After blasting onto the Hollywood punk scene in 1978, the Go-Go’s made their own way as the first female pop band to sell records and rule the charts by writing and playing their own material. What started out as a goof ended up making it big. “We formed a band for laughs and it turned into this huge thing,” lead singer and founding member Belinda Carlisle told People in 1986. The Go-Go’s created their own pop world by combining the New Wave style of the time with their own brand of what came to be known in the 1990s as “girl power.”
Carlisle met Jane Wiedlin on the Hollywood punk club circuit, where Carlisle had been hanging out since she left high school. Carlisle was going to be the drummer for the seminal punk band The Germs but was replaced before she started by a drummer who actually owned a drum kit and knew how to play, neither of which Carlisle did. Wiedlin was attracted to Carlisle’s punk attitude and bubbly demeanor, just as Carlisle was to Wiedlin’s free spirit and snappy attitude. The two became fast friends and started a band with Charlotte Caffey on lead guitar, Elissa Bello on drums and Margot Olaverra on bass. Carlisle’s bouncy, “chipmunk” voice fronted the band and Wiedlin’s spunky guitar rhythms filled out the band’s sound. Bello and Olaverra dropped out and were replaced by Gina Schock on drums in 1979 and Kathy Valentine on bass in 1980.
After being noticed by—and touring with—British ska outfit Madness, the Go-Go’s released their debut album, Beauty and the Beat, on I.R.S in 1981. By the spring of 1982, the album was number one on the Billboard ’charts, where it stayed for six weeks, and “We Got the Beat” and “Our Lips Are Sealed” had become hits with staying power. Beauty and the Beat ended up earning a double-platinum certification for sales of over two million, and was by far the Go-Go’s biggest success. Their next two albums, Vacation in 1982 and Talk Show in 1984, produced three hit singles. “Vacation” was a top ten hit in 1982, and “Head Over Heels” and “Turn to You” made it to number eleven and number 32, respectively, in 1984.
As Rolling Stone’s Christopher Connelly wrote in 1984, the Go-Go’s had created a girls’ world of fun, fun, fun. “Welcome to the world of the Go-Go’s, where women are girls, men are boys, everyone is fair game and no one ever stops smiling. If you can’t have fun with the Go-Go’s, maybe you can’t have fun, period.” Laughter and the effervescent sound of their own music was the soundtrack to the lives of the Go-Go’s.
For a group who was known for their girlish, upbeat personalities, the Go-Go’s were plagued by very serious, grown-up problems. In addition to the almost-constant man troubles of one member or another, the business of being a successful commercial entity began to wear on them. In 1982, Ginger Canzoneri, the band’s inexperienced but energetic manager, left the band. To start 1983, when they received their semiannual financial statementfrom their record label, they found they were owed over a million dollars in royalties for Beauty and the Beat but the label didn’t have the money to pay them. After a lawsuit was filed, the dispute was handled out of court, with the royalties being paid and the band remaining on I.R.S.
Those problems remedied, the physical troubles started. As The Go-Go’s were ready to start recording again, Caffey was diagnosed with a case of carpal tunnel syndrome that pained her for four months and stalled the creative momentum the band was ready to build on. Talk Showwas released in 1984 and, with things looking up and at our on the horizon, drummer Gina Schockwas diagnosed with a congenital heart defect. She underwent open-heart surgery that left her with a scar running from her collarbone to her navel. During all of this, the band was living the rock and roll high life. Drugs, alcohol, and weight problems only increased the scope of their battles.
Despite the band’sobvious troubles, Connelly quipped at the end of a lengthy, in-depth story in July of 1984,
Members include Elissa Bello (1978-79), drums; Charlotte Caffey (born October 21, 1953, Santa Monica, CA), guitar; Belinda Carlisle (born August 17, 1958, Hollywood, CA), vocals; Margot Olaverra (1978-80), bass; Gina Schock (born August 31, 1957, Baltimore, MD, joined group 1979), drums; Kathy Valentine (January 7, 1959, Austin, TX, joined group 1980); bass; Jane Wiedlin (born May 20, 1958, Oconomowoc, WI), guitar.
