On July 8, 1981, the Go-Go released their first album, “Beauty and the Beat”. To call the LP a defining musical moment would be to underestimate the influence of the album.
Musically, the mix of edgy pop, gritty punk, rock and harmonic girl group glow was a revelation. The five members – singer Belinda Carlisle, guitarists Charlotte Caffey and Jane Wiedlin, bassist Kathy Valentine and drummer Gina Schock – were cool and confident on stage. They were talented women who made music in their own way, went their own way and showed legions of fans that they too could carve out a place for themselves anywhere.
Thematically, the band softened the provocative stance of punk with lyrics related to everyday life. Like the Go-Goes themselves, the characters in “Beauty and the Beat” were smart and intelligent. Even if things didn’t go as planned – for example, “You can’t walk in your sleep” uses the extended metaphor of insomnia and sleep disturbance (relatable!) Feeling gloomy or trapped.
For example, the most personal and introverted songs offer complexity and the knowledge that the gap between what you want – and what you get – can be vast. “How Much More” is smoldering with nostalgia, as well as a bit of jealousy and self-loathing (“She looks good / Just like I would / If it could be me”) while the iconic “Lust to Love âis about the universal experience of falling in love with someone (and losingâ control of the game â) that was meant to be an emotionless adventure.
Yet the characters in “Beauty and the Beat” have agency and are not passive participants in any life experience. The romantic co-conspirators of “Our Lips Are Sealed” use (what else?) The Silent Cure to fight rumors or jealousy. And the main character of âFading Fastâ tries to convince himself that an ex is a distant stranger (âAre you just another boy / Who I met a long time ago?â) Because they’re a jerk : “You had me all to yourself / I thought you were such a prize / I finally came to my senses / When I heard one lie too many.”
“Beauty and the Beat” also updates common lyrical imagery for the modern era. This collision of classical and contemporary sounds fresh: “We Got the Beat” mentions dance moves such as Watusi and Pony as inspirations for today’s youth, while “Skidmarks on My Heart” uses a metaphor from the car to talk to a faltering relationship torpedoed by personality differences with a future ex: “I buy you cologne / You want axle grease / You say take a mechanic / I say take a shrink. ” And âThis Townâ showcases the courage and glamor of their hometown of LA, with piercing observations and incisive commentary.
Despite high visibility on the LA club circuit, the Go-Go’s initially struggled to land a recording deal. âWe were told, ‘We love you. We can see that everyone loves you, but there has never been an all-girl group that has been great. I mean, you’ve had some cult hits, like the Runaways and Fanny, but in terms of having a great chance of success, because you’re all women, there’s never been anything before, you know, like you, so I’m sorry we’ll move on, âCarlisle said Yahoo Entertainment in 2020.
There are several layers to the sexism that permeates this quote. A past lack of (perceived) success should not be an indication of future musical fortunes. Blaming the lack of precedent for conveying something that sounds new or different is why music often sounds so seamless – and why many non-cis men have to work twice as hard to be successful.
More than that, the idea that only one woman (or group of women) can be successful at a time is an unfortunately common (and pernicious) sentiment. It causes artists to pit against each other – Madonna vs. Cyndi Lauper, Britney Spears vs. Christina Aguilera, Taylor Swift vs. Katy Perry – and negates opportunities for other acts. Moreover, it is absurd, insulting and condescending to regard women as some kind of monolith. As has been said many times, in so many words, “fronted female” or “women rocker” is not a genre.
And for Go-Go’s to transcend that Stone Age mindset, it was pretty impressive. But the fact that the Go-Go’s so skillfully distinguished between pop, rock, and punk made them so unique. Today, countless bands mix these influences; however, at the time, this fusion of sounds and scenes gave them a distinct advantage.
“To me that’s still what our band is: we have these pop melodies, but we have this punk motivation, the undercurrent of being a punk band,” said drummer Gina Schock. NPR Music in 2020. “I feel like our music is still like this, but this debut album sounds pretty pop.”
For the latter, credit can go to “Beauty and the Beat” producer Richard Gottehrer, who co-wrote the indelible ’60s hits “My Boyfriend’s Back” and “I Want Candy” and also produced the first two albums. by Blondie, in Beat form. âAt first, his approach to the album – the songs were slower and more polished than the Go-Go’s were used to – was difficult for the band to embrace.
âWe were crying and cursing him, and it didn’t even look like us, because it didn’t look like us live,â Charlotte Caffey told NPR Music in 2020. âA few months later when we finally gotâ Our Lips â Are Sealed ‘on the radio, so I understood, at that point, what he was trying to accomplish: people would listen to us. “
It’s hard to believe now, but it wasn’t necessarily obvious. To illustrate how new Go-Goes were in 1981, it’s instructive to look at the rock charts of the time. For example, the band’s first single, “Our Lips Are Sealed,” peaked at No. 15 on Billboard’s Rock Top Tracks charts for the week of December 5, 1981.
That week, the Go-Go’s were the highest-ranked girl group on the table; every song in front of them was by a male solo artist or an all-male group. Overall, only nine out of 60 songs (or 15%) featured female singers. The only other prominent women to feature in the overall top 60 were Stevie Nicks (who had three songs, all from her debut album “Bella Donna”), Pat Benatar, Rindy Ross of Quarterflash, and Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders.
There were small signs that things were changing: That same week, Plasmatics and Joan Jett were new additions to the chart. However, when the band’s second single, “We Got the Beat” reached No. 7 on the rock singles charts on April 17, 1982, things were still dominated by men. Joan Jett had two songs in the top 20, while a live song by Stevie Nicks, the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” co-ed and one song each by Bonnie Raitt and Quarterflash were. This time only 11.7% of the rock chart had a female vocal presence.
There has never been any doubt that “Beauty and the Beat” has a permanent place in the history of music. In March 1982, the album reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 (then known as Top LPs & Tape Chart), where it remained for six consecutive weeks. It was the first album released by an all-female group who played their own instruments and wrote their own songs to top the Billboard Albums chart. However, 40 years later, the Go-Go are still the only all-girl group to have achieved this feat, which clearly shows how far the music has yet to go.
Still, the group’s punk verve helped bring out rock and pop music from the staid 1970s and into the 80s more colorful and dancing. The Go-Go’s preceded the rise of invading British bands such as Duran Duran and Culture Club, pop greats Madonna and Michael Jackson, and a whole wave of shameless new wave acts. The fact that the Go-Go’s are finally inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year is an important step in recognizing not only their cultural influence, but also their enduring status as music pioneers.