Walk Like An Egyptian

Album: Different Light (1986)
Charted: 3 1


  • The songwriter Liam Sternberg wrote this. He got the idea when he was on a ferry boat and saw people struggling to keep their balance. The way they held out their arms and jerked around made it look like they were doing Egyptian movements, and if the boat moved suddenly, they would all topple over.

    Sternberg was part of a vibrant '70s music scene in Akron, Ohio, where he wrote and produced for the almost-famous Jane Aire & The Belvederes and Rachel Sweet. That gritty city is the antithesis of Los Angeles, but by the mid-'80s Akron was in musical decline and LA was where it was happening, so that's where he pitched his demos. The "Walk Like An Egyptian" demo, with a vocal by Marti Jones, got the attention of Bangles producer David Kahne, who had them record the song.
  • The biggest hit for the Bangles, "Walk Like An Egyptian" gave them a new level of notoriety, but not the kind they wanted. Formed in 1981, they wrote their own songs and were a big part of the Los Angeles Paisley Underground movement, which included eclectic acts like Rain Parade and The Dream Syndicate. These Paisley bands did well with critics but never broke big, except the Bangles.

    Their first album, released in 1984, had a '60s sound with lots of clever, well-constructed songs written by their guitarists, Susanna Hoffs and Vicki Peterson. It did well and earned them a spot opening for Cyndi Lauper. Their second album, Different Light, was their breakthrough, but the big hits were songs written by outsiders. First came "Manic Monday," written by high-profile Bangles fan Prince. Then "If She Knew What She Wants," written by Jules Shear.

    Then came "Walk Like An Egyptian," a goofy romp written by another outside writer that the band didn't think would get released as a single because it was "too weird." It shot to #1 and became a sensation, but the group's rock pedigree took a hit. Suddenly they were known for this quasi-novelty song instead of their own compositions.

    The song does have their stamp on it though: every Bangle could sing, and three of them get a verse on "Egyptian." The guitar riff is also their distinctive sound, something Vicki Peterson had been developing for a while (check out "He's Got a Secret" from their first album).

    The Bangles didn't have a problem with the song itself, but when it made them famous it also made them miserable - they were burned out and their friendships fractured. The hits kept coming ("Eternal Flame," "In Your Room") until they couldn't it anymore; they broke up in 1989 at the peak of their powers.

    Hoffs launched a solo career that didn't get very far, and Vicki Peterson joined a roots-rock band called the Continental Drifters. In the late '90s, after enough water had passed under the bridge, the Bangles re-united. They still had some bitter feelings about "Walk Like An Egyptian," which came out in a VH1 Behind The Music where they talked about the song as a catalyst for their demise. But as years went by, the song took on a feeling of nostalgia and the group made peace with it.

    "These days I feel very differently about it than I did in the '90s, because to me it was such an odd moment," Vicki Peterson told Songfacts in 2018. "I actually loved doing it. I thought the song was brilliant, in the strangest way. I had fun recording it, minus a few hiccups here and there, because it wasn't a great time for us. But, the song itself, I thought, 'OK, we will never write anything like this. This takes the record to another level, so let's absolutely do this.'"

    She added: "It's so fun to do live because of how it's received by our audience: They are completely in love and having a blast. It reminds them of that time in high school, that time in college, whatever it is that connects to a moment of sheer fun and joy and silliness and dance moves. So, at this point in time, when we do it, I just have a blast."
  • All members except drummer Debbi Peterson sang a verse. Peterson was originally supposed to sing the whole thing, but producer David Kahne had each member audition the lyrics to determine who would sing what verse. Debbi's sister Vicki Peterson got the first verse, bass player Michael Steele (a girl, despite the name) the second, and Susanna Hoffs the third.
  • This was offered to Toni Basil, but she turned it down. The Bangles needed one more song to complete their album, so they took it.
  • The difficult recording process caused a lot of tension within the band, which tried to share the spotlight in equal measure (literally: they insisted on four spotlights on stage). Leaving Debbi Peterson out of this one was a pivotal moment for the Bangles, who instead of standing up to producer David Kahne and insisting she have a part in the song, allowed her to be left out. They used a different producer (Davitt Sigerson) on their next album, but the fissures got deeper when Susanna Hoffs became the focus of their look and sound. Their chemistry turned combustible, leading to their 1989 breakup.
  • In the US, this was the #1 song of 1987 according to Billboard's year-end chart. It held the top spot for four weeks.
  • The video for this song made the band superstars, as it aired in heavy rotation on MTV. The Bangles became darlings of the network, but early on they weren't sold on the medium. Here are some quotes from 1985 where they kvetch:

