The Go-Go's formed in the turgid California punk scene of 1978 - the original line-up was a quartet with Belinda Carlisle ( lead vocals), Jane Wiedlin (guitar & vocals), Margot Olivarria (bass) and Elisa Bello (drums). They were spectacularly bad in the beginning, by their own subsequent admission, but progress would come swiftly.
By late 1979, Charlotte Caffey (lead guitar), Gina Schock (drums) and Kathy Valentine (bass) had been added to arrive at the line-up that has appeared on all of the group's recordings. The band became popular on the club circuit and ended up signing with IRS records in 1981. Their first album - Beauty & The Beat, with legendary producer Richard Gottehrer, ended up going double-platinum. It was a breathtaking rise from their raw, undistinguished beginning just three years earlier and that massive early success would eventually lead to conflict and chaos within the band. Vacation - the follow-up to Beauty & The Beat - was released in 1982. Vacation was not a commercial flop on its own terms - it made the Top Ten, went gold and the title track was a Top Ten hit. However, coming on the heels of their huge initial success, Vacation was perceived as a failure. Similarly, in artistic terms Vacation had some first-class songs but it wasn't as effervescent or as uniformly delightful as BATB.
In 1984, the band would overcome internal divisions, excessive partying and Charlotte's health problems to record Talk Show, a very fine record by any measure. However, by then the public's attention had already turned elsewhere and even though Head Over Heels and Turn To You were wonderful songs that did both make the Top 40, the album failed to even go gold. Within a few months Jane had left - a few months after that the band dissolved completely. There was a brief reunion in 1990, producing a new recording of Cool Jerk for a Greatest Hits release, and another limited re-formation in 1994 that yielded three new songs for the double-disc rarities and hits package Return To The Valley Of The Go-Go's. They came back together once again in 2000, and released the excellent (but unfortunately titled) God Bless The Go-Go's in 2001 to critical praise but weak sales in a record industry where rock & roll is now seen as a tiny niche category in a sea of 50 Cents and Jessica Simpsons. They have continued to play occasional tours since then, it's unclear when or if another new album will be forthcoming.
The Go-Go's represent a number of different things to different people. Undeniably, they were the first all-female band who wrote their own songs and played their own instruments to find the commerical succes that eluded the ground breaking all female group, The Runaways. To some, they were nothing more than a bubbly blast of California sunshine, not to be considered alongside "serious" bands. To others, they offer a cautionary tale of the dangers of too-early success combined with a full-tilt rock & roll lifestyle. But to some, including the author, they were valiant standard-bearers for traditional rock & roll at a time when such music was already very scarce on the nation's airwaves and in its record bins. The genius of the Go-Go's was the felicitious combination of a deft pop sensibility in terms of the songwriting (Caffey/Wiedlin, in large part) and singing with a powerful and hard-hitting (but also very musical) rhythm section. The Go-Go's weren't just another pop band because Gina Schock and Kathy Valentine were tough chicks who couldn't play sappy if they tried. Hopefully, we can look forward to more new recordings from this group of women who have been through so much together over the years.
M. Ramsey & The Cover Zone © October 2005