The Go-Go's are the first all-girl band to write the songs and play the instruments on a #1 US album: their debut Beauty and the Beat. The Bangles came close with Different Light in 1986, but only reached #2. The Dixie Chicks got there in 1999 with their album Fly.
The group formed in 1978 in Los Angeles, California. Frontwoman Belinda Carlisle was briefly a member of the influential punk band The Germs, but Charlotte Caffey was the only member with much experience - she had been in a band called The Eyes. The group learned on the fly with constant gigs.
Early on, The Go-Go's played several seminal punk venues across Los Angeles, including Whisky A Go Go and The Masque. In a Songfacts interview, Go-Go's guitarist Charlotte Caffey
spoke about the latter venue: "The Masque was incredible. It was filthy and dirty, it was incredible. There was a feeling... I don't even know how to explain it. It was electric. And, oh, man, it was a really great thing to experience."
In 1980, Go-Go's bassist Margot Olaverria fell ill with hepatitis A and was replaced by Kathy Valentine. Alongside her illness, Olaverria decided to step down because she was unhappy with the band's transition from punk to pop. In a Songfacts interview, Go-Go's guitarist Jane Wiedlin
explained why the band decided to make the move towards pop music: "We, from the beginning, were always kind of enamored with the pop/punk style, like our favorite band, the band that we always tried to emulate was The Buzzcocks, who had that great pop song done in a punky style. So that was kind of what we were going for from the beginning. And for the first few years when we were just learning how to play, I think we sounded probably a lot worse than we meant to, just because we didn't know what we were doing. And then, slowly as we learned to play, the songs started coming out more and more. It was always trying to sort of straddle the line between pop and punk."
They made the cover of Rolling Stone twice. The first was in the August 5, 1982 issue with the headline "Go-Go's Put Out." The photo was taken by Annie Leibovitz, who had them put on hanes underwear and T-shirts. The second cover was the July 5, 1984 issue - they were fully clothed for that one.
In 1981, the Go-Go's signed to I.R.S. Records, the label formed by The Police manager Miles Copeland. They were a good find: In 1982, their debut album Beauty and the Beat topped the US Albums chart for six weeks. For Charlotte Caffey, the album remains close to her heart. "I have a very strong connection to the first record, because that record was written without any kind of pressure," she told Songfacts. "We were having the time of our lives back in Hollywood in that little punk scene, it was so exhilarating and fun."
Jane Wiedlin had an affair with The Specials
' front man, Terry Hall. Wiedlin told us the Go-Go's track, "Our Lips Are Sealed
," was inspired by the romance. "I met Terry Hall, the singer of The Specials, and ended up having kind of a romance," she explained in her Songfacts interview. "He sent me the lyrics to 'Our Lips Are Sealed' later in the mail, and it was kind of about our relationship, because he had a girlfriend at home and all this other stuff. So it was all very dramatic. I really liked the lyrics, so I finished the lyrics and wrote the music to it, and the rest is history. And then his band, The Fun Boy Three, ended up recording it, too - they did a really great version of it, also. It was a lot gloomier than the Go-Go's version."
Creative differences, personal conflicts and drug addictions lead to the disbanding of the Go-Go's in 1985. Their drummer, Gina Schock, told LA Reader: "We really did try [to continue], but everybody was so f--ked up on drugs then." In 2010, Carlisle elaborated on the seriousness of her substance abuse to PopEater. Carlisle revealed she was hooked on cocaine for 30 years and only managed to get clean in 2005: "I made so many promises to so many people so many times through the years that I was going to stop and I couldn't keep it and I knew it deep down inside. I hit a lot of bottoms. I don't know why it took me so long. I guess I just wasn't ready. It was weird when I quit. I was struck. I just knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would be dead if I continued. I just knew it came down to choosing life or death, and I chose life. I was at the end of a three-day binge. I remember thinking how humiliating it would be for my son to have his mom die in a hotel room of a cocaine overdose. That's pretty low. I knew if I didn't stop I'd be dead. You can't be my age and doing the amount of cocaine I was doing."
John Belushi of Saturday Night Live fame was an early supporter of the group and introduced them when they played the Peppermint Lounge in New York City in 1981 before their first album was released. The band was devastated when he died of a drug overdose in 1982 just before their debut album hit #1.
