The Go-Go’s

The Go-Go’s are an American new wave band formed in Los Angeles, California in 1978. The Go-Go’s rose to fame during the early 1980s and were the first, and to date only, all-female band that both wrote their own songs and played their own instruments to top the Billboard album charts.

Their 1981 debut album, Beauty and the Beat, is considered one of the “cornerstone albums of US new wave” (AllMusic), breaking barriers and paving the way for a host of other new American acts. When the album was released, it steadily climbed the Billboard 200 chart, ultimately reaching No. 1, where it remained for six consecutive weeks. The album sold over 2 million copies and went double platinum, making it one of the most successful debut albums of all time. The Go-Go’s have sold over 7 million records worldwide.

The Go-Go’s broke up in 1985, but reconvened several times through the 1990s and beyond, recording new material and touring. Though their 2016 performances were billed as a farewell tour, the band remains active on a sporadic ad hoc basis, most recently with three performances at The Hollywood Bowl in July 2018.

Head Over Heels, a new musical featuring the songs of the Go-Go’s, ran on Broadway at the Hudson Theatre from July 26, 2018 to January 6, 2019.

Formed in Los Angeles in 1978, the Go-Go’s initially consisted of Belinda Carlisle (vocals), Jane Wiedlin (guitar, background vocals), Margot Olavarria (bass) and Elissa Bello (drums).

They were formed as a punk band and had roots in the L.A. punk community. They shared a rehearsal space with the Motels and Carlisle, under the name “Dottie Danger”, had briefly been a member of punk rock band the Germs. Due to a bout of mononucleosis, she left the Germs before playing a gig.

The band started out playing gigs at punk venues such as The Masque and the Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles and the Mabuhay Gardens in San Francisco alongside bands such as X, Fear, the Plugz and the Controllers. Charlotte Caffey (lead guitar, keyboards, background vocals) was added later in 1978, and in the summer of 1979, Gina Schock replaced Bello on drums. With these lineup changes, the group began moving towards their more-familiar power pop sound.

The group used to frequently meet at a now-defunct Denny’s on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, and it was there that they chose the band’s name.

During late 1979, the band recorded a five-song demo at Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles, and in 1980, they supported the British ska revival group Madness in both Los Angeles and England. The Go-Go’s subsequently spent half of 1980 touring England, earning a sizable following and releasing the demo version of “We Got the Beat” on Stiff Records, which became a minor UK hit.

During December 1980, original bassist Olavarria fell ill with hepatitis A and was replaced with Kathy Valentine, who had played guitar in bands such as Girlschool and the Textones. Valentine had not previously played bass guitar. Carlisle also related in her autobiography, Lips Unsealed, that according to the band’s view, another reason for Olavarria’s dismissal from the Go-Go’s was that she frequently missed rehearsals, due largely to her dissatisfaction with the band’s move away from punk and toward pop. In late 1982, Olavarria sued the remaining members of the band for wrongfully throwing her out. The suit was settled in 1984. Olavarria later joined Martin Atkins’ band Brian Brain.

The Go-Go’s signed to I.R.S. Records in April 1981. Their debut album, Beauty and the Beat, was a surprise hit: it topped the U.S. charts for six weeks in 1982 and eventually received a double platinum certification. The album was also a success outside the U.S. charting at No. 2 in Canada, where it received a platinum certification, and No. 27 in Australia. In 2003, the album was ranked No. 413 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. “Our Lips Are Sealed” and a new version of “We Got the Beat” were popular singles in North America in early 1982. During this period, the Go-Go’s started building a fanbase.

In 1982, the group was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best New Artist.

The follow-up album, Vacation, received mixed reviews and sold less than Beauty and the Beat. However, the album was certified gold in the U.S. and spawned another top 10 US hit with the title track. Other singles released from the album were “Get Up and Go” and “This Old Feeling”, neither of which made it into the Top 40. In 1983Vacation was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Packaging. During the album’s promotion, the group went on hiatus when Schock underwent surgery for a congenital heart defect.

In 1984, the group returned with the Martin Rushent-produced album Talk Show. The album tracks “Head over Heels” and “Turn to You” were both Top 40 hits in the US. Despite the favorable reception, the album sold less than the previous two, not reaching the top 10 and not receiving any certification.

Personality conflicts and creative differences within the group were also taking a toll, as were drug addiction problems for some band members. Wiedlin announced her departure from the group in October 1984. The band sought a replacement, selecting Paula Jean Brown (of Giant Sand) as their new bass guitarist, with Valentine moving to rhythm guitar. This lineup debuted at the 1985 Rock in Rio festival, playing two shows, but Carlisle and Caffey soon realized their hearts were no longer in the group and decided to disband the Go-Go’s in May 1985.

