A tale of two bands
The Bangles, the Replacements and the directions they took
By Todd Leopold
The Replacements' "Don't You Know Who I Think I Was?" is due June 13.
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(CNN) -- The Bangles and the Replacements are two bands that normally wouldn't come up in the same article, much less the same sentence.
The Bangles had two No. 1 singles and a handful of other Top 40 hits. They were beautiful, photogenic and, all too often, slick.
The Replacements never cracked the Top 40 -- their best showing, with "I'll Be You," was No. 51, and featured the raw voice of Paul Westerberg, their guitarist and primary songwriter. They looked like they'd just fallen out of bed.
The Bangles once made a video connected to the glossily photographed movie "Less Than Zero." The Replacements once made a video that consisted of a stereo system playing "Bastards of Young."
And yet there was a time when the two weren't that far apart, two bands on the cusp of mainstream success. One made it, but at a price; the other didn't, also at a price.
The Bangles started out in Los Angeles' Paisley Underground '60s-revival scene, where they managed to combine gorgeous Mamas and Papas-style harmonies with old garage-band covers. Their first record, an eponymous EP, featured both a nifty "Taxman" rip-off ("I'm in Line") and an obscure cover song ("How Is The Air Up There?", originally by the La De Das). Their major-label debut, 1984's "All Over the Place," remains one of the decade's great underrated albums, featuring top-notch songwriting ("Dover Beach," "Hero Takes a Fall") and musicianship.
The Replacements came out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. They were a ramshackle outfit that named their first album "Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash." But by their third album, 1984's "Let It Be," they'd come into their own with Westerberg-penned songs such as "I Will Dare," "Answering Machine" and a primal scream John Lennon would have appreciated, "Unsatisfied."
Around that time, both bands played a wonderful Atlanta, Georgia, club called 688, a major stop at the time for the cream of the American independent and college radio scene. (To borrow a line from "Spinal Tap's" Marti DiBergi, don't look for it -- it's not there anymore.) Both put on fine shows; the Bangles tight and edgy, the Replacements loose and loud.
From there, though, the paths diverge. The Bangles were groomed for major-label success. They achieved it commercially, but their final album, 1988's "Everything," was a weak, hollow mess. The promise of "All Over the Place" was never really fulfilled. By 1989, it was over.
The Replacements were set to become the next R.E.M., an indie band that was working itself up the music biz food chain more or less on their own terms. Westerberg was hailed as the songwriter of his generation, but the next step -- increased sales, more critical glory, whatever -- never quite arrived. The band's shows got sloppier; the albums ("Tim," "Pleased to Meet Me") were good but not great. The Replacements packed it in in 1991.
Both groups are now getting new best-ofs, providing an overview of their uneven careers. Eye on Entertainment takes a listen.
"Don't You Know Who I Think I Was?" (Rhino), the Replacements' best-of, is a perfect title for a group who never quite fit in, thank goodness.
It's also a neat look back at the group's history. The set starts with "Takin' A Ride," from "Sorry Ma," and works its way through "Color Me Impressed," "I Will Dare," "Kiss Me On the Bus," "Alex Chilton" and "I'll Be You," among others. Westerberg and Co. also recorded two new songs, "Message to the Boys" and "Pool & Dive."
The Bangles' set is part of Sony/Legacy's "We Are the '80s" collection, which also includes best-ofs by A Flock of Seagulls, Loverboy and Bow Wow Wow. That seems unfair to the Bangles, reducing them to the level of a sneered-at trivia question -- though, to many people who didn't follow the group until their commercial breakthrough, "Different Light," that's probably what they are: just another bunch of musicians with funny hair and now-unhip clothes.
That's too bad, because "We Are the '80s" -- which, given the band's limited output, has many of the same tracks of the three previous Bangles hits collections -- also includes "Dover Beach" and "Live," which provide fine examples of what was, and what might have been.
"Don't You Know Who I Think I Was?" comes out June 13. "The Bangles: We Are the '80s" is due July 18.
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