    Debbi Peterson: "When you listen to a record you can imagine what they look like and what they were doing when they recorded, but when you see the video it ruins it for you."

    Susanna Hoffs: "I wish they could be more like movies. I wish they could somehow fulfill you, bring you through an experience."
  • Bangles drummer Debbi Peterson didn't perform on this song at all; percussion was done with a drum machine. When they performed it live, which you can see in the video, Debbi abandoned her drum kit and moved out front with a tambourine as a backing track played the drums.
  • The famous whistling after the guitar solo was machine made, according to Vicki Peterson. In concert, Debbi would mime it.
  • Bangles bass player Michael Steele was a member of The Runaways, a groundbreaking all-female rock band of the '70s that never had a hit - their story was made into a movie in 2010. Steele was the second Runaway to become a hitmaker, following Joan Jett, whose 1981 cover of "I Love Rock And Roll" was a monster hit. Lita Ford became the third member to make it big when "Kiss Me Deadly" reached #12 US in 1988.

Comments: 24

  • Elahair from MinnesotaThis came out in high school. I was always positive the song was about getting completely stoned on weed. Anyone else
  • Seventhmist from 7th HeavenUniquely wonderful arrangement. Anyone who doesn't toe-tap to this song has no sense of rhythm.
  • Ivory from Detroit, MiThis song has a special place in my heart because in early 1987 when I was in fifth grade, I performed a routine to it with the school dance troupe. Shout-out to our Dance Club choreographer, Ms. Cargill, who was also our science teacher, at the now closed Burt Elementary School in Detroit, MI.

    The movements that songwriter Liam Sternberg observed people on the ferry doing reminded him of the poses in which people appear in images of ancient Egyptians. Those commuters were going through the mundane, daily ritual of getting from Point A to Point B with throngs of others making a living, running errands, etc. The song mentions various scenarios where we go through daily routines by rote, particularly the people mentioned in the second verse: waitresses, whose work usual requires stiff movement so as not to drop the plates and glasses sitting on the large trays they carry; schoolkids who get "so sick of books" and at dismissal, "when the buzzer rings (oh whey oh), they're walking like an Egyptian," traveling en masse like the commuters who inspired the song.

    My interpretation is that this tune encourages us to take the mundane and make it fun:

    • If you must walk in lockstep with others going from place to place, don't just move stiffly, get a little animated with it and (say it with me) walk like an Egyptian.
    • If you're waiting tables, instead of walking slowly and steadily like the aforementioned waitresses, do as the ones in the song, who "spin around and they cross the floor."
    • When you're going on foot to or from another rough work shift, challenging school day, etc., don't just walk like a zombie, "slide your feet up the street, bend your back, shift your arms, then you pull it back."
    • "Life's hard, you know," so if you're working like a dog and still can't afford an expensive car or a car at all, fake it and take a picture on one ("strike a pose on a Cadillac"). That part reminds me of a game I played as a kid called "That's My Car," where we would try to be the first to verbally claim great-looking vehicles for ourselves as they rode by.

    I hope someday I can meet Mr. Sternberg so he can tell me if my take it "Walk Like an Egyptian" is what he was going for.