Formed in 1978, in Hollywood, CA; toured England with Madness, 1979; single “We Got the Beat” released by British label Stiff, 1979; Olaverra became ill and was replaced by Valentine on bass, 1980; joined I.R.S. Records; released debut, Beauty and the Beat, 1981;Beauty and the Beat held number one slot on the Billboard charts for six weeks, 1982;Vacation released, 1982, topped charts at number eight;Talk Show released 1984; Wiedlin left band, October 1984; Go-Go’s dissolved, May 1985; released Go-Go’s Greatest, 1990; reunion tour, 1990; released Return to the Valley of the Go-Go’s 1994; all albums released on I.R.S. label; reunited for tour, 1994.
Addresses: Record company —I.R.S. Records, Lank-ershim Blvd., Universal City, CA 91604; (818) 508-3130; fax (818) 373-7173. Email [email protected]
“This party ain’t over yet.” But the boding of another fate could be read from Wiedlin’s words, despite the story’s cheerful interpretation of them. “I don’tthinkthis band’s longevity is going to be decided by how many records we sell,” she said. “I think it’s going to be decided by how well people get along with each other, and how much people are willing to adjustto changing times and moods.” Optimism did not prevail for the group this time. For all intents and purposes, the party, as The Go-Go’s had known it was, in fact, over.
By October of 1984, Wiedlin, who’d already recorded one solo album, left the group in search of artistic freedom and a solo career that allowed her to sing her songs as she wished. The rest of the band rallied to stick together after Wiedlin left, moving bassist Valentine into the vacant guitarist’s spot and hopeful to find a replacement bassist. Caffey told Peoplein 1984, after Wiedlin’s break, “My woman’s intuition tells me it’s going to be a good thing for both Jane and the band.” Her intuition was wrong, and the Go-Go’s were officially done by May of 1985.
Gina Schock told People in 1984, “You pay a price for making the Go-Go’s the most important part of your life.” After the break up of the first all-female rock band to top Billboard charts, the price each Go-Go paid became evident. Carlisle’s was the most public. “It was a fairy tale,” she told Life in 1988, long after the Go-Go’s heyday. “I’ve had to start all over again.” And start over she did. Although each band member had some success on her own, Carlisle’s was the most commercially viable. Wiedlin made a handful of solo records; Caffey joined the Graces in 1985; Valentine started the Del-phines; Schock released a record with her own band, House of Schock, and went on to join the Delphines in 1997. But Carlisle, with the support of her new husband, Morgan Mason (son of actor James Mason), overcame drug and alcohol dependency, lost 25 pounds, and released Belinda, a 1986 success. Carlisle’s solo debut earned her a nomination for best female performance at the Grammy awards and a number three hit with “Mad About You.”
The group reformed in 1990 for a relatively successful reunion tour in support of Go-Go’s Greatest, a collection of the band’s hits. Ten years after the band burst out onto the pop scene, they were back playing colleges and theaters—deemed more realistic venues, size-wise, to reintroduce the group. In 1991, a decidedly more mature, slick looking Go-Go’s were featured in a lengthy spot during the Super Bowl to promote Bugle Boy Jeans. Despite the fact that the spot was targeted at men 18-24 years old, who were too young to have experienced the girl group first hand, marketers saw timeless appeal in their spunk.
The Go-Go’s returned in 1994 with Return to the Valley of the Go-Go’s, a retrospective two-CD set that included very early garage recordings of the group as a tough little punk outfit alongside three new pop songs. The release was filled out by classic Go-Go’s hits. The band toured to support it and publicized that they’d stick together as a band.
Beauty and the Beat, I.R.S., 1981.
Vacation, I.R.S., 1982.
Talk Show, I.R.S., 1984.
Go-Go’s Greatest, I.R.S., 1990.
Return to the Valley of the Go-Go’s, I.R.S., 1994.
Romanowski, Patricia and Holly George Warren, editors, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Fireside/Simon &Shuster, 1995.
Adweek, Jan 28, 1991.
Amusement Business, November 12, 1990.
Entertainment Weekly, October 21, 1994; May 29, 1998.
Guitar Player, April 1995.
Life, March 1988.
People Weekly, June 16, 1986; December 19, 1994.
Rolling Stone, April 12, 1984; July 5, 1984.
“Go-Go’s,” All-Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (September 20, 1998).
“Go-Go’s,” Trouser Press, http://www.trouserpress.com (September 20, 1998).
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