The Go-Gos – an underappreciated group

The Go-Gos are the first popular all female band that played their own instruments and wrote their own songs. There were earlier female bands, but this New Wave group catapulted to the top of the charts faster than others and belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A Showtime documentary called “The Go-Gos,” produced by Alison Eastwood, provides a great look into the band.

The Go-Gos are usually identified by the five members when they hit it big – Belinda Carlisle (lead singer), Jane Wiedlin (rhythm guitar), Charlotte Caffey (lead guitarist and keyboards), Kathy Valentine (bass guitar) and Gina Schock (drummer).

Ironically, they started as a punk rock band as the initial members felt they were not part of any other culture. Their initial drummer was Elissa Bello and initial bassist was Margot Olavarria. Even more surprising, none of the four initial members knew how to play instruments. Fortunately, in punk rock, belng a bad musician was not a total liability. So, they played and learned. Caffey joined them and brought musicianship and song writing. And, when Bello left due to a paying career, she was replaced by Schock who had been drumming for years. Valentine would replace Olavarria later.

They hit it off with Madness and The Specials, two Ska revival UK punk rock bands, when they played in the US. So, The Go-Gos joined these groups on a tour of Scotland. It should be noted their first manager Ginger Canzoneri sold everything to underwrite their UK trip. Now, the Ska bands attracted a white nationalist fan base that did not like non-Scots, Americans and women playing in a band, so the group took a lot of grief which toughened them and made them a more cohesive group.

They released “We’ve got the beat” as a single under Stiff Records in the UK. When they returned to the US, they signed with IRS Records and released their double platinum album “Beauty and the Beat” which soared to #1 on the Billboard charts. The album included their hit single and “Our lips are sealed,” “Get up and go,” and “This old feeling.”

They would release “Vacation” as their second album, whose biggest hit was the title cover. “Talk Show” followed, but by that time, the band was having troubles. Personal differences, song writing revenue sharing and drug issues led to the eventual split. Wiedlin left and was replaced by Paula Jean Brown, but the band would not last long after that.

The band would break up in the mid-1980s, but tour off and on in the 1990s through today. There was even a Broadway show called “Head over Heels” about the band. Carlisle would go on to have a successful solo career and the others would form or join bands. Yet, they would reconvene to celebrate and re-perforn what made them great.

The Go-Gos had a fun, energetic sound. They also played with a joie de vivre. They influenced many a young girl to strive to be a musician or artist or follow a passion. Seeing someone like you on stage is an inspiration.

Do you think they deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. What are your favorite songs or memories?

14 thoughts on “The Go-Gos – an underappreciated group

  1. Note to Readers: Watching the documentary, it is apparent women doing what has been a male dominated industry poses extra challenges. And, not just from the white nationalists in Scotland The Go-Gos came across.

    Just like it is very difficult for a white person to know what a black person experiences every day, it is difficult for a man to know what a woman faces every day. The Go-Gos faced obstacles from labels who turned them down, media who denounced their efforts and people who tried to take advantage of them.

  2. I call myself a passionate kid of the 80s but I have never heard of that group before. I listened to some of the songs you mentioned but all are new to me. Thanks for this post!

    • Erika, they were hugely popular for a few years. I applaud their chutzpah for setting up a band when none could play instruments. From what they said, the rhythm guitarist had two weeks of guitar lessons at age 12, but that was the best they could do. Keith

      • That’s really courageous or crazy… and that is what this world needs, people who believe that nothing is impossible! They proved it!

      • Erika, so true. They were not fearful of falling on their face. Maybe that contributed to the name of the group – they got up and went go.Keith

      • That could have ended so badly. I’m much more conservative (meaning prudent, not prudish or corrupt) and would really freak out doing that. That they did does not ruin their sound for me.

      • They took a huge chance, but they were more than a band, they provided community. So, bravery is safer when people are with you every step of the way.

  3. Cxn: her name was Belinda, not Brenda, at least on stage. Also, Head Over Heels was the name of one of their better songs, but not one of the real big ones.

    “Our Lips are Sealed” was great, and I feel certain it was inspired by them having to deal with sour-grapes backstabbers.

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