The Bangles frontwoman on the records that lit her eternal flame: “I always think of music as my drug”. Read this and more in our JULY 2023 issue of Uncut, available to buy here.
Dionne Warwick’s Golden Hits Part 2
When I was growing up, my mother played Dionne Warwick singing Burt Bacharach and Hal David songs on repeat. So for the little girl who loved to sing, the roadmaps of these songs are so important. The melodies are truly extraordinary, the lyrics are so clever and specific, and the delivery is so imbued with heartache, joy, sadness, every possible emotion. It’s a rare synergy between Bert and Hal and Dionne Warwick. Obviously their songs were covered by other people as well, but her voice specifically – the yearning, the vocal tone… and this was likely a one-take performance, with none of the digital, magical things that people do now. Just thinking about that when I sing along to this record, it is extraordinary.
As a little kid, I saw the movie Help! and that’s how I became obsessed with The Beatles. There’s a funny scene in it where Paul McCartney gets shrunk. He’s naked, and he has to put on a chewing gum wrapper to cover his nakedness. That was really profound as a very young Beatles fan, I was very titillated by that. And I liked the way that their individual personas came through [on this album]. I started to realise there was a distinction between John’s personality and Paul’s personality in particular: Paul was singing about sex, John was singing about heartbreak and loneliness, and George had a more philosophical bent to his approach somehow. And Ringo was just Ringo, being happy!
To my family’s chagrin, I would sing along and try to mimic every swoop and growl and flutey top part. Joni’s ability to emote vocally, I really studied how she did it by training myself to copy her moves. She was really instrumental for me, not only as a writer but as a singer and performer and guitarist and everything. There’s an utterly confessional aspect to her writing, and she’s a master storyteller. That’s not an easy thing to do. Even as a young woman, her lyrics were incredibly sophisticated and her melodies were channelling the emotion – it was in a whole ’nother universe to the usual songwriting formula. So I learned a lot from Joni Mitchell’s records. Blue is a work of art, the whole package.
THE ROLLING STONES
Let It Bleed
I’ll try to remember how I got past The Beatles to the Stones…! I was kind of a late bloomer, quite shy. But during the summer between graduating high school and before I went to university, I had my first romantic experience, with a guitar player who was really into the Stones. I was so much into The Beatles that it was an awakening, because the Stones are a little messier and a little more off the rails. George Martin’s production is so crafted, he was the consummate arranger, whereas with the Stones you feel like you’re in the studio with them. And I love those differences in record-making.
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO
The Velvet Underground & Nico
It was a call to action for me in those early days when I was collaborating with David Roback, who went on to do Mazzy Star. We were art students together at UC Berkeley. So that album revolutionised my whole thinking about being an artist, being a musician, because it encompasses so many aspects: the performance art aspect to those early Velvet Underground shows, and the fact that Andy Warhol was involved. I love Nico, I love the haunting quality of her singing. And I love the guitar solos – the solo on “Sunday Morning” is so amazing. Yeah, I just revere that album.
PRINCE AND THE REVOLUTION
WARNER BROS, 1984
I wasn’t familiar with Prince until the Purple Rain album came out. I recall hearing “When Doves Cry” on the radio right around the time that word got to me that Prince really liked The Bangles. It was just astounding to me, the synergy of that moment. I went on to absorb Purple Rain in its entirety and I was transfixed by all of it – the sheer emotion, the songwriting, the everything. It’s an utter masterpiece. Prince was an iconoclast; he was cheeky and mysterious, but also very joyful. As a person, he was sly but enchanting. He was one of those special humans, and I’m so grateful that he gave us the extraordinary gift of “Manic Monday”.
Highway 61 Revisited
Wow, how cool is that cover? The motorcycle T-shirt, the guy with the camera and the striped shirt standing behind him, it’s like something William Eggleston would have taken. It’s such a cohesive album – I’m guessing that it was recorded with the same people in a discrete amount of time. The arrangements are so natural and you feel like you’re in the room with the musicians. In particular, I want to call out the song “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry”. I love that song, and people don’t talk about it enough. It just speaks to me in a uniquely wonderful way. I love the melody and I’m always singing my own harmony. Maybe I should cover it with Matthew Sweet and do my harmony?
SLY & THE FAMILY STONE
Dynamite! The Collection
I just love Sly & The Family Stone. I love all the voices, the songwriting, the arrangements, I love that you cannot stop yourself from moving or dancing or at least tapping your foot. Sometimes you can be in a very dark place – you put on music, and like magic, you’re moving your hips, you’re singing, you’re dancing, you’re uplifted. Their music works that way. There’s no way that those musicians weren’t having a blast [in the studio] and it’s like they bottled the joy and they bottled the energy. I always think of music as my drug: if you’re down, it’ll just snap you right out of it.
Susanna Hoffs’ new covers album The Deep End is out now on Baroque Folk Records