday,” was a huge international hit, and peaked at No. 2 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100, behind Prince’s own No. 1 hit, “Kiss.”
The second single released from DIFFERENT LIGHT was the Top 30 hit, “If She Knew What She Wants,” a Top 30 cover of a 1985 song by Jules Shear (his “All Through The Night” was famously covered by Cyndi Lauper for her SHE’S SO UNUSUAL album, reaching the Top 5 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100).
The third single from the album, “Walk Like An Egyptian,” almost never happened for The Bangles. Written by Liam Sternberg (who was part of the late-1970s Akron, Ohio scene with folks like Devo and The Waitresses), the original demo of “Walk Like An Egyptian” was recorded with Alt-Folk singer Marti Jones, and Liam offered the song to Toni Basil, but she turned it down. New Waver (and Detroit native) Lene Lovich actually recorded the first version of “Walk Like An Egyptian,” but it was never released, as she took some time off from music in order to raise her family.
The producer of DIFFERENT LIGHT, David Kahne, who has produced albums for many artists, including Fishbone, New Order, The Outfield, Romeo Void, Stevie Nicks, Translator and Paul McCartney, and who produced The Bangles’ first album, ALL OVER THE PLACE, got ahold of the song, and The Bangles agreed to record it.
“Walk Like An Egyptian” was released in September 1986, and found its way onto the BILLBOARD Hot 100 late that month. It was slowly climbing the Hot 100 this week in October 1986, and took awhile to catch on, but by year’s end, it was No. 1, and stayed there through the 1986 / 1987 holiday season, spending four weeks on top. It stuck around on the Hot 100 through the last day of February 1987, and ended up being the No. 1 song in the U.S. for all of that year.
The song wasn’t just an American phenom, it was a massive international smash, reaching No. 1 in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Holland, South Africa and Spain, and the Top 10 in the U.K, Austria, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand and Switzerland.
In addition to the version by the aforementioned Puppini Sisters, there have been several covers of “Walk Like An Egyptian” throughout the years, but none quite like the 1986 parody by the Boston band, The Swinging Erudites, titled “Walk With An Erection,” which appeared on their self-titled EP and 1987’s full-length UNCHAINED PARODIES album. And, with it being the 80s, there was even a 12” extended remix for it (the Big Weenie Mix; I know this because I actually own it). The memory’s a bit fuzzy, but I am pretty sure I first heard “Walk With An Erection” on the mighty WTOS in Skowhegan, Maine (when it was still mighty, that is; the format was famously – and sadly – changed in October 1987; WTOS DJ – and one of my first radio heroes – Duane Bruce, writes about it in his new book, HANG THE DJ, an amazing and fun read).
Despite the huge success of “Walk Like An Egyptian,” I would bet that each member of The Bangles – past and present – kinda wish they never had recorded the song. But I can’t say for sure. The song has shared vocals by lead guitarist Vicki Peterson, bassist Michael Steele (my favorite member of the band), and singer and guitarist Susanna Hoffs, but the producer, David Kahne, didn’t like any of the vocals provided by drummer Debbi Peterson (Vicki’s younger sister). So, she was relegated to sing backing vocals, playing the tambourine and whistling. Adding insult to injury, a drum machine was used for the song. Suffice it to say, there was tension in the band with this song since the recording of it.
Now, I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, whenever a song gets stuck in my head, like today’s “earworm” of “Walk Like An Egyptian” – once I play it, the song is pretty much gone and no longer occupies space in my gigantic head. And while I still enjoy the song 30 years later, it’s by far NOT my favorite Bangles song.
My favorite song from them also appears on DIFFERENT LIGHT, which is a great way to describe the song, “Following,” written and sung by the lovely Michael Steele. It truly is so different from anything on that album, or anything they put out, before or since. It’s an Alt-Folk-type ballad, sung in the first person, and about Michael’s high school sweetheart. It even reached No. 22 in Ireland and was a minor U.K. hit.
Hmmm, now I have that stuck in my head. And I’m not going to play it just yet; for now, I’m “following” my heart, not my head, and I’m gonna let it stir up there for awhile…