The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is about two weeks overdue in producing it list of nominees for induction in 2007, no doubt due in part to a change in the administration and committee members. So, while I wait for the list to come out any minute now and find its way to the media, I’ll take the opportunity to opine here and save my friends the trouble of rolling their eyes with the “Here we go again” comment.
By 1981 I was so sick of hearing REO Speedwagon, if I had to hear “Take It on the Run” one more time I was going to have to do something desperate like throw my oversized radio headphones from a freeway overpass while skating over on my old school roller skates. Top 40 sucked, The Beatles were now playing on the “oldies” stations anything remotely alternative (a word that had not been used to categorize music yet) was classified as “punk”. A new generation was waiting to kick the end of the Baby Boomers off the disco floor and slam dance to the music that would define their generation. America, in between recessions and still recovering from the black eye of the Iranian hostage crisis, needed to have some fun again. In L.A., a band that had formed 3 years earlier, just completed recording an album with a line up of players that was finalized just six months prior; they were Charlotte Caffey, Belinda Carlisle, Gina Schock, Kathy Valentine and Jane Wiedlin. They were of course, the Go Go’s and within one year the album, Beauty and the Beat, would hold the number one spot on the Billboard Charts. The Go Go’s became and are the iconic representation of fun in the 80’s. In fact, they put the F U in fun. They would spearhead a musical and cultural revolution, and light the spark that would ignite the fire in countless little girls to pick up a guitar or drum sticks and rock to their own music in their own words. They smacked an unsuspecting world in the head and finally answered the question “Can an all girl band, writing and performing their own material be commercially successful while maintaining artistic integrity?” The album success and the mania that followed answered that question with resounding affirmation. “Yeah, you bet your ass we got the beat!…and a Multi-Platinum album too” they added while applying a fresh coat of eyeliner.
“…the influence and significance of the artist’s contributions to the development and perpetuation of rock and roll” That’s the chief criterion considered by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when the nominating committee selects its list of potential inductees. Also, 25 years must have passed since their first record release-which means 2007 is the first year the Go-Go’s are eligible. The global popularity of their music and cultural influence for about a 5 year period in the early 1980’s is indisputable, and had they not imploded so soon into their original effort, their induction would probably be a slam dunk, but as it is my first pair of 501’s lasted longer than their first incarnation. So, what’s left for consideration? Four original albums, one of which was released 17 years after their initial breakup, a few singles and whatever influence and significance they produced. Is it enough to warrant Rock and Roll Hall of Fame status? Of course it is and here’s why:
• During their original run, they released 3 solid albums: Beauty and the Beat (1981), Vacation (1982), and Talk Show (1984)-not a lot in terms of volume, but in terms of lasting influence, these albums produced a handful of tunes which will be forever associated with that period as “Blue Suede Shoes” will be with the 50’s, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” will be with the 60’s or “Stairway to Heaven” will be with the 70’s. Beauty and the Beat, which reached Billboard’s #1 spot in March of 1982, went Multi-Platinum and delivered “Our Lips are Sealed” and “We Got the Beat”. Is there anybody alive who hasn’t heard these songs? Have you ever heard anyone ask “Who sings that song again?” Vacation, the album climbed as high as # 8 and “Vacation” the single peaked at Top 40. “Head Over Heals” came from the Talk Show album which peaked at #18. Everybody knows this song too, they just don’t know when the handclap comes in. Of course shortly after it’s release, the band officially broke up and probably killed whatever success Talk Show may have still had in it. Seventeen years later God Bless the Go Go’s was released, its most recognizable song “Unforgiven” was co-written with Billy Joe Armstrong of Greenday. Return to the Valley of the Go Go’s, a two-disk anthology released in 1994 contains some of their earliest recordings and documents their evolution from punk to power rockers. Three new songs were recorded for the collection and though they had an updated sound they had classic Go Go elements: foot-tapping tunes, backed by Kathy Valentine’s melodic bass lines and Gina Schock’s time perfect drumming with singable lyrics and just a smidge of darkness. One of these three, “The Whole World’s Lost its Head” reached #21 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart (and you didn’t even think they were still recording in 1994.)
