Review Summary: The Go-Go's redefine rock and roll for women with a quirky, sensitive new wave pop classic.
Rock music was in a strange place in 1981. The initial wave of punk rock had already peaked and crashed back to shore, but it's influence was felt in every other form of popular rock music from the Rolling Stones to Phil Collins. Crossover acts like Blondie had shown that the public was all too eager for someone to take the spirit and energy of punk, but set it to pop music. Enter The Go-Go's, at the time of this record's production Belinda Carlisle (lead vocals), Charlotte Caffey (guitar/keyboard/vocals), Jane Wiedlin (rhythm guitar/vocals), Kathy Valentine (bass), and Gina Schtock (drums). Originally a punk band in the vein of X, this Los Angeles group of women had already made a huge impact at clubs like the Whiskey A Go Go and The Masque, but no one could have foreseen the success the group would acquire after signing to IRS Records and releasing their debut album, Beauty and the Beat
With their squeaky-clean image and their pop-punk hooks, the album was a huge success, hitting number one on the Billboard 200 for six consecutive weeks and eventually selling excess of 2 million records, largely off the backs of the two lead singles "Our Lips Are Sealed", and "We Got the Beat". And what magnificent singles they were, the former co-penned with The Specials frontman Terry Hall becoming an inescapable hit during 1981 with it's sunshine pop outlook on new wave music. The irony of course was the sexual themes underlying the song and their music in general, despite their squeaky-clean public image at the time as a group of All American girls making happy pop music. The latter single was as close to punk that the Go-Go's would ever be on record, with a driving drumbeat and elastic guitar bouncing all over the place while the girls laid out their heavenly harmonies (perhaps best remembered for the opening of the film Fast Times at Ridgemont High).
But it would be a shame to dismiss the Go-Go's as a one or two hit wonder, because their debut album featured those same uncanny power pop hooks as seen through new wave sunglasses (big, goofy, grand ones at that) around every corner, from the bittersweet love song "How Much More" to the explosion of subtle tension that is the magnificent "Lust to Love".
I think it would be safe to say that "Lust to Love" is the highlight of The Go-Go's entire discography, a beautiful mixture of power pop, new wave, and punk with a running guitar line that just builds more and more tension until you think the verse has become just unbearable, you NEED the chorus to come rushing in and like sweet relief it does as the guitars, bass and drums subtly shift into the chorus where Belinda Carlisle belts out words of pure unadulterated teenage longing for love and romance. And just like that, the immense hook of the chorus is gone and the ride begins all over again for verse number two. There are few songs I could label as being one of the best of it's time without sounding hyperbolic, but this is without a doubt one of those songs. It vaults this record from incredibly enjoyable pop into something more, something deeper and utterly in despair. All is not well under the pretty facade these ladies put up.
"This Town" finds Kathy Valentine's bass slinking along in an almost Ennio Morricone-esque fashion before bursting into another chorus of pop hook perfection in which Belinda Carlisle tears into the ingratiating monotonous boredom of life in your small town, something almost everyone can identify with, while offering the glimmering hope of LA and Hollywood in the lines "This town is our town, this town is so glamorous, bet you'd live here if you could and be one of us"
. It's no wonder teenagers continue running away to LA in droves to this day.
The most important thing about this album though is the fact that it's almost unprecedented for the very fact that the album and music was entirely written by the members of the band, and not other songwriters like the great girl groups of the 50s and 60s. Sure, there was The Runaways but they didn't reach anywhere near as many people as The Go-Go's did with this album, and it's no shock it was such a big hit and a part of pop culture. It's full of pop hooks at it's very best with enough new wave and punk to still seem new and refreshing for it's time. The Go-Go's would never release another album as good as this, but for one brief moment they were the indisputable Queens of New Wave on top of the world, in the hearts of every teenage girl and in the dirty dreams of every teenage punk.