Song Of The Week: “Walk Like An Egyptian” by Bangles

A top-notch producer needs to become whatever the situation calls for: a dictator, a calm presence, an extra member of the band, invisible. They need to know when to apply pressure and when to release tension. And they absolutely must recognize not only a killer song, but which artist will slay that killer.

Bangles (technically, no “The” in front but I’ll use the “The” from here on in anyway) formed in Los Angeles in the early 80’s, sporting a mix of power pop and 60s-inspired melodicism. After a promising debut, the band was poised on the brink of the big time. Poised enough that Prince even gave them a song for their new album. Towards the end of the sessions for their sophomore effort, however, The Bangles needed one more track, and producer David Kahne had just the song in mind.

A couple of years earlier, songwriter Liam Sternberg found himself on what must have been a pitching and yawing (rollin’ and tumblin’) ferry-boat, and as he watched people try to awkwardly maneuver around the deck and keep their balance it put him in mind of Egyptian hieroglyphs. That’s all it took for the asp of creation to sink its teeth into his brain. He went home, wrote a song called “Walk Like An Egyptian,” recorded a demo, and offered it to Toni “Oh Mickey You’re So Fine” Basil, who promptly turned it down.

The demo made the rounds in LA and eventually found its way into the stereo of David Kahne, who recognized a potential hit when he heard one. He presented the track to The Bangles, but they were less than thrilled about recording what they considered to be a novelty song. In addition, they usually wrote most of their own songs. They made an exception for Prince (because you always make an exception for Prince), but who the hell was Liam Sternberg? Kahne convinced them to record the track anyway.

Since all four of The Bangles had vocal chops, Kahne asked each to sing the entire song in order to decide who would feature as the lead. He liked three of them but couldn’t choose, so Vicki, Michael, and Susanna each took a verse. It irritated drummer Debbi to have been left out and tensions increased when she found herself replaced by a drum machine. She did get to shake a tambourine, though.

When released in the fall of 1986, “Walk Like An Egyptian” – the song nobody in the band liked – topped the US charts and became the best-selling single of the year. The Bangles would score a second #1 a couple of years later, and David Kahne produced Sugar Ray to the top of the charts in the 90’s.

So picture yourself as a painting on a pyramid. Then animate and perambulate … with The Bangles.

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