GO GOs and B-52s
From their halcyon days as America’s sweethearts to their current status as superstars who pioneered a genre, The Go-Go’s preside over an amazing three-decade reign as high pop priestesses. The internationally-loved pop hitmakers helped cement the foundation of the early 80′s pop-rock sound without the aid of outside composers, session players or, most importantly, creative compromise. From their very first show, The Go-Go’s sang and played their own songs, offering five feisty role models for a generation of ready-to-rock girls and good, hooky fun for pop-loving guys.
Their story truly is a punk version of the American Dream. They came, they saw and they conquered the charts, the airwaves and, with their kicky kitsch appeal, pop culture in general. For a while, the band was virtually inescapable: TV guest shots, magazine covers, high-profile concert tours and movie offers turned The Go-Go’s into certified rock stars. Their sparking California pop appealed to an astonishingly wide cross-section of music fans.
Because of — or maybe in spite of — all this attention, they soared to become a pop phenomenon while having a lot of fun and blazing a brand-new trail — for the DIY ethic in general, and women in music in particular. Their self-contained battle cry was a string of irresistibly catchy, self-penned pop singles featuring infectious vocals, loud, punk rock guitars and sweet backing vocals, all slammed home with throbbing bass and a big 60s beat.
Sure, before the Go-Go’s debuted in May of ’78, there were other all-female bands, but to a man (ahem, or in this case, woman) there was usually a seedy, cigar-chompin’ guy lurking just behind the curtain, pulling strings, writing songs and shaping the image as his gals danced on his string. But The Go-Go’s didn’t need a doctor in their house. No Phil Spector, Kim Fowley or Sonny Bono plotted their moves. It was their baby right from the start and they nursed the bouncing infant on a diet of non-stop nocturnal nourishment in dank clubs all across the city.
They danced to their own joyous beat from the very beginning. The Go-Go’s banded together in the truest of punk ethics: there was no master plan to get signed or in any way conquer the world. In fact, when Belinda Carlisle and Jane Wiedlin (then known by her adorably tough nome-de-punk Jane Drano) met, they weren’t even musicians. But since nearly everyone else in their vicious circle of friends was forming bands, they said why not? and jumped right in that darn fountain, fully clothed. The band was conceived in the very same gritty glitter of the rough Los Angeles scene that also birthed X, The Germs, and The Weirdos.
By all accounts, their first show was short, sweet — and very, very raw. They didn’t care, they were just having fun. But, just as lust can turn to love, their newfound hobby turned to dedication. Two months later, real musician Charlotte Caffey joined and their sound quickly improved. The unique mix of snotty punk discord blended with sweet pop melodies was presented with a freewheeling let’s have a party thrift-store chic attitude. The ensemble quickly cultivated a dedicated clique of fans and collected glowing notices in the notoriously fickle LA press.
By ’79, with the addition of Gina Schock on drums, the Go-Go’s were beating their path to stardom on their own terms. They played every cool club and party in L.A. and, naturally, record companies were starting to sniff around. Still, the band remained true to their punk leanings, releasing an early version of “We Got The Beat” through the quirky Stiff Records in the UK.
As ’80 turned into ’81, Kathy Valentine joined and by April, the band was signed to upstart new wave haven IRS records. As summer arrived, so did Beauty And The Beat, hot on the heels of their debut U.S. single “Our Lips Are Sealed.” Summer turned to fall, and the world fell in love with the cute, bubbly and effervescent (and yes, they hate that description) Go-Go’s.
But really, how could anyone who loves real music not love The Go-Go’s? They melded the timeless songcraft of The Beatles, a defiant punk attitude, the blitzkrieg bombast of The Ramones, the deceptively dangerous allure of Blondie, the distinct personalities of The Monkees, 60s garage-band grit, good-girl wall-of-sound schmaltz, and a touch of 70s glam, all while creating a canon of work that deftly defined the spirited 80s sound. Even more astonishing is the fact that they merged all of those grand influences into streamlined MTV stardom — without sounding overtly dated. Quite a feat, but then The Go-Go’s are quite a band.
The double-platinum-awarded Beauty And The Beat reached number one and begat Vacation in ‘82 and Talk Show in ‘84 during the ladies’ charming reign of chart and radio smashes. And, like any truly classic rock band, their enduring hits including “Vacation,” “Head Over Heels” and “Turn To You” live on in countless compilations, movie soundtracks, remakes and, yes, even a string of very successful television commercials.
Having accomplished more in just a few years than most bands could ever imagine, The Go-Go’s were inactive for the last half of the 80′s, splintered in various directions with each member busy with solo projects and real life. The group’s legacy was rekindled in 90 when The Go-Go’s reunited for a charity show.
In ’94 the rejuvenated musicians contributed three new songs and extensive liner notes for the career-retrospective Return To The Valley of The Go-Go’s. The band had also returned to sporadic touring by that time, occasionally revisiting the frivolity of the early 80′s on stage while depressing grunge continued to rule rock radio. In 2000, their raucous and rocky off-stage history, often re-told and colorfully embellished, was unflinchingly presented in a very popular episode of VH-1s Behind The Music series with an accompanying greatest hits collection. Behind The Music: The Go-Go’s Collection continues to be a strong-selling catalog item.
At this point, most bands would have happily settled into obscurity or would have desperately flung themselves into futile and embarrassing updates of their sound. But not The Go-Go’s. On the strength of the VH-1 special, God Bless The Go-Go’s, an all-new collection of songs was released in 2001. A stack of glowing reviews soon followed backed by a triumphant tour, later immortalized in the exciting DVD, Live In Central Park.
In 2011, thirty impressive years after their Album Beauty and the Beat reached Number One status, a 30th Anniversary deluxe edition was released. Having clearly made an imprint on the fickle music industry, the Go-Go’s had proven that they had staying power, and in August of 2011, were invited to make a bigger impression as they were honored with a Star on the world-famous Walk of Fame in Hollywood.
A year later, celebrating another incredible 30-year landmark, the Go-Go’s included a very special venue on their 2012, the famous Hollywood Bowl. In 1982, after the release of Vacation, they sold out the Hollywood Bowl. In 2012, proving again that their sound is legend, they again played at the Bowl, with another impressive sell-out under their collective belts.
Today, The Go-Go’s live shows continue to deliver every bit of the raw energy of their now-legendary punk beginnings, tempered with the wisdom of three decades of pop perfection. They have no need to change their sound to try to be modern or current or wander off on some trendy tangent. Why should they? Now, as in ‘81, no one sounds like The Go-Go’s but The Go-Go’s.
The whole world may have lost its head, but in a world gone crazy, The Go-Go’s still have the beat. And now, three decades we were first introduced to their sound, go-go music still makes us dance!