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Go Go back and listen to the Go-Go's

Go-Go's Hollywood Star
Damian Dovarganes
/
AP
The female band The Go-Go's, (from left) Kathy Valentine, Charlotte Caffey, Belinda Carlisle, Gina Schock and Jane Wiedlin are honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011, in Los Angeles.

If you ever find yourself in Cleveland, not only will you be mistaken for a model (according to Liz Lemon) you will have the chance to go to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. If you go now, you’ll finally see the Go-Go's in their rightful place in the Rock Hall.

Forty years after the release of their debut album Beauty and the Beat, 39 years after my brother bought the single “We Got the Beat,” and 15 years after they were initially eligible to be inducted to the Hall of Fame, they were finally inducted on October 30, 2021. I can only speculate as to why it took so long for the most successful all-women rock band of all time to be inducted into the Rock Hall. Perhaps they couldn’t fit them in over the years, what with the unofficial quota of (on average) of one woman or woman-fronted group inducted in each of those 15 years. You can draw your own conclusions from that.

I’m fairly certain the reason 2021 was the year they finally made the cut was because of the excellent documentary “The Go-Go's.” Released on Showtime in 2020, “The Go-Go's” tells the story of the all “girl” group and their rise from the LA punk scene of the late 1970s to touring the world, conquering MTV, and dominating the charts in the 1980s.

About the band

The Go-Gos started out in LA as a punk rockers. Per lead singer Belinda Carlisle, in the punk scene, “Anybody could do whatever they wanted, it was total freedom.” With original drummer Elissa Bello and original bass player Margot Olavarria, Jane Wiedlin and Belinda Carlisle formed the Go-Go's with the vision of being a new version of the Shangri La’s and the Shirelles, but they would be playing their own instruments.

Charlotte Caffey joined next, followed by Gina Schock, replacing Elissa Bello. Gina whipped the band into shape, with rehearsals and a driving beat that kicked their songs into overdrive.

Caffey gave the band their first signature song, writing “We Got the Beat” from a dream after watching a Twilight Zone marathon. Caffey was initially afraid to bring the song to the band for fear it was “just” a pop song. It was a pop song — and a great one that the band loved.

The Go-Go's next met up with Madness and The Specials, the popular ska bands from England, who invited The Go-Go's to London to tour with them. In true punk fashion, their manager Ginger Canzoneri sold her car and most of her other possessions to raise enough money for the band to get to London to tour with them.

Touring with Madness and The Specials was eye opening for the band. Audiences weren’t very receptive to a non-ska band, especially an all female one. The band took it as a challenge and honed their skills, tightening their music, somewhat mocking the audience with their performances.

It was on that tour that the band recorded “We Got the Beat,” keeping the musical publishing rights despite intense pressure to sell them. After returning from London, the band’s manager shopped the single around, but was told “all-girl bands just don’t sell records.” Nobody would sign them, until Miles Copland, the manager of The Police, signed them to his new label IRS records.

wegotthebeat.jpg
Katy Krapfl
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The single for "We Got The Beat," from Katy Krapfl's collection.

It was while on tour with The Police that their album “Beauty and the Beat” hit number 1 on the Billboard charts, outselling The Police’s “Ghost in the Machine.” That was the first time an all female band, who wrote their own songs and played their own instruments, hit #1 with their debut album.

The Go-Go’s Documentary

The documentary tells you their story, with footage ranging from shots of their gigs in small clubs to playing stadium gigs and Saturday Night Live. It shows them as the funny, talented and smart women they are, as complete, complex women. They are so much more than the bright, happy image they projected in their videos. As Gina Schock said, “we had a great time and partied. Like a band.” They fought. They had drug problems. They had a great time seeing the world (as an aside, I would love to have a drink with Gina Schock. She is a hoot).

Over and over they were asked by music journalists “do you get along?” What kind of a question is that? You can see how exhausting it must be to be asked if they are best friends rather than about their music. Eventually, money in the form of songwriting royalties came between them, and the band broke up.

The Go-Go’s have inspired countless young girls to play their own music, including Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill, who is also in the doc. Bands would come around in the 90s such as Hole, and the Breeders that were fronted by women and allowed their members to more than a “girl group,” and this documentary shows you how the Go-Go's paved the way for that.

But! That wasn’t the end of their story. The band re-formed and worked together on a Go-Go's juke box musical Head Over Heels that played on Broadway in 2018 and 2019. The Go-Go's keep playing music and innovating. And now that their story has been told, they are officially be enshrined as members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Hear their music featured all this week on Iowa Public Radio during Studio One Tracks from 7-10 p.m, and mark your calendars for a special Ladies Night edition of Studio One Tracks on Tuesday, March 8 for International Women’s Day as we celebrate the music of the Go-Go’s and other female artists we love.

Katy Krapfl
Katy is a music fan living in Iowa. She's got a record collection including but not limited to, the Go-Go's "We Got The Beat" single from when it was originally pressed to vinyl.