A Hazy Shade of Winter is a song written by Paul Simon, recorded and released by Simon & Garfunkel in 1966, and then included on their 1968 album, Bookends (although it also appeared on their Live from New York City, 1967). It was released as a single with For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her. It made # 13 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In 1987, The Bangles were approached to record a song for the soundtrack of the film Less Than Zero. They chose to record a cover of A Hazy Shade of Winter, a song they had been performing since their early days as a band.
Their cover, simply titled Hazy Shade of Winter, was vastly different from the original, turning it into a harder-edged rock song, and removing most of the bridge section. The record, like the rest of the soundtrack album, was produced by Rick Rubin. After a fruitful but disappointing experience with the producer of their Different Light album, David Kahne, where they were given little input in the production of the songs, the group decided to take more control for the recording of this song, and they were given an additional producer credit. Michael Steele later commented that “we sounded the most on this record the way we actually sound live“, and that “If we hadn’t been so messed up as a band, it could have been a turning point for us“
Lead vocals were performed jointly by all four members of the group, with a short solo led by Susanna Hoffs towards the end of the song. This was a rare occurrence in the Bangles songs, as they mostly had just one member singing lead on their songs. Due to pressure from their record label, The Bangles removed the verse from the original song that contained the line “drinking my vodka and lime.” According to liner notes on the Soundtrack album, Steve Bartek from the band Oingo Boingo played guitar on the track.
When released as a single in November 1987, Hazy Shade of Winter became a huge hit, surpassing the popularity of the original version, peaking at # 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and # 11 in the UK. It was also a hit around Europe.
The music video (see above) featured the band singing in a studio surrounded by television screens on the walls, similar to a party scene from the Less Than Zero film. Scenes of the film also appear throughout the video.
Hazy Shade of Winter was not included on any of the band’s studio albums, but was later included on the band’s first official Greatest Hits in 1990, and on many of the band’s subsequent compilations. The accompanying Greatest Hits video compilation did not feature the Hazy Shade of Winter video, due to complications with the licensing of the movie rights of the Less Than Zero scenes that appear on the video clip.
The Bangles version was commonly used as bumper music for late night radio talk show Coast to Coast AM hosted by Art Bell in the mid to late 1990’s. Coast to Coast AM is a radio talk show running through the wee hours of the morning which focuses on paranormal discussion. Coast to Coast AM, started by Art Bell in the mid-’80s, was initially a call-in political discussion show, before Bell tired of the genre and switched it gradually over to paranormal discussion. The show is now an (anti-)intellectual carnival of the occult, conspiracy theories, Bigfoot sightings, Doomsday predictions, and all manner of niche speculation.
Editor’s Note: I was part of the Hollywood underground club scene right around the time the film Less Than Zero hit the theaters, and my closest friend and I went to see it opening weekend. Besides the wealth, which we were far from, the movie was remarkably realistic and relevant to a painful degree. We had friends like Julian, hell, we had even ran into a very “Julian” like Robert Downey, Jr. at that time. I connected to the film in a very personal way, and its impact still stays with me. This song acted as a souvenir after the credits ran, and it made it on countless mixed tapes that would spin in my car stereo, this song always one I turned up high. The song transcended the film eventually, becoming a Winter time staple, and one of my favorite cover songs of all-time. It is also one of the reasons I love The Bangles so much – take a listen, they made this song completely their own.