As longtime readers of this space are no doubt aware, I have a severe weakness for Susanna Hoffs, quite possibly as a result of having won tickets to a stop on the Bangles’ Different Light tour, and thus being exposed to dangerously high levels of Hoffs rays at the tender age of eleven.
Anyway, I admit that I will use just about any excuse to write about the doe-eyed Bangle, but today it isn’t my fault — I was all set to write about Club Nouveau’s Listen to the Message, which was totally a cutout the last time I looked, but it turns out that the stupid Amazon MP3 store is selling it as a download.
I believe I was bitching about this exact phenomenon last week, was I not? Before long, we’ll be stuck writing about Wesley Willis fanclub releases. Everything else will be back in print.
Until then, friends, we’ve got When You’re a Boy.
Now, look, I’m certainly guilty of saying (and thinking) uncouth things about Ms. Hoffs, but I’m not blind to her faults, and even as a young and very foolish teenager, I was well aware of the fact that this was not the best title for an album by anyone, except maybe that stupid little French rapper — what was his name? Jordy? Whatever. You get my point.
Why no one at Columbia saw fit to suggest a better title — or just strip one into the artwork without telling Hoffs — I have no idea. The label certainly did its level best to emphasize her femininity in the video for the album’s first single, “My Side of the Bed”:
Here’s the problem, though: “My Side of the Bed” is a stupid, stupid song. People had been complaining for years that the Bangles had forgotten their power pop roots — and that Hoffs’ moony ballads were the chief culprit. Essentially proving their argument with her first solo single was almost as dumb as calling her album When You’re a Boy.
“My Side of the Bed,” like many of Hoffs’ worst songs, was co-written with Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg, and it wasn’t their only appearance on the album — they’re also responsible for the soggy ballad “Unconditional Love” and the painfully dull “It’s Lonely Out Here.” Kelly and Steinberg’s boring love songs aren’t the only duds on the record, unfortunately, which is one of the reasons When You’re a Boy has gotten such a bad rap over the years.
It does have its moments, though, and I’m not saying that just because I once stayed up past midnight to catch The Allnighter on pay cable. Boobs-for-hire like Kelly, Steinberg, and Diane goddamn Warren notwithstanding, Hoffs surrounded herself with a talented cast for this album, including Eric Lowen and Dan Navarro, Juliana Hatfield (who co-wrote the shoulda-been-a-hit “That’s Why Girls Cry” [download]), and John Entwistle (who takes an embarrassing “additional bass” credit on the title-inspiring cover of Bowie and Eno’s “Boys Keep Swinging” [download]).
Alas, after “My Side of the Bed” scraped the bottom of the Top 40, Columbia only saw fit to release the tepid “Unconditional Love” as a follow-up single — passing over the perfectly glossy “Wishing on Telstar” (download) — and the album wound up where it is today, going for less than a dollar at Amazon. What can I say? I liked some of it in 1991, and I still like some of it now.
Hoffs, to her credit, must have done something to piss off the shoe salesmen running Columbia; she apparently got at least partway through a follow-up release before the label cut her loose in the mid ’90s. She eventually wound up working with another of my longtime favorites, David Baerwald, to shepherd her self-titled second album in 1996 — but I’m pretty sure that one is a cutout too, so you can guess how well the change in direction worked.
Ah, but that’s a story for another column. Provided some asshole doesn’t put it back in print, that is.