• The Go Go’s remain the gold standard for the “girl group” genre, the measuring stick to which all other female bands are compared. Though not the first all female band (props to Daisy Chain, Fanny, The Runaways, etc.) their success and popularity reached a level seldom attained by any band of any gender make up. The success of bands like The Donna’s, The Ette’s, and Go Betty Go and any to come in the future will forever be measured in comparison to the achievements of the Go Go’s, and as of yet, none has even come close. Unlike many of the female bands before them, they were largely responsible for their own look and sound, writing all their own material (with the exception of Donald Storball’s “Cool Jerk” every song on all four original studio albums was written completely or in part by the Go Go’s) and choosing to stick with a more classic guitar/drums/bass sound at a time when many bands were using synthesizers and drum machines. While many female groups have come after them, none has yet realized the recognition or success that the Go Go’s have, because they were and are above all else, not just a “girl band”, but a rock band (or punk, or new wave or whatever label you want to put on it) and their emotion and energy translated from the vinyl to something we felt in our gut.
• They practically invented the sound that would become known as “power pop”. Their punk roots mostly forgotten (but fondly remembered on Valley of the Go Go’s) and with all the energy intact, the style that brought them so much success evolved into its own genre. Hard enough to be popular with the young crowd, mainstream enough to get Top 40 station play, a number of acts to come would find success in this middle ground sound they popularized.
• Other than the music, their most significant contribution was to the overall regard towards women and their role in rock music. They proved women could be more than just a successful vocal group in shimmering evening gowns, or just the songwriting genius behind the music, they could write songs about cars, love, sex, or just silliness that would appeal to both men and women, strap on a Gibson SG and perform those songs to sell-out, crazed audiences and of course they could move records off the shelf. No major records labels were inclined to sign all-female or female fronted bands until the Go Go’s proved it could be done profitably. Not only did the images inspire, but they helped open the door for other female rockers, aware or not of the facility afforded to them by the success of the Go Go’s thanks to the changed attitudes in the industry.
Love them, hate them or indifferent, you can’t ignore the Go Go’s reign, albeit short, on the music world and the lasting influence they would have on creating the next generation of rockers. The images of them clad in bath towels or waterskiing in formation are still instantly recognizable as the covers from their 1st and 2nd albums. (In 2003 VH1 named the cover of Vacation #24 on their list of the 50 Greatest Album Covers) Their music has popped up in movies from Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) to Superstar (1999) Cinderella Story (2004) 13 Going on 30 (2004) and I’m sure I could find more, but I’m too googled out to look them up. 25 years later, major brands like Papa John’s Pizza, Pantene and Priceline wouldn’t be using their music in national advertising campaigns if people didn’t react positively to “We Got the Beat”-or Meat in this case, “Head Over Heals” or “Vacation” all of which ran in the last year. Despite sometimes large gaps between projects, they have continued to tour and record new material over the last 25 years and have a new project in the works, the Pogo’s with Disney, but until any new material is released, it’s surely the work they released in the 80’s that will be considered in estimating their influence and significance.
On the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s website is a timeline with various off-shoots that highlight a specific genre and significant events. Among the other tabs they could appropriately be filed under is one titled “girl groups”. Of course the early influences and great vocal groups of the sixties are there, but is there any other band, (by “band” I mean people who actually wrote/played their own music) that deserves to be there more than the Go Go’s? While there is a laundry list of people who deserve to be inducted into Hall but haven’t, this would smack of some kind of bias if they weren’t. Now that the 25 year mark has passed, any list that doesn’t include the Go Go’s would be incomplete and leave a gaping hole in the musical history of that period. So please, Rock Hall, don’t discount what their music has accomplished and get this one right on the first go (go) round. My friends will thank you for it.
Thanks to Melissa Henry and Besty Cruz for contirbuting and Rick Russell for the current pictures