Desert Island Singles: “If She Knew What She Wants” by The Bangles (1986)

Image from cat45.com

Image from cat45.com

“When (The Bangles) first started out as fresh-faced kids back in the mid-’80s, they captured the jangle of The Byrds, the melody of The Left Banke, the attitude of The Shangri-Las, and the rich harmonies of The Mamas and The Papas (without the Papas, of course) and wrapped them all up in a sweet and catchy package.” – Tim Sendra

“One of the two (well-selected) covers on the Bangles’ ‘Different Light’ album, ‘If She Knew What She Wants’ comes from the pen of Jules Shear whose band Jules and the Polar Bears were cult favorites, certainly of the Bangles. A mini-folk-rock gem, the song’s melody recalls some of Gene Clark’s stately work in the early Byrds canon, particularly ‘She Don’t Care About Time.’ The breezy arrangement and the band’s Mamas and Papas-inspired vocal arrangement is the cornerstone here; and overall it succeeds brilliantly, making the song one of the finest moments on the album. Although a seemingly perfect single (it was indeed released as such), the song was dwarfed in terms of commercial success by the somewhat disposable novelty cut, ‘Walk Like an Egyptian.’” – Matthew Greenwald

“You can keep ‘Manic Monday’ and ‘Walk Like An Egyptian,’ and I’ll take Susannah Hoff’s finest hour as a Bangle singing lead on ‘If She Knew What She Wants’ from ‘Different Light.’ The song only reached number 29 on the singles chart, but the video is a pure delight as it features The Bangles doing what they do best: combining harmonies and great musicianship, while looking great in the process.” – Steve Spears

Image from thebangles.org

Image from thebangles.org

I was long a fan of Jules Shear since his days with the Polar Bears and later as a solo singer/songwriter. I also was long a fan of The Bangles, ever since I saw this clip from 1984 on “Late Night with David Letterman” and instantly developed a life-threatening crush on drummer Debbi Peterson.

Jump ahead to 1986 and The Bangles’ second album “Different Light.” It spawned a single written by Prince, “Manic Monday,” a novelty song/video, “Walk Like An Egyptian,” and an excellent cover of Big Star’s “September Gurls.” The album is consistently great, but by far the standout song is Jules Shear’s “If She Knew What She Wants.” It kicks off with a soaring guitar riff, and when the band kicks in it’s magnetic. Hoff’s sultry voice is a little more subtle than usual, and the harmonies and musicianship of Debbi Peterson, guitarist Vicki Peterson (her sister), and bassist Michael Steele are stellar. Reminiscent of The Byrds and Big Star, it’s as close to a perfect folk-pop song as I can imagine.

This is the UK version of the video. Nice dance moves by Debbi. The American version, sadly, is god-awful stupid as it features cutaways where, one by one, each of the four women get smoochy with off-camera guys. No idea where they were going with that one.

If she knew what she wants
(He’d be giving it to her)
If she knew what she needs
(He could give her that too)
If she knew what she wants
(But he can’t see through her)
If she knew what she wants
He’d be giving it to her
Giving it to her

But she wants everything
(He can pretend to give her everything)
Or there’s nothing she wants
(She don’t want to sort it out)
He’s crazy for this girl
(But she don’t know what she’s looking for)
If she knew what she wants
He’d be giving it to her
Giving it to her

I’d say her values are corrupted
But she’s open to change
Then one day she’s satisfied
And the next I’ll find her crying
And it’s nothing she can explain

If she knew what she wants
(He’d be giving it to her)
If she knew what she needs
(He could give her that too)
If she knew what she wants
(But he can’t see through her)
If she knew what she wants
He’d be giving it to her
Giving it to her (giving it to her)

Some have a style
That they work hard to refine
So they walk a crooked line
But she won’t understand
Why anyone would have to try
To walk a line when they could fly

No sense thinking I could rehabilitate her
When she’s fine, fine, fine
She’s got so many ideas traveling around in her head
She doesn’t need nothing from mine

If she knew what she wants
(He’d be giving it to her)
If she knew what she needs
(He’d be givin’ it too)
If she knew what she wants
(But he can’t see through her)
If she knew what she wants
He’d be giving it to her
Giving it to her

But she wants everything
(He can pretend to give her everything)
Or there’s nothing she wants
(She don’t want to sort it out)
He’s crazy for this girl
(But she don’t know what she’s looking for)
If she knew what she wants
He’d be giving it to her
Giving it to her

(He’d be giving it to her)
(He could give her that too)
(But he can’t see through her)
Ooooooh, giving it to her
Giving it to her now

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One Comment on “Desert Island Singles: “If She Knew What She Wants” by The Bangles (1986)”

  1. […] “If She Knew What She Wants” by The Bangles (1986) 11/2/14: “Lovesick Blues” by Hank Williams and His Drifting Cowboys (1949) 8/8/14: […]


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