From The Desk Of Finn’s Motel: Best Songs By Anyone Ever, Volume 5 (The Bangles “Dover Beach”)

Finn’s Motel mastermind/auteur Joe Thebeau gifted us in late 2006 with the amazing, out-of-nowhere Escape Velocity debut, a concept album about leaving behind the drudgery of cubicle life and suburban malaise for some greater, unknown existence. Even with the help (cough) of a January 2007 MAGNET profile, it took Thebeau nearly 11 years to finally follow it up with the outstanding new Jupiter Rex (Victory Over Gravity). Thebeau will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new Finn’s Motel feature.

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Thebeau: Speaking of the Bangles, I nominate “Dover Beach” as one of the Best Songs by Anyone Ever. I would never have heard this song if not for St. Louis band the Love Experts, who covered the song as their set closer at a show they played at, you guessed it, Cicero’s Basement. (I seem to be working on a theme, but since I never saw Neil Finn or Don McGlashan at Cicero’s, I can’t weave that thread all the way through.) I didn’t recognize it as a Bangles song, in part because the Love Experts’ singer, Steve Carosello, is a guy. After the show, I asked about the song, thinking it was one of their own. Carosello hipped me to the early Bangles and we’ve been friends ever since. That’s also the night I first met Love Experts’ bassist Steve Scariano, who would later become the bass player in Finn’s Motel.

In 1991, Susanna Hoffs released her first solo album, When You’re A Boy. At that time, my friend Toby Weiss was editor of the fanzine Jet Lag. I begged and begged until Toby agreed to let me interview Susanna. I had been given strict instructions about being sure to ask about the new album, but I couldn’t help sneaking in a question about my favorite song, “Dover Beach.” I wanted to know who wrote what bits, music, lyrics, etc. I don’t think Susanna was as interested in answering questions about the Bangles at the time. The call ended mysteriously, mid-sentence. I did at least learn that she and Vicki Peterson had written it together. Of course, in the internet age, that information is no longer as mysterious as it to be seemed then.

“Dover Beach” starts with Vicki and Susanna banging on complimentary voicings of an E major chord. They build it up to a crescendo and then let it ring. Susanna’s plaintive voice steps in with, “If I had the time/I would run away with you/To a perfect world/We’d suspend all that is duty or required.” The band comes in with Vicki playing a snaking lead guitar behind verses about star-crossed lovers who can only ever seem to be together in dreams. There’s a T.S. Eliot reference in one of the verses, when Susanna croons, “We could come and go/And talk of Michelangelo,” borrowing from “The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock.” The meaning of the Eliot line is somewhat unclear, though some have said it’s about making idle chit chat. In this context, I wonder if it’s just meant to be a bit of secret code shared between lovers.

I don’t think the song actually has a chorus. There are refrains of “oh, oh” in the magical way only the Bangles can do it. But, no chorus. After the second verse, there is a guitar solo. When they come out of the solo, the song changes to what would normally be a bridge. The bridge carries us to the last verse, which in turn leads back to a repetition of the first verse that slides into the ending. The outro is a guitar solo that collapses over a repetitive drum beat that fades out. It’s an ending almost as mysterious as the sudden disconnection of my interview phone call to Susanna Hoffs.

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