    Twitter: @IvoryJeff
  • Markantney from BiloxiJan 2017,

    Jay, no real answer but

    If You want to see/hear everyTHANG that was so right or so wrong about the 80s (depends on one's perception), it's this ridiculous song and video, Which I LOVE:):):)
  • Luke from Essen, GermanyThe before mentioned song "Gehn wie ein Ägypter" by "Die Ärzte" (The Doctors) is not more or less than a translation into german.
  • Jay from Brooklyn, NyWhat the hell is this song about? Either the lyrics are complete gibberish, or I'm missing something. Don't get me wrong - it's a fun song - but I have no idea what the Bangles are singing about.
  • Ron from Philadelphia, AkGreen Day should remake this. It's perfect for their style and is ripe for a remake. I want 10 million dollars if they do it because I came up with the idea.
  • Jj from Washington, DcFavorite Bangles song out there!!
  • Reza from Shiraz, Iranwas one of my favorites whwn i was a teenager. but havent listened 2 it 4 a long long time
  • Jake from Boston, MaThis is a fun song - the video is simple; but on Hoff's verse (the last one) it gets incredibly sexy. Hoffs eyes are very seductive as she finishes the verse.
  • Ken from Los Angeles, CaJason, Seattle, WA - you chew on mighty strange bubblegum. You can dislike CCR, but they were a creative and influential band. I think a cavalier attitude toward their music is a mistake.

    To me, "...Egyptian" is another quintessential '80s song, and has really good instrumentation.
  • Jason from Seattle, WaDylan had many #1 songs... as a composer. He had none as a singer, which means that all is right in the world.

    As for CCR, as much as I like John Fogerty, the songs of CCR are separated from bubblegum by not much more than Fogerty's guitar.
  • John from Kirkland, WaAfter the attack on the World Trade Ctr (9/11/2001) a number of stations would not play this song for fear that it would spark some kind of backlash due to the Middle East referance in the song - "Walk Like An Egyptian"
  • Alan from Grande Prairie, Alberta, CanadaSorry but I hate this song. Right up there with "Don't Worry Be Happy" and "Disco Duck" for being the worst songs of all time to chart #1. While CCR and Dylan never had a #1 song. Go figure.
  • Neil from Middlesbrough, United StatesWalk...(The Dog) Like An Egyptian by Jode Featuring YO-Hans

    the cover version is the same song but yo yo terms place in the song.
  • Kathy from Near Frankfurt, GermanyA German famous rock band called "Die Ã?rzte"(The Doctors) did kinda a song like this, I think. It's called "Laufen wie ein Ã?gypter",w hich means the same as "Walk like an egyptian". Have to check if its ment to be the same song^^
  • Margaret from Buellton, CaAlso, the Bangles were from Santa Barbara, CA.
  • Margaret from Buellton, CaJim, the parody you mention was by "The Swinging Erudites", a Boston band. The album also contained parodies of Bon Jovi ("Jon Anchovi: "Livin on my Hair" and "You Give Rock a Bad Name")

    "Swinging Erudites were the ones who originally wrote and performed the song, which was then covered by Carson Sage, which was in turn covered (and presumably translated) by J.B.O", the German metal band. (from "The Not Al Page" ; http://free.house.cx/~eil/etc/notal_list.html)
  • Jim from Dallas, TxA very funny parody of this song was made with the following title: "Walk with an Erection".
  • Pete from Nowra, Australianot a bad video clip ,Prince Charles was in it along with Libyan leader Gaddafi
  • Jamie from Sydney, Australia'Rumour' has it that Brad Shepard from the Australian band Hoodoo Gurus. Once kicked out the power supply for the drum machine during this song causing the whole song to stop in front of thousands of people. Also causing immediate tension with his then girl friend (one of the bangles at the time) and also his instant giving up of alcohol?? may just be a rumour....
  • Keith from Slc, UtI forget who it was, but the traffic-copter pilot at an LA station used to sing his own version of this song for the folks at get-togethers: "Walk like and Egyptian, Drive like a MORON!"
  • Rachel from Oxford, Ohi love the sneers on their faces, in the video. very seductive.
  • Jme from Raleigh, Ncthis is a weird song, but i like it
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