MOJO Time Machine: The Bangles Walk Like An Egyptian To Number One

MOJO TIME MACHINE

by Mojo |

20 December, 1986

When Walk Like An Egyptian topped the U.S. charts on December 20, 1986, the Los Angeles foursome became the Sand Dance Kids as they warbled singsong lyrics about bazaars, the Nile and crocodiles over twitchy rhythms and rock guitars. It was nothing new as far as the U.S charts were concerned. Songs about that Sphinx-set land had proved best-sellers ever since Edison had ditched cylinders. In 1917, tenor James Harrod, singing as George Wilson, had a hit with There’s Egypt In Your Dreamy Eyes, while, two years, later, Earl Fuller’s Novelty Orchestra had a best-seller with Egyptland. Music hall act Wilson, Keppel and Betty, meanwhile, found fame with their sand dancing act in Britain and beyond from the early thirties. So when songwriter-producer Liam Sternberg emerged up with Walk Like An Egyptian, he was hardly breaking into new territory.

Part of the Akron, Ohio scene which flourished the late ‘70s, Sternberg was an affiliate of Jane Aire and The Belvederes, and sold the idea of local band roundup The Akron Compilation to London indie Stiff in 1978. An album, which, if nothing else, acquainted UK record-buyers with a ‘burning rubber’-flavoured scratch’n’sniff sleeve. While in Blighty, he also took a trip across the English Channel. The sea was rough and passengers were struggling to keep their balance. Their attempts to stay upright somehow brought to mind sand-dancing and hieroglyphics, and he duly jotted down the title Walk Like An Egyptian in his notebook.

"I told him it was the dumbest things I’d ever heard." 

Marti Jones

Enter Marti Jones, from Unionville, Ohio, not far from Akron. She’d sung with her sisters in a folk group and had a degree in studio art from Kent State University. In the summer of ’83 she began working on demos with Sternberg, who she described as “hot shit at the time.” He’d written a song with The Bangles in mind, but was lining up Walk Like An Egyptian for choreographer/ singer Toni Basil. In an interview for entertainment site Pop Dose, Jones explained: “He gave it to me and told me: ‘I know it’s a total bullshit song, but it’s the kind of thing that could work for somebody like her.’ I told him it was the dumbest things I’d ever heard in my life.”

Completed in an afternoon, the four-track demo was duly offered to Ms.Basil, who declined. Lene Lovich recorded the first version of the song, but opted to take a break for family reasons rather than release it. Later the song turned up on a tape from Peer Southern Publishing that got into the hands of Bangles producer David Kahne. “I really like the demo,” he recalled. “Marti sang it with an offhand quality that I thought was really great.” Kahne took the song to The Bangles who agreed to record it. He had each member of the all-singing group sing the song to determine who would tackle each verse: guitarist Vicki Peterson, bassist Michael Steele, and rhythm guitarist Susanna Hoffs sang lead vocals in the final version on the first, second, and third verses, respectively, while drummer Debbi Peterson was relegated to back-up chores only.

The song was duly allocated to The Bangles’ second album, Different Light and became its third single, following Manic Monday, a worldwide smash penned by Prince under the pseudonym Christopher, and If She Knew What She Wants, a Jules Shear creation. First making an appearance in the Billboard charts during early September 1986, the single climbed to the top where it remained for four weeks, delighting Sternberg who loved the quartet’s interpretation. “It was everything I had in mind only better,” he said, though Jones regarded it as an exact copy of the demo.

It didn’t stop Walk Like An Egyptian reaching US number one, UK number three and top ten in Europe and Australasia, helped no doubt by a goofy video which featured the band in Pharaonic belly dancer outfits, New Yorkers sand-dancing and manipulated graphics of the Statue Of Liberty, Princess Di and Libyan dictator Colonel Gadhafi following suit.

Sternberg’s later credits including songs for Fuzzbox and the theme to TV cop show 21 Jump Street. The Bangles continued to enjoy chart success for the rest of the decade, but despite February 1989’s megahit Eternal Flame, by the year’s end Hoffs had left for a solo career. After reforming in 1998, they’ve recorded two new albums and reunited with original bassist Annette Zilinskas, Steel having dropped out in 2005. Alongside fan faves Going Down To Liverpool, Hero Takes A Fall and their cover of Big Star’s September Girls, they always play Walk Like An Egyptian at gigs.

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