This is the fifth in a series of stories celebrating the unforgettable songs (even if you thought you've forgotten them you haven't, trust us) from arguably the craziest music era of all time: The '80s. Whether this was the music of your youth or long before your time, a little bit of the '80s surely lives in you.
By 1986 I had pretty much bailed on MTV. The dreaded hair metal era had begun, prompting oodles of young girls to call in endless requests for Motley Crue, Warrant, and the like. (As much as I’ve come around on Bret Michaels, the reality star, I can tell you that “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” would send my 14-year-old self into a fit of music-snob anger.)
But then, something pulled me back in to the channel. And that something was the remote possibility that a Bangles video would come on, for “Manic Monday” had me crushing on Susanna Hoffs something fierce.
The funny thing is that I had heard and seen The Bangles before and been largely unaffected. Maybe puberty had taken the reins of my psyche more fully by the time “Manic Monday” made its debut. But I prefer to think it was a confluence of factors that had me feeling a little swoony over Susanna every time that opening piano riff arrived.
First of all, there were her looks. To paraphrase an old Seinfeld line, she had all the qualities that appeal to the superficial male, but there was something more. She had a way of looking sideways at the camera that just killed me.
I could have sworn that she was bound for movie success as well. (As one of approximately seven people who saw her film debut, The Allnighter, let me just say I might have been a little off with that one.)
Then, there was her voice. There was this amazing combination of innocence and allure that really had a way of cutting through the radio or TV speakers. But just the right song was needed to capture that delicate combination.
Too many Bangles songs failed to get that balance right, in my humble opinion. They would often go too far to the sexy side (“In Your Room”) or to the innocent side (“Eternal Flame”) or to the WTF side (“Walk Like An Egyptian”).
Leave it to Prince to get it right. The legend goes that he gave the song to The Bangles as a way of courting Hoffs. (Damn you, Prince, and your prolific songwriting output.) Whether that worked or not, there is no doubt the song paid off for The Bangles, giving them their first big hit (No 2 in both the United States. and the United Kingdom).
And it was well-deserved. One of Prince’s most underrated gifts as a songwriter is that he’s one of the few artists who can do Beatlesque without sounding slavish to the Fab 4. This song shows off that gift fabulously, especially when The Bangles’ luscious harmonies take hold.
A distracted budding music critic
Back then, I couldn’t really see any of those extraneous virtues though. To me, Susanna carried the song every step of the way. She caressed those metrically precise lines with the kind of dexterity only the finest pop singers possess. She expertly portrayed the frazzled exasperation of the song’s heroine.
She somehow managed to make the phrase “employment’s down” sound sultry.
What I wasn’t able to properly tell back then is if my ears were controlling my libido or vice versa. Maybe I just wanted to be her dream paramour on a “crystal blue Italian stream,” instead of that lucky S.O.B. Rudolph Valentino. Or, dare to fantasize, maybe I just wanted to be the one who got to deliver one of his Purpleness’ all-time great come-on lines to Susanna: “Come on, honey, let’s go make some noise.”
As the years passed, I traded my crush on Susanna for real-life attraction to girls I knew, which turned out to be a much more complicated and painful experience. Time also eventually revealed that my love for “Manic Monday” was more than just the byproduct of schoolboy infatuation; the song is still pop perfection, the ideal marriage of songwriting genius and a spot-on performance by The Bangles.
Today's reality reveals an underrated truth
These days I’m happily coupled, and Susanna is married to a big-time movie director, so ours was a romance that was not to be. A few years back, I stumbled onto an album of covers that she did with '90s indie-pop hero Matthew Sweet, and I rediscovered that amazing voice. I heard it unfettered by my former crush and I fully appreciated, maybe for the first time, what an excellent singer she is, really underrated when you come right down to it.
So, Susanna, this one’s for you, a long-delayed mash note to my teenage unattainable dream girl.
And for those of you who might think I’m out of line for penning an ode to another woman while in a happy relationship, keep in mind that my girlfriend told me when we met that, should Bon Jovi ever come calling, she’ll be out the door faster than a cowboy on a steel horse. So it’s all good.
See Susanna in action: