The Go-Go's still have the beat, but the beat will no longer go on: The group is calling it quits after decades together.
The group's sound epitomized the New Wave era of the early '80s. The Go-Go's combined '60s beach music fandom with a spunky punk-rock DIY attitude, created catchy tunes like “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “We Got the Beat,” and turned their debut 1981 album Beauty and the Beat into solid double platinum as the number-one album on the Billboard Top 200.
While the band would record two successive follow-up albums, Vacation (1982) and Talk Show (1984) with two more Top 20 albums and a few more Top 40 hits, their initial fame appeared to come too fast and too soon as documented drug use and infighting led to the group’s inevitable decline only five years after going to the top.
The quintet of singer Belinda Carlisle, rhythm guitarist Jane Wiedlin, lead guitarist Charlotte Caffey, drummer Gina Shock, and bass player Kathy Valentine, none the less trail-blazed their way to the top and climbed higher on the charts than any previous all-female band.
Now, 38 years after their meteoric rise, the reality of a Go-Go's farewell tour has come to fruition. The idea was one the band had decided upon five years ago, but due to Wiedlin needing recovery time from a hiking injury, it was delayed.
Three weeks into the 19-gig “Going, Going, Gone” tour, the Go-Go's, minus Valentine plus veteran bassist Abby Travis are soaking up the experience of playing one last time before adoring fans.
“You know, getting old sucks, but there are some really good things about it,” offers up Wiedlin. “You have the capacity to say, ‘Wow, this is a really great moment.’ I really lacked that back when we were younger and we were thinking about the future. There is nothing like being on stage and have the whole audience being really happy and having a great night.”
The farewell tour will stop at Comerica Theatre this Thursday, August 24, before the band winds things up a few days later at the legendary Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.
And while the band had its ups and downs throughout its three-plus decades, the symbiotic relationship of like-minded members to be more than objectified female pop singers served them well, initially.
“I would have to say there were many times in the 38 years we were really at odds before we went on stage, but we go on stage and it just clicks, because there is something that ignites when we start playing. The live performance is the glue that has held us together,” adds Caffey.
The band was born out of the nascent LA punk scene in 1978. After some initial lineup changes, the five young women paid their dues in legendary, seedy back-street venues such as The Masque and Whiskey A Go Go in West Hollywood on the Sunset Strip.
It was in July 1980 the Go-Go's began a series of mini-tours opening for the Specials and Madness in LA, and then in the U.K. The release of a Caffey-penned song, “We Got the Beat,” released on the U.K. Stiff Records label, was followed by more touring. The bands they supported appreciated them, but not always the fans, Wiedlin says. In England, some people showing up to punk shows in those days were members of the whites-only National Front.
“You can imagine they were not that excited about seeing a punk-rock band with American girls,” recalls Wiedlin. “So we got beer bottles thrown at us every night on these tours, and then we would cry and after the shows we’d go hang out with Madness and the Specials on crazy pub crawls, so there was a lot of drinking.”
Miles Copeland, founder of IRS Records and manager of the Police, would sign the band in April 1981. Wiedlin says Copeland could see through the novelty of an all-girls band to give them a chance.
The song that would put them on the charts for the first time, “Our Lips Are Sealed,” was co-written by Wiedlin and the Specials lead singer Terry Hall, whom Wiedlin had dated during the tours with Hall’s band. The song was released in June 1981, and a month later, Beauty and the Beat came out. By 1982, it had climbed to the top of the Billboard 200, and would eventually go double platinum. "We Got the Beat" peaked at number two and “Our Lips Are Sealed" at number 20.
But the quick fame led the band to dysfunction and various addictions, and the Go-Go's called it quits by 1985.
“Becoming famous that young and that quickly was really crazy, and it was hard. And I didn’t handle it that well at the time," Wiedlin says. "I think that I felt a lot of pressure in the beginning when we turned all of our aggression and frustrations out toward the world. Once we became successful, it became internalized. It felt sort of combustive, which is really a shame. I wish if I could do it again.”
The band would reunite in 1990 and put out one final record in 2001, God Bless the Go-Go's, but to little acclaim or fanfare. Caffey says the album contained some of their best efforts created by the group, but in the end, it failed because, as she says, “It got buried by bad management, a bad record label, and 9/11, unfortunately. None of us really wants to think about a record at that point.”
Wiedlin, Caffey, Carlisle, and Shock have continued to tour throughout the years, but know that when they play their last encore, there is a confidence that their band’s place in history is secured, even without the vote of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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“Sure, it would be cool, but that has nothing to do with our success, who we are today,” Caffey shares. Please understand, I am not putting down the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I just feel like, ‘Yeah, hello people, it’s obvious,’ that’s all I can say. It should happen, but we just gotta kind of let it go.”
“The fact that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame hasn’t nominated us is so ridiculous, but we have a very specific title that can’t be argued or taken away," she says. "It’s just the thing that people have never taken us seriously.”
Regardless, band members are finishing out the final tour, and each has remained active in bands, songwriting, and other creative projects, such as the one which will see songs from God Bless the Go-Go's used in a Broadway musical put together by the Tony Award-winning writer of Avenue Q, loosely based on a 16th-century story called “The Arcadia,” written by Sir Philip Sidney.