When you think of The Go-Go’s, what do you think of? Do you get their catchy singles, such as “Vacation,” stuck in your head? Or do you think of the legacy they left? The Go-Go’s have been credited for starting pop-punk, a genre that combines the fast-paced style of punk music with hooking melodies that make the music more radio-friendly. Many may also not know that The Go-Go’s were the first all-female band to reach No.1 on the album charts.
There’s probably a lot about The Go-Go’s you didn’t know, such as how they formed and their entire career history. Continue reading my guide about The Go-Go’s band history.
- Notable Band Members: Belinda Carlisle (lead vocals), Jane Wiedlin (rhythm guitar), Charlotte Caffey (lead guitar), Kathy Valentine (bass), Gina Schock (drums)
- Genre: Punk, pop-punk, pop-rock
- Years Active: 1978-1985, 1990, 1994, 1999-2022
- Origin: Los Angeles, California
- Most Successful Album: Beauty and the Beat
- Website: The Go-Go’s
- Last Updated: August 2023
The band was originally called The Misfits (not to be confused with the legendary horror punk band from New Jersey). Their original sound was very punk, and they built themselves a name in LA’s underground punk scene–especially since Carlisle was a former member of The Germs. When The Go-Go’s first formed, they mainly played around LA and San Francisco.
Making It Big
In 1981, The Go-Go’s signed to I.R.S. Records and released their debut album, Beauty and the Beat, in 1982. That same year, they toured with The Police for their Ghost in the Machine tour. After the tour, they skyrocketed to fame. The Go-Go’s were nominated for a 1982 Grammy for Best New Artist.
Beauty and the Beat
The Go-Go’s debut album, Beauty and the Beat, was a massive success. On March 6, 1982, it landed the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 charts. It topped the charts for two weeks and was certified double platinum by the RIAA. Beauty and the Beat also did well in Canada; over 100,000 copies were sold, and the album received the platinum certification.
Why did this album get popular so quickly? Yahoo Music said perfectly: “They were the original squad goals.” When I listen to this album, it’s so cheerful and fun. I was born in the 90s, but others explained the 80s as a carefree and delightful time. This whole album perfectly captures this vibe.
Still, this album has more than just 80s anthems. For example, the song “How Much More” has a lot of influence from the rockabilly style from the 50s. The song “Automatic” is so relaxing yet powerful, and I can tell a lot of indie artists from the 90s were influenced by this song alone.
It’s also important to highlight the influence this band had on young women at the time. On the album cover, you see a group of women having a spa day and painting their toenails. This image resonated with young women who made feminine products, such as facial masks and nail polish, super rock n’ roll.
The Go-Go’s released their second album, Vacation, shortly after–July 20, 1982. This album had mixed reviews, but it’s one of my personal favorites from the band. It was still a successful album, though some sources say the album received the gold certification while other sources say it achieved platinum. Both the album and title track reached number 8 on the Billboard Charts.
The Go-Go’s didn’t release another album until 1984, with Talk Show. The band had to go on hiatus after Vacation’s release since drummer Gina Schock needed surgery for a congenital heart defect.
The album got a good reception but didn’t achieve the fame and notoriety the other two albums had. The album also didn’t achieve any certifications or reach the top 10. However, the album did produce two singles: “Turn to You” and “Head Over Heels.”
I’m meh about this album. On one end, it’s as joyful as their other albums, and songs such as “Turn to You” also make perfect 80s anthems. But this song doesn’t hold the magic that the other albums have.
The Go-Go’s broke up in 1985. The breakup started with guitarist Jane Wiedlin leaving the band in 1984. Originally, Valentine moved to guitar, and they hired a new bass player, Paula Jean Brown. They played the Rock in Rio Festival in 1985 with the new lineup, but the band realized their hearts were no longer in the music and officially broke up.
There are other reasons for The Go-Go’s breakup. Creative differences always shook up the band, which is why they made their switch from traditional punk to their radio-friendly pop-punk sound.
Fame was also getting to the musicians. Vocalist Belinda Carlisle admitted in her memoir that she was always self-conscious about her weight, but she developed an eating disorder from the pressure of being in the spotlight. For example, the tabloids called her “pretty and plump” and “cute and chubby.”
A couple of the members also got hooked on drugs. Carlisle became an alcoholic and cocaine addict, but she admitted she started doing coke at 14 years old since it was an appetite suppressant. She has been sober since 2005.
