That’s enough of ‘Manic Monday’

One of the more common subjects for the articles written in the aftermath of Prince’s death was about all the songs he wrote for others that you didn’t know about. (Though, of course, I think most of us did know about them — is there anyone who doesn’t know that “Nothing Compares 2 U” was from the Purple One? And, while I’m at it, he didn’t write Stevie Nicks’ “Stand Back,” though he did inspire it. OK?)

Always on the list: the Bangles’ “Manic Monday,” written by Prince under the pseudonym Christopher.

Fortunately, it appears that Prince’s death hasn’t sparked a rush for downloading “Manic Monday.” Frankly, it’s neither his nor the Bangles’ finest hour.

I can’t help but be biased. In the mid-’80s, I looked at the Bangles as a great power-pop hope in the synth-laden firmament of Top Forty. The band’s 1984 debut LP, “All Over the Place,” which followed a promising EP, was full of great jangly guitars, terrific harmonies and sharp songwriting. They also delivered live, as they proved during a 1984 appearance at Atlanta’s late, lamented 688 club. (I believe I still have my ticket stub somewhere. It says “TICKET.”)

(Side note: Chuck Reece was at the Replacements show? Loudest show I ever saw.)

What would they do next? I couldn’t wait to find out. By chance — literally — my brother won an MTV contest to attend the opening of “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” in 1985 and the Bangles were at the post-premiere party. So I asked them. They didn’t say much.

bangles.1985
Michael Steele and Susanna Hoffs, 1985. Photo taken by Todd Leopold with a Kodak Instamatic camera using 110 film.

Perhaps they knew they were losing too many of the rough edges. (And “All Over the Place,” compared to the EP, was already pretty slick.)

The ensuing LP, “Different Light” — released in January 1986 — cast the Bangles as a pretty-girl pop band. The growl was mostly gone, replaced by upbeat good cheer and a dose of radio-ready filler. There would be no “Dover Beach” or “He’s Got a Secret” on this record.

“Manic Monday” was symbolic of the change. The song features a wash of synthesizers that, to paraphrase Elvis Costello, can practically identify the week in 1985 they were recorded. It’s smooth and inoffensive and could probably have been recorded by the Outfield.

And Prince had good reason to go by the pseudonym (which was from his character in “Under the Cherry Moon”). Though there are some distinctive touches — I’m not sure who else would have written about “kissing Valentino by a crystal-blue Italian stream,” as clunky as that is — other lines could have been written by anybody. “Wish it were Sunday / ‘Cause that’s my fun day”? ” ‘Cause it takes me so long just to figure out what I’m gonna wear”? Even 30 years ago the latter rubbed me wrong, because it just didn’t fit the smart band singing it.

In the short term, it worked out. The Bangles got their hit single and rode the charts for a couple years. Prince remained, well, Prince. But the band ended up imploding and “Manic Monday” ended up as just another slice of ’80s cheese, trotted out when VH1 wanted to do one of their soggy “I Love the ’80s!” specials. (That is, when they weren’t trotting out “Walk Like an Egyptian,” which at least is catchier and has a nice guitar break.) Oh, what could have been.

Apparently Prince was enamored of the band — or at least Susanna Hoffs — for awhile. The Bangles returned to Atlanta for a concert at Emory in 1987 (on a bill with the Hoodoo Gurus!), and if I remember correctly a friend reported them complaining on the tour bus about Prince, who just wouldn’t stop calling.

Later, Hoffs remembered his attentions as “awkward.” That’s also a good way to describe “Manic Monday.”

 

 

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