Solo careers

  • Belinda Carlisle became the most commercially successful solo artist of the band’s alumnae, scoring a string of mainstream pop singles in the mid and late ’80s, including the No. 3 US hit “Mad About You” (co-written by Paula Jean Brown) and “Heaven Is a Place on Earth“, a No. 1 hit in the U.S., the U.K. and elsewhere which became her signature song. She followed up “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” with “I Get Weak”, which peaked at No. 2 in the U.S. In the UK and Europe, Carlisle became even more successful, continuing to score top 10 hits through the mid ’90s; she racked up 19 top 40 hits in the UK between 1987 and 1997. In August 2001, Carlisle appeared in a nude layout, including a cover photo, in that month’s issue of Playboy magazine. In 2007, she released a French-language album titled Voila. She also appeared as a judge on the MTV show Rock the Cradle and toured during the summer of 2008 as part of the Regeneration Tour with The Human League, A Flock of Seagulls, ABC and Naked Eyes. Carlisle appeared on Dancing with the Stars on ABC in 2009, and starred in London’s West End production of the musical Hairspray. She wrote a memoir, Lips Unsealed, that was published in June 2010. In March 2013, Carlisle released her first U.S. single in 17 years, titled “Sun”. Carlisle’s eighth studio album, a selection of Gurmukhi chants titled Wilder Shores, was released in September 2017.
  • Jane Wiedlin released several solo albums including Fur, which featured a successful single, “Rush Hour“. Wiedlin also took acting roles in movies, including Bill and Ted’s Excellent AdventureClue and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, as well as doing cartoon voiceovers and a 2005 appearance on the VH1 show Surreal Life. In 1995, Wiedlin formed a band called froSTed (the capital ST paid homage to Star Trek), which released an album, Cold, before disbanding in 1998. In 2000, Wiedlin started her own label, Painful Discs, to release her solo album Kissproof World. She also became a legally ordained wedding officiant who performs ceremonies as “Reverend Sister Go-Go”. In 2011, Wiedlin was at work on a new solo album, and a comic book based on herself titled Lady Robotika. In 2017, Weidlin teamed up with US born, Italian multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Pietro Straccia to form a new psychedelic/pop/electronic duo Elettrodomestico. Their debut album, If You’re A Boy Or A Girl, was independently released on October 20, 2017.
  • Charlotte Caffey worked as a songwriter and session musician for Carlisle, and then in 1988 formed a band called the Graces that released the album Perfect View. After the Graces disbanded, she briefly formed a group called Astrid’s Mother. Anna Waronker and Caffey co-wrote “Ordinary Girl”, the theme song to the television series Clueless (61 episodes, 1996–1999). Caffey and Wiedlin performed several shows in 1997 as Twisted and Jaded, at which they played acoustic versions of Go-Go’s songs and debuted new material they had written. They also co-wrote “But for the Grace of God” (2000) for Keith Urban, which was their first No. 1 single on the charts. Caffey and Waronker also wrote the music for the rock opera Lovelace: A Rock Opera based on the life of porn star Linda Lovelace, which premiered in Los Angeles in October 2008.
  • Gina Schock released a self-titled album in 1988 with her band House of Schock, and she later formed the short-lived group K-Five. Schock co-wrote the title track for Miley Cyrus’s sophomore CD, Breakout, which debuted at No. 1 on the US Billboard 200 Charts in the summer of 2008. Schock also co-wrote several tracks on the 2009 debut album Kiss & Tell by Selena Gomez & the Scene.
  • Kathy Valentine returned to her blues-rock roots playing lead guitar with the BlueBonnets, which morphed into the Delphines with Dominique Davalos on lead vocals and bass. The Delphines released two CDs, The Delphines (1996) and Cosmic Speed (2001). Schock also joined the Delphines as drummer for a brief period. Valentine released a debut solo CD, titled Light Years, in September 2005. In 2006, she relocated to Austin, Texas, and produced a local female trio, Adrian and the Sickness, whose album BFD was released in 2009. Valentine reformed the BlueBonnets, releasing two albums with them, Boom Boom Boom Boom (2010) and Play Loud (2014), and continues production work in her home studio.

80s Studio albums:

  • Beauty and the Beat (1981)
  • Vacation (1982)
  • Talk Show (1984)

Videos:

  • Totally Go-Go’s – live December 1981 (1982)
  • Wild at the Greek – live concert (1984)
  • Prime Time – music video compilation (1985)

Comments are welcome on your 80s memories...