A Personal History of Music, Day 22: “Something That You Said,” by The Bangles
There’s a natural progression to the careers of most (successful) bands: The scrappy “new kid” phase, where the band is starting out and struggling, and maybe has a couple of songs passed around by their “first in,” fans; the “rising star” phase, where they get picked up by a major label, get their first Billboard hits and gold records; the “Imperial” phase, which is where the big hits that define their career happen; and then everything else. The “everything else” phase is not a bad thing, per se — you can make a lot of money touring in the “everything else” phase! — but from a creative and legacy point of view, it means that everything you do in that period has a tendency to be overlooked or an afterthought. This is why, at a concert from a band in the “everything else” phase of their career, the phrase “this is from our new album” is so frequently taken as the cue to hit the bathroom.
The Bangles had their imperial phase in the 80s, with hits like “Walk Like an Egyptian,” “Manic Monday” and “Eternal Flame,” and then broke up at the end of the decade, sitting out most of the 90s before coming back with their
sole first post-imperial studio album, Doll Revolution, in 2003. Doll Revolution went essentially nowhere on the charts; Wikipedia tells me that it got to number 23 on the US Independent Albums list. It’s too bad, because the album itself is pretty good (if, like so many albums of the CD era, overlong — it has 15 tracks where it should have ten or eleven at most). It also has, in my opinion, one of the finest singles the Bangles ever put out.
That would be “Something That You Said.” Sonically, it’s right in line with the band’s poppier output, and would not be out of place on Different Light or Everything, the band’s two biggest albums. Lyrically, on the other hand, I suspect it could have only been written outside of the band’s imperial era, after the individual members of the band had gotten a chance to step back from the treadmill of constant fame and were able to, you know, live different lives than those of being a rock star. The song is about being in a place and time in one’s own life where one has the perspective to actually appreciate love, and the effort it takes from both parties. It’s a grown-up pop song! Which is nice.
Not for nothing, the listed songwriters for the track include Charlotte Caffey, best known as a member of the Go-Gos and the writer or co-writer of most of that band’s big hits. The Go-Gos followed a very similar arc to the Bangles: Big in the 80s, sat out most of the 90s, popped out an album in the early 00s. That album included “Talking Myself Down,” a co-write with Susannah Hoffs, so perhaps “Something That You Said” is Caffey returning the favor. Whether it is or not, what is true enough is, like the members of the Bangles, Caffey did her own time away from the spotlight. I’m pretty sure it informed the songwriting.
Which was fine by me. I was 34 when this song came out, and lyrically and sonically, it hit a spot in my psyche that no other Bangles song had previously managed. I was ready for that song because of my own life experience at the time. Basically, the band and I had aged into each other just a little bit. I had liked the Bangles well enough before this song, but this song became and remains essential to me, and for years was my one “go-to” song from the band (in the fullness of time I have also become fond of their cover of “Going Down to Liverpool”). Should I ever manage to see the Bangles live, I will be the one cheering for this song the loudest. I don’t mind being an outlier in that crowd.
What does “Something That You Said” tell us about the nature of pop and songwriting — and, dare I say it, creativity in general? Mostly that no matter how or when an artist’s “imperial period” happens, they are likely to creative interesting, excellent and sometimes cherished work outside it; this in itself is a reason for fans and others to explore their work, and for artists to keep creating, whether “the market” cares if they do so or not. Those works can still matter to people, like this song matters for me.