In 1990, the Go-Go's reunited to play a benefit concert for the California Environmental Protection Act and embarked on a 20-date reunion tour. In 1994, the band released a retrospective, Return to the Valley of The Go-Go's
, which featured three new studio recordings: "Good Girl," "Beautiful" and "The Whole World Lost Its Head
." Wiedlin told Songfacts this latter track initially started out as a bit of fun between Valentine and herself: "We were sitting around just sort of musing about how nutty the world has become, and I think Kathy said, 'Well, what about this line for a title: The Whole World Lost Its Head?' And I was like, hmmm, seems kind of worthy. I was actually kind of unsure about it as a title, because it just wasn't that easy to say and stuff. But then we just started, for fun, writing all these silly lyrics - silly but true, and topical. The next thing you know the song was written and it was really just sort of an exercise in having a good time as writers. So we went back to it and said, 'Okay, well, this is actually a real song now. So let's hone it a little.' So we ended up taking out some of the silliest lines. Sometimes I regret it though, because I know we had one line - because I'm such a Star Trek
fanatic - about plastic surgeons giving everyone Spock ears. And we ended up taking that one out, but now I wish we'd left it in. I still crack up when I think about that line."
In 1997, Schock sued her fellow band members, claiming she had not received full royalties since 1986. The suit was resolved in 1999.
In 2001, the Go-Go's released their first studio album in 17 years, God Bless The Go-Go's
. Green Day
frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, co-wrote the album's lead single, "Unforgiven." The cover art for God Bless The Go-Go's
sparked controversy because it showed The Go-Go's posing as the Virgin Mary. The US Catholic League president William Donohue criticized the band for resorting to "cheap ploys." A spokesperson responded on behalf of the Go-Go's: "These are all religious girls. They believe that God is giving them a second chance. They feel that they've been blessed."
In her Songfacts interview, Wiedlin elaborated on her spirituality: "I was raised Catholic. And then when I was a teenager, all of a sudden, my whole family just decided we really didn't believe it anymore. Including my parents. So I went from being a really spiritually and traditionally based religious person, to not knowing what the heck was going on. And kind of feeling probably agnostic, then I became atheist, because I was disillusioned for a long time. And then in the last 10 years or so, I sort of softened up my stance on that, and now I'm back to being agnostic. I really think in this day and age, there's no way to really know, spiritually, what the heck's going on. I am a person who has strong morals, and I believe in morality and being a good person. But as far as literal spiritual beliefs and religious beliefs, I don't see how anyone could know for sure."
In 2011, The Go-Go's embarked on the Ladies Gone Wild tour to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the release of Beauty and the Beat. That same year, they received the 2,444th star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. It is located where the punk club The Masque used to stand.
The Go-Go's have success individually as well. Belinda Carlisle had a string of hits throughout the '80s and '90s, including "Mad About You
" and the #1 smash "Heaven Is A Place On Earth
." In 2009, she appeared on Dancing with the Stars
and in 2010, released her autobiography, Lips Unsealed
Alongside a solo music career, Jane Wiedlin took up acting and appeared in several films, including Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure
and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
. In 2010, she launched a comic book based on herself, titled Lady Robotika
Charlotte Caffey continued to work as a songwriter and session musician and composed the music for Lovelace: A Rock Opera
, which is based on the life of the porn star Linda Lovelace.
Gina Schock also remained in music and has wrote songs for the likes of Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez.
Kathy Valentine went on to form the blues band Blue Bonnets.
Speaking to Spinner in 2013, Belinda Carlisle described what each member brought to the band. "Charlotte had a certain guitar sound," she said. "Kathy had a rock 'n' roll sensibility. Gina's a really solid drummer with a distinctive sound. Jane [brought] her songwriting and her quirkiness. And the blend of my voice, which isn't a great voice but it's distinctive."
Their songs inspired the musical Head Over Heels
, named for their 1984 hit
, which opened on Broadway in 2018.
In 1982, they toured with The Police, who were supporting their album Ghost In The Machine. Unlike their trek with INXS, there wasn't much fraternizing on this tour, but The Police were very supportive. According to Kathy Valentine, one night before they went on, Sting came into the Go-Go's dressing room to celebrate with bottles of champagne. The occasion: Beauty And The Beat had passed Ghost In The Machine on the albums chart. On stage that night, Sting congratulated the Go-Go's on the accomplishment.
They don't split songwriting credits equally which became a major source of friction when their first royalty checks came in. Drummer Gina Schock and lead singer Belinda Carlisle earned a lot less than Charlotte Caffey and Jane Wiedlin, who wrote most of the songs on their debut album. This busted up their "we're in this together" mindset and was never really resolved. Relations in the band got more contentious, leading to their split in 1985.
They plenty of short-term relationships on the road, but didn't have groupies.