The Go-Go's have always written their own songs, and this was composed by their three primary songwriters: Kathy Valentine, Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey. Wiedlin told Songfacts: "'Vacation' was Kathy's song, and Kathy was the last Go-Go to join. She joined at the beginning of '81 and she brought that song with her from her band, The Textones. We really loved the song, but it didn't really have a chorus, so Charlotte and I ended up working with Kathy a little bit more on the song, and sort of Go-Go-fying it, basically adding the chorus. But that storyline was one about having a summer romance, thinking that it was all just for fun and games, and then later realizing that you are actually in love."
The iconic video shows The Go-Go's water skiing, although it's pretty obvious that the girls themselves are not in the water. They look a little spaced-out at times in the video, and Wiedlin told us why: "Well, we were at the A&M sound stage, and it was a big budget video, because of course by that time we were really popular, because it was our second album, and our first album had sold like, I don't know, over two million copies or something. So we had a lot of money to do the video, which was the first time for us, because the other videos we just spent, like $5,000 on or something.
And it was fun, but it was a way of working that we weren't accustomed to. And I remember it being a really long day, like a 14-hour day, and about eight hours into it we all were getting really bored and restless, so we started drinking. But by the time they actually shot the scene where we're on the water skis, skiing one-handed and waving and stuff, we were all really looped. It's so funny, if you look at us, look in our eyes in those parts, we're all like cross-eyed drunk.
Go-Go's always made fun of everything. So of course, we were making fun of the whole thing all along. And we were very resistant to following orders, or to acting, because we weren't actors. But yeah, even thought we had become America's sweethearts, we were still basically punk rockers at heart." (Check out our interview with Jane Wiedlin, where she talks about why the Go-Go's are like Twinkies.)
TV shows that have used this song include The Simpsons, Rugrats, Duckman and Scrubs. It was also used in the movie Fahrenheit 9/11 and performed by Kelly Clarkson to open the 2003 movie From Justin To Kelly.
The Go-Go's were the most successful all-girl pop group to write their own songs, but this success took a toll on the band and they broke up in 1984, just three years after their first album came out. After re-forming in 1990, they stayed together on-and-off until their farewell tour in 2010.
They became very famous very fast, but they also worked for it, playing gnarly punk clubs in Los Angeles for a few years before getting a record deal. So how did this punk group end up with some of the best-remembered pop hits of the '80s? In our interview with Charlotte Caffey, she explained: "When I brought in the songs to The Go-Go's for the first time, they were very melodic and very pop. And it was terrifying to bring them in. Because I was like, Oh my God, they're gonna shoot me down, this is gonna be horrible, blah blah blah. But what we did with them was kind of brilliant. We took those pop songs and those melodies and, with our beginning kind of inability to play, still made them great. You know, like maybe an early Green Day, there's maybe a roughness, even though they play very well. But there's like distorted guitars playing really pop melodies. That's exactly what we did. And so I never wavered in my songwriting. We were just a beginning band trying to find ourselves, and then that first record was produced a certain way that we weren't happy about in the beginning, but then we were fine with afterwards."
"I wrote it when I was 21 years old, on an airplane napkin," Kathy Valentine told The New York Times in 2018. "Because we'd been working so hard we didn't have the opportunity to write as many songs for the second record as for the first, and I thought this seemed perfect for the Go-Go's." She added: "If I had to boil down the message, it would be: Learn who you are, accept who you are. It’s the same lesson I would teach my daughter - it's just a basic truth."
Richard Gottehrer, who produced the group's first two albums, weighed in on the tune: "'Vacation' was an anomaly on the second album, which really wasn't as good as the first one. They were queens of the LA world and I'm sure they had boyfriends, girlfriends, whatever, along with people giving them substances, and that is reflected in the music. I wish it'd get to the chorus sooner but I guess you needed to set up the story; the song is very good, but the chorus is amazingly good."
This was featured in The Go-Go's-themed Broadway musical Head Over Heels, which debuted in July 2018. Michael Mayer, the show's director, spoke about adapting the song, which was given a new vocal arrangement: "It's always going to be a tricky song because of the cognitive dissonance between the tempo, the melody and the lyric. We thought that maybe it should be a ballad so that you deliver this sort of rueful lyric with a melancholy music. We tried that and you just want to scream, it’s so wrong - it's not in the DNA of the song."
Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn June 27th 1982, "Vacation" by the Go-Gos entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #67; and on August 15th, 1982 it peaked at #8 (for 3 weeks) and spent 14 weeks on the Top 100... Between 1981 and 1984 the quintet had seven Top 100 records; two made the Top 10 with "We Got The Beat", it reached #2 for three weeks in 1982.
Theresa from Murfreesboro, TnThe perfect summer song.
Robert from Houston, Tx"The song itself is king." Thank God for an engineer who listens!
John from North Hollywood, CaWhen I was attending audio engineering school in the summer of 1999, this song was cited as an example of the idea that while audio quality is important, the song itself is king. When songs are in production, it is common for performers and producers to take home rough mixes of songs, in those days it was on cassette. These mixes were usually done very quickly. Reportedly in the case of this song, everyone loved one particular rough mix, but for some reason they found it impossible to get the same mix again, so the song as it appears on the single is mastered from a cassette rough mix. It was a hit anyway, despite the sonic shortcomings.