Beauty And The Beat, Vacation and Talk Show
Re-issues of the classic New Wave outfit’s first three albums, the Go-Go’s début spread over two discs with bonus tracks with a full live show taken from the Metro Boston and the other two LPs sport a plethora of bonus tracks. Ian Canty looks back at the water-skiing cheerleaders who stormed America
They may have been all dressed up like a bit of frothy pop fun in their heyday, but the Go-Gos came through the LA Punk scene the hard way and were tough with it. Main songwriter Charlotte Caffey got her start playing bass in the Eyes, Jane Wiedlin watched what was going on while hiding under the alias “Jane Drano” and singer Belinda Carlisle drummed for an early version of the Germs as Dottie Danger (Kathy Valentine was at that time helming the more pop orientated Textones). The duo of Jane and Belinda banded together in 1978 with Margot Olavarria on bass and Elissa Bello on drums (the last two were quickly replaced by Valentine and Gina Schlock), with Caffey being the last to come on-board for the “classic” line up of the band.
“We Got The Beat” was their statement of intent and a warning to the boys that there was a new she sheriff in town. It came out on Stiff in the UK after the band had toured with the Specials and Madness, which also resulted in the Jane Wiedlin/Terry Hall song “Our Lips Our Sealed”, the breakthrough hit single in their homeland. Though having that “fun” image the girls were as dangerous on the road as Led Zeppelin and many a potential male groupie was left shaken and stirred in their wake! Not anywhere near as confrontational and feminist on vinyl as the Raincoats or the Slits, nevertheless the Go-Gos demanded to be judged equally.
“Beauty And The Beat” is still today as fresh as a newly mown lawn: the perfect summer record full of the kind of youthful vigour that made the band so attractive, even though it has darker moments. “This Town” was their farewell to the LA Punk scene, admitting the grime beneath the glitter in Hollywood and “Automatic” isn’t really that far away from what X were doing at the time, a song about a robotic lost soul. Producer Richard Gottehrer smoothed off a few raw edges, but there was enough still there to set them well apart from the US MOR pop. Overall the irrepressible energy of the band bowled most people over when they were faced with the likes of “Skidmarks On My Heart” and “Tonight”. The American public fell in love with the record (curiously the UK remained unreceptive: their 1994 comeback single “The Whole World’s Lost It’s Head” remains their biggest hit in the British charts) and took it all the way to number one and as 1982 dawned they were vying with the failing Blondie hit machine for the title of top New Wave outfit in the New World.
This edition of that début neatly collects up all the odds and ends of the Go-Gos early career. Four tracks from 1979 performances at legendary Punk hangout the Mabuhay, single mixes, rehearsal and demos make for a comprehensive document and you can see the work-in-progress as the band go from scrappy punk rock to a more pop sound, all the while keeping their natural verve. Disc 2 is a full live show from the Boston Metro taped on 20th August 1981 that showcases the album and newer material which would feature in the next album “Vacation”. It’s a good live recording, which along with the first disc and very detailed and informative sleeve-notes makes for a great collection.
Released in August 1982, “Vacation” is a bit in the old “difficult second album” syndrome, the band had been “partying” hard and also quarrelling a lot too on the back of their huge domestic success. They were hidden up in Malibu to get them away from their “bad habits” whilst recording and as a consequence this album does seem a bit less focussed than the first, only boasting one big hit in the title track which got to number 8 in the US charts. Pressure was on from the record company for a quick follow up to keep the success of the debut going meaning that old songs were pulled out from where they could get them; “Vacation” itself was an old Textones number adjusted by Caffey, “He’s So Strange” dated right back to their punk rock days and even the Capitols ancient “Cool Jerk” was exhumed and given an 80s sheen.
Where it scores is in a continuation of the carefree spirit of the first record. “Girl Of 100 Lists” is delicious, “Get Up and Go” careers along in an exhilarating manner and “Beatnik Beach” brings the Go-Gos back to the punk rock that birthed them. Though the LP was not as a big a hit as “Beauty And The Beat”, “Vacation” still shifted a considerable amount of vinyl, hitting 8 in the Billboard chart. Ironically, being on a treadmill of success and indulging in draining “leisure” activities, a vacation was exactly what they needed at the time.
Things were happening so fast for the Go-Gos, something had to give. Drummer Gina Schlock was hospitalised with a heart defect and this forced the band to take a step back. Opting to record in the UK this time round with New Wave specialist Martin Rushent, “Talk Show” appeared in 1984 with the producer’s current sonic vision miles away from his work with the Go-Gos’ heroes Buzzcocks. He was entranced with synthesised sound and in truth this was at odds with the girls’ guitar/bass/drums roots. The robot sound didn’t really suit their natural joy-de-vivre.
Not being ones to be bulldozed by anyone, the Go-Gos sidestepped the gimmickry to remain true(ish) to their original vision by keeping their crunchy guitars and dreamy harmonies intact. “Turn To You” is amongst the best things they ever did – a snappy, catchy rollercoaster of a tune. Not that they had stood still either – “You Thought” is an excellent modern ballad (Belinda really did have a good set of pipes, a charming voice), “Yes And No” comes complete with a lovely ringing guitar riff and “Talk Show” in summary is another tasty concoction. The record was another success in the US but made no headway over here – it was probably a bit too tough for the British Charts in 1984. This disc is completed with some live tracks of the same vintage along with 3 songs recorded when they came back 10 years later (including the UK hit “The Whole World’s Lost It’s Head”) and is a bit of a revelation – the Go-Gos left us with a quality record.
The Go-Gos are often forgotten over here in the UK when it comes to the New Wave/Post Punk pantheon which is grossly unfair as they had pop smarts that the NME raincoat/”New Pop” crowd would have killed for. These albums are ample proof and if you’re not familiar with them, now’s the time to change that.
New interviews with the band conducted Paul Myers helps shed light on each stage of the Go-Gos tumultuous career and the deluxe issues presented here give a round and considered look back at one of Pop’s best bands.
The Go-Gos are on Facebook here
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here