The Story Behind The Bangles’ Sleeper Hit “Going Down to Liverpool” and the Other ’80s Band that Recorded It First

When we think about how The Bangles broke through to become one of the biggest bands of the 1980s, we likely think about “Manic Monday.” It was their first Billboard Hot 100 hit in the U.S., and it was a huge one. It reached No. 2, was written by Prince during the height of his popularity, and its official video was in heavy rotation on MTV.

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While it may be the first Bangles song that many people remember, “Manic Monday” was not the first Bangles song to reach the airwaves on radio and MTV. That distinction goes to “Hero Takes a Fall,” which was the lead single from their 1984 debut album All Over the Place. In between those two singles, The Bangles released “Going Down to Liverpool.” Unlike “Hero Takes a Fall,” it didn’t make it onto any Billboard chart (the former track reached No. 59 on the Mainstream Rock chart). Yet it has become one of the band’s most enduring hits. According to, the only song The Bangles have played more often in concert is “Manic Monday.”

The Bangles have popularized tunes written by other songwriters, and they did so famously with Prince’s “Manic Monday.” Not only was “Going Down to Liverpool” also written by someone outside of The Bangles, but it was composed by a member of another band that rose to prominence around the same time The Bangles did. Kimberley Rew of Katrina and the Waves wrote the song for the band’s 1982 debut EP, Shock Horror!, and he sang lead vocals on the track. (At this time, the band was simply called The Waves.) They rerecorded the song, again with Rew singing lead, for their 1983 album Walking on Sunshine. The album’s title track is an early version of what became Katrina and the Waves’ signature song.

In the late stages of recording All Over the Place, Bangles guitarist Vicki Peterson and bassist Michael Steele overheard their roommate listening to a demo version of Katrina and the Waves’ “Going Down to Liverpool.” Peterson told Melody Maker, “It was great, the beat, the feeling of it, something about the guitars sounded like us.” She convinced her bandmates to record their own version and add it to All Over the Place. Less than a year later, Katrina and the Waves recorded their third version of “Going Down to Liverpool,” this time with Katrina Leskanich on lead vocals. Both this version and a rerecording of “Walking on Sunshine” appeared on Katrina and the Waves’ 1985 self-titled album, which went to No. 25 on the Billboard 200.

Making the Song Even Mellower

For those who are only familiar with The Bangles’ version of “Going Down to Liverpool,” it may be confusing that a band from Los Angeles would be performing a song about a city in North West England. Maybe if the song were an homage to the most famous Liverpudlians, The Beatles, there would be a clearer connection to The Bangles, but the song’s setting and lyrics make more sense with the understanding that it was written by an English guitarist.

“Going Down to Liverpool” consists of just one verse and one chorus, slightly modified and repeated three times. The verse essentially consists of a question: Where are you going with that UB40 in your hand? The alternate version of the verse replaces “UB40”—which is a unemployment benefits form in the UK—with “load of nothing,” so the song’s protagonist has neither a job nor possessions to hold them down. The chorus provides the answer to the question, which is I’m going down to Liverpool to do nothing / All the days of my life.

In the Katrina and the Waves’ versions, the song’s carefree message is delivered by the acoustic strumming and bouncy bass line as much as by its lyrics. The Bangles’ cover of the song is largely faithful to these versions, from Debbi Peterson’s lead vocals to the acoustic and electric guitar tones. What sets their version apart is the dreamy, echoey backing vocals, and particularly the way Susanna Hoffs takes her harmonies higher in the chorus once Debbi Peterson’s vocals trail off. Peterson’s more subtle approach on drums also gives The Bangles’ rendition an aptly mellower feel.

A Late Bloomer Commercially

Though “Going Down to Liverpool” didn’t make the charts in the U.S., the song did receive attention. Its video, which featured Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek (who was also a friend of Hoff’s and her family) as The Bangles’ chauffeur, received airplay on MTV. The Bangles also performed the song on Late Night with David Letterman. The single did reach the charts in the UK, the Netherlands, and New Zealand upon its 1984 release.

After The Bangles enjoyed greater success with “Manic Monday” and “If She Knew What She Wants,” Columbia Records rereleased “Going Down to Liverpool” as a single in June 1986. It still didn’t chart in the U.S. and was only slightly more popular in the UK with a peak position of No. 56 (as compared to its previous peak of No. 79).

“Going Down to Liverpool” has been getting its due from fans in more recent years. It ranks as one of The Bangles’ 10 most popular songs on Spotify, and it has been streamed more often than chart hits such as “Walking Down Your Street,” “Be With You,” and “Hero Takes a Fall.” 

All Over the Place is a great showcase for The Bangles’ songwriting abilities, yet their cover of “Going Down to Liverpool” ranks as a highlight of that album and of their entire discography. They also achieved the feat of taking a previously unknown song and bringing it to the attention of millions of fans. Some of the other songs covered by The Bangles, such as Simon & Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade of Winter” and Elvis Costello’s “Tear Off Your Own Head (It’s a Doll Revolution),” had already received substantial exposure, but with “Going Down to Liverpool,” they made many of us aware of an excellent piece of songwriting that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.

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Photo by J. P. Aussenard/WireImage

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