But Carlisle wasn’t the only band member with a drug and alcohol addiction. In fact, most of the band members were big into partying. Soon, the partying became more than fun. Guitarist and keyboardist Charlotte Caffey purchased a secluded house and became addicted to heroin. She entered rehab in 1984.
After The Go-Go’s breakup, the band members went their separate ways. Charlotte Caffey formed her band, The Graces, and had a successful career as a session musician, even writing the music, book, and lyrics for the musical, Lovelace: A Rock Musical. She’s also in a band with her husband called Ze Malibu Kids. However, she stopped playing live music in the late 80s due to carpal tunnel syndrome.
Drummer Gina Schock was also involved in her musical career, filling in for the band A-ha and forming her band, House of Schock. Jane Wiedlin also had a busy music career; she released multiple solo albums, was a session musician, and did some writing, modeling, and acting.
Guitarist and bassist Kathy Valentine tried to pursue a musical career, even forming the band World’s Cutest Killers with Girlschool guitar player Kelly Johnson. However, the band broke up, and all her other projects failed. Valentine decided to get out of the limelight and went back to school.
Belinda Carlisle had arguably the most successful solo career. After The Go-Go’s broke up, she started her solo career, releasing her debut album, Belinda, in 1986. The album was successful, certified gold in the U.S. and platinum in Canada. The album yielded popular singles, such as “I Feel the Magic” and “Mad About You.”
The follow-up album to Belinda called Heaven on Earth was also successful. It became a top five bestseller in the UK and was nominated for a Grammy. The album yielded one of Carlisle’s most famous songs, “Heaven Is a Place on Earth,” as well as other successful singles such as “I Get Weak,” “World Without You,” and “Circle in the Sand.”
Carlisle continued releasing music and contributed to multiple film scores before The Go-Go’s first reunion.
The Go-Go’s had their first reunion in 1990 when the original lineup reformed to play a benefit show for the California Environmental Protection Act. Since then, the band reformed briefly over the years to record new songs and covers for various compilations. The band toured again in 1994 but had ex-Bangles guitarist Vicki Peterson fill in for Caffey, who was pregnant then.
God Bless the Go-Go’s
The band would continue with the classic lineup until 2001, when they released their first album in over 15 years. The album was God Bless the Go-Go’s. The album was successful, peaking on the Billboard 200 Charts at number 57. The album yielded one single, “Unforgiven,” co-written by Green Day singer and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong.
I like this reunion album since The Go-Go’s returned to their rock and punk roots. It’s still catchy enough to be considered pop-rock but has a bit more edge than their past material. It’s definitely a stand-out album in their discography but still holds that same magic.
After the album’s release, the band played multiple shows, even the All-Star Tribute to Brian Wilson at Radio City Music Hall.
The Go-Go’s Today
It was around 2010 that the band suffered some lineup changes. They almost disbanded again in 2010 with a “farewell” tour, but they rejected the idea and continued touring. Bassist Kathy Valentine wasn’t on the 2011 Ladies Gone Wild tour due to an injury. Abby Travis filled in for Valentine on bass.
In 2013, bassist Kathy Valentine left The Go-Go’s, and the band said the reason was “irreconcilable differences.” However, Valentine sued the band. The complaint she filed the lawsuit due to the band forcing her out of the group and taking her financial shares. Since then, the lawsuit has been settled outside of court. Valentine wouldn’t rejoin the band until 2018 to announce their new musical, Head Over Heels.
As of 2023, The Go-Go’s is officially done. Belinda Carlisle made the announcement and explained that the band had gone their separate ways.
Most Famous Songs
Even if you’re not a Go-Go’s fan, most of us would consider their most famous songs to be a guilty pleasure. These songs are “We Got the Beat,” “Our Lips Are Sealed,” and “Vacation.
“We Got the Beat”
“We Got the Beat” is the perfect example of an A-plus single. The song is catchy, energetic, and all instruments and lyrics are written well. You can hear surfer rock influences that made the song funky but with enough pop so anyone can sing along. Watching the live footage, you can see how amazing their stage presence was. It’s a shame they’re only seen as a novelty “all-girl band” since they’re so talented.
“Our Lips Are Sealed”
This is by far the happiest song that The Go-Go’s wrote. It serves as an 80s