Listen to this track of a summer romance gone wrong from America’s Sweethearts, and the first ladies of 80s punk pop radio-friendliness The Go-Go’s. It’s their storming 1982 hit single “Vacation” as taken from the album of the same name, Vacation, a follow-up to their debut Beauty and the Beat, which is now celebrating its 30th (!) year. If you’re looking for a soundtrack to a bittersweet summer, then surely this is an essential addition, written by guitarists Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffrey, and bassist Kathy Valentine.
The Go-Go’s were a formidable radio singles act by the time this song hit the airwaves. They were signed to Miles Copeland’s I.R.S Records, with this single in particular making its mark not only on the charts as one of the first ‘cassette singles’ on the market, but also on pop culture as a whole many years after its chart action had ended. The song appeared in Michael Moore’s Farenheit 911, on The Simpsons, and covered by American Idol’s Kelly Clarkson, among many other examples.
Yet, before they made their cultural impact, they had a rough grind getting there. The pop industry even in 1982 was a pretty rough grist mill. And the pressures of success were not easy to bear, least of all for a group of women in their early 20s. Read more
Before The Bangles, Kenickie, The Donnas, or Le Tigre, there were the Go-Gos. Here’s a clip of the Go-Gos performing their 1984 hit “Head Over Heels” taken from their album Talk Show.
Of their hits, this one is my favourite. It’s got everything – a great lead vocal from Belinda Carlisle, a memorable piano riff, pure sugar-rush “ah-ah” girl backing vocals (I’m a sucker for that). And I love the bass guitar break with the whip-crack drums in the instrumental section. Fantastic. It’s one of the best pop songs of the decade. During their initial introduction with their first record, they were known as “America’s Sweethearts” by Rolling Stone Magazine. I know I had a crush on them!
The band were signed to Miles Copeland’s IRS label after being on the California punk scene at the end of the 1970s when they were still in their teens. Having signed with Copeland who was based in England, the group moved to the UK briefly and toured first with Madness, and then later with the Police , a band for which Miles’ brother Stewart was drummer. While together, the group would make solid pop records while also paving the way for similar bands to do the same before breaking up by the mid-80s. Lead singer Belinda Carlisle would become a polished solo pop singer by the end of the decade , and guitarist Jane Wiedlin would have hits of her own (“Rush Hour” being my favourite), along with collaborations with Sparks, and with Terry Hall, formerly of the Specials.
I recently picked up a Go-Gos compilation album which is actually a VH1 Behind the Music tie-in: VH1 Behind the Music: Go-Go’s Collection. I generally try and steer clear of compilations which have the word “collection” in the title. But it’s actually a great little compilation, with 17 tracks taken from the band’s first three albums. I was surprised at how raw their sound was, since I grew up hearing the hits like “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “Vacation” which were more pop records than rock records. But, the Go-Gos were a product of punk, small little scenes on the West Coast when anyone could get up on stage and be a band. Their sound when taken in as a whole is not unlike 60s girl-group the Angels (“My Boyfriend’s Back”) meets Mancunian punk founding fathers Buzzcocks. Like the best pop-punk bands, they made compact little songs with simple and effective riffs and hooks. And Gina Schock is a great drummer.
The group reconvened more recently for a new record God Bless The Go-Go’s.
Here’s the Go-Gos MySpace page for more information and more music.