Surely the Bangles were together a lot longer than half a decade, from the 1984 major-label disc “All Over the Place” to just after the 1988 hit “Everything.”
Just look at the hit singles — “Manic Monday,” “Walk Like an Egyptian,” “Hazy Shade of Winter,” “Eternal Flame,” “In Your Room,” “Walking Down Your Street,” and “If She Knew What She Wants.”
The quartet came alive as the Bangs around 1981, with its indie-label record, “Getting Out of Hand.” They reunited after several years of recharging, starting families and playing well with others and are performing Thursday at Birmingham’s WorkPlay.
Despite a fairly noisy breakup in 1989, the women — sisters Vicki and Debbi Peterson, Susanna Hoffs and Michael Steele — actually began talking about reuniting back in the mid- to late-’90s.
Just as it was Hoffs who drove the split, it was the pixie-ish lead singer/cover girl who initiated the reunion. In 1997, Hoffs and Debbi Peterson broke the ice, discussing children. Peterson, the blonde drummer, had just had her son, and Hoffs was about to have her second child.
“She kept contacting Vicki and Michael, ‘Let’s do it, let’s do it, it was so much fun!’ “ Peterson said, laughing, during a telephone interview.
“She was the cheerleader, the one pushing, which is kind of appropriate, because she was kind of at the forefront of breaking it off in 1989.”
It’s easy to believe the cause stemmed from the intense pressure of going from relative obscurity to MTV and Rolling Stone fame practically overnight, because it certainly wasn’t career stall. The 1988 “Everything” yielded three hit singles in “In Your Room” and “Be With You,” not to mention “Eternal Flame,” which went No. 1 around the world.
Peterson married the year before the breakup, and she went to work in collaboration with fellow drummer Gina Schock of the Go-Gos, and forming the band Kindred Spirit with English artist Siobhan Maher.
Sister Vicki, the brunette lead guitarist, moved to New Orleans and immersed herself in the Continental Drifters, with bandmates including Peter Holsapple of the dBs and R.E.M. (as touring keyboard player) and Susan Cowsill of the ‘60s hitmaking family band the Cowsills. She has also teamed with Cowsill in the Psycho Sisters and plays bass with the Lamps.
Born Susan Thomas, Steele began her career as Micki Steele of the Runaways — fronted a band called Crash Wisdom and worked on a never-released solo disc. She sat in on bass with other groups such as Eyesore and with the Continental Drifters.
Hoffs cut a couple of solo albums in the ‘90s, and collaborated with folks such as the Go-Go’s guitarist/keyboardist Charlotte Caffey and Matthew Sweet, with whom she formed the slightly whimsical band Ming Tea, best known for its recordings for the “Austin Powers” movie soundtracks, which were directed by Hoffs’ husband, Jay Roach.
The Powers movies also helped bring the band together, as the women collaborated on a new recording, “Get the Girl,” for the soundtrack to the 1999 film “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.”
In the meantime, Columbia Records had kept the Bangles image out there, to a degree, with various greatest hits or boxed-set packages.
“Yes, every once in a while, they’d rear their ugly heads,” Peterson said, laughing. “They never had good taste in their art department.”
But there was little pressure to reunite, except from the occasional ‘80s nostalgia tour, which they easily turned down.
“We’ve been offered it quite a bit, but we haven’t been tempted,” Peterson said.
“It all came from ourselves. We wanted to revisit Bangleonia (their word for the band state of mind) and try it again, do it in a little more diplomatic fashion.
“We talk more now. We didn’t do nearly enough communication in the early days. We were all very young and very green and bad at dealing with fame.”
Steele was the last to come on board, and the only one, so far, to leave. She joined up for the soundtrack and played with the band in a few select shows in 2000 to help finance a new recording. Throughout 2001 and 2002, the Bangles rented a house in Beverly Hills to cut the tracks for “Doll Revolution,” which came out in 2003 to reviews remarking not only at the long-known lush harmonies and jangling guitars, but reveling in the musicianship.
“I think we brought a lot more musical experience into the group,” Peterson said. “Working with different people is a good thing; there was a kind of recharging.”
Although they put 17 songs on “Doll Revolution,” the women have a lot more waiting in the wings.
“I think we bring a little more mature point of view, as far as lyrics,” Peterson said, “but you’re still going to get the harmony thing with us. We’re never going to let that go, old farts that we are now.”
Tours of Europe, Japan and Australia hit some points they’d meant to make in their earlier tours and generated some international hits, such as “Something That You Said.”
But the siren song couldn’t keep Steele in the game. She retired from the group in 2005 and is living in northern California, apparently not involved in music anymore.
“It was kind of a big deal when Michael left, but she just didn’t want to do music any-more,” Peterson said.
The Bangles have kept that slot open, playing with different guest bassists including Abby Travis and Kathy Valentine of the Go-Go’s.
Live, they mix up the familiar with newer work from “Doll Revolution,” along with unreleased songs and the occasional offbeat cover. They’re joined by keyboardist Greg “Harpo” Hilfman, who’s toured with them since the ‘80s.
“That’s all she wrote,” Peterson said. “With our sound, any more would make it kind of mushy. We rehearse as much as we can to sound tight. Because we’re kind of thrashy, we work really hard on the vocals.”
While it’s been almost 20 years since a No. 1 hit, the Bangles still draw squealing fans.
“It’s not quite like the ‘80s,” Peterson said. “But it does get crazy at times.”
Some fans are moms and dads, but kids show, too, those who were too young back then to see MTV faves in concert.
“VH1 does its little ‘80s retro thing once in a while, all of us in our bad hairdos and unfortunate clothes,” Peterson said.
The women’s kids are always in the mix. While Peterson tried to conduct the phone interview, her daughter continually demanded attention.
“She’s 2½ going on 12,” she said, laughing. “They just want everything, and they want it now!”
Hoffs also has two children, and Vicki Peterson married bandmate Susan’s older brother, John Cowsill, becoming stepmom to his two teen-agers.
All the Bangles’ children, even those who have also picked up guitars or sat down at pianos, are fairly blasé about their moms’ stardom.
“They’re actually very cool about it. ‘Oh Mom, you’re on TV.’ It’s no big deal,” Peterson said.
Up on stage, that all goes away. Mostly.
“I still really enjoy it when I’m up there, but still in the back of my mind, I can hear my kids,” Peterson said. “I know there’s stuff to do when I get home.
“We’re like grownups now.”