Chart Week: July 12, 1986
Song: “If She Knew What She Wants” – The Bangles
Chart Position: #29, 10th week on the chart. This was the song’s peak; it fell out of the Top 40 the next week.

I recall being in love with a lot of unattainable women in the summer of 1986. There was Heather Thomas, whose poster I had on my wall. There was Tamlyn Tomita, who played Ralph Maccio’s Okinawan love interest in The Karate Kid Part II. I’m sure there were plenty of girls at my high school I longed to get attention from but was frightened to speak to. And there was Susanna Hoffs.

Man, did I love Susanna! She had a girl-next-door quality to her beauty that made her seem like someone who was too pretty for normal dorks like me to have any hope of dating, but not so hot that she wouldn’t talk to you, laugh at your jokes, etc.

I know I wasn’t alone. And judging by comments from friends, there are a lot of us who are still fans, as she has aged very, very well.

Like most dudes my age I fell in love with Hoffs in the spring of ’86 when The Bangles hit #2 with the Prince-written “Manic Monday.” Later in the year they would release what ended up being the biggest single of 1987, “Walk Like an Egyptian,” another song the band did not write. In fact, of the band’s five biggest songs – all Top Five hits – they only wrote two, and both of those included input from songwriters outside the group. A handful of their other famous songs were also covers, which is a little odd given how the band was fully capable of writing a great tune. I guess they knew how to pick a good cover.[1]

“If She Knew What She Wants” was not one of their biggest hits. It struggled to gain traction on the charts and could only claw its way up to #29 and then fall clean out of the Top 40 a week later. Which is a shame because it’s a totally gorgeous song. Those “Ooooo-ooooo-ooooo-ooooo’s” Susanna throws in at the beginning and end of the track are both angelic and killer. I didn’t understand why people didn’t love it back in 1986, and I still don’t understand why it wasn’t a bigger hit.

It was – surprise surprise – also a cover. In this case it belonged to Jules Shear, a musician with a long, deep track record of writing songs for others. ’Til Tuesday, Marshall Crenshaw, 10,000 Maniacs, and Olivia Newton-John are just the most immediately recognizable artists to record his music.

Shear also wrote “All Through the Night,” which Cyndi Lauper turned into a #5 hit during her huge run in 1984. When she toured her monster She’s So Unusual album, Lauper selected The Bangles as her opening act. While on that tour The Bangles came to know Shear’s music and eventually struck up a friendship with him. When he performed his single “Steady” on American Bandstand in 1985, he recruited The Bangles to be his “background band,” miming the track along with him for Dick Clark and his audience. When asked to record a song for The Goonies soundtrack, The Bangles brought in Shear as a co-writer. As a token of thanks, or just a sign of their admiration for his art, they also selected this track to include on their Different Light album.

They didn’t veer much from Shear’s arrangement. They do flip a few words to adjust the gender perspective. It is their shift toward their favored sound of 60’s-influenced jangle pop with gorgeous harmonies that makes their version really shine, and elevates it about Shear’s version.

For some bonus Susanna Hoffs material, here is her performing two of her biggest Bangles tracks with a string quartet on CNN for the Fourth of July.

  1. My two favorite Bangles tracks are “Going Down to Liverpool,” which was a Katrina and the Waves song, and their absolutely ripping cover of Simon and Garfunkle’s “Hazy Shade of Winter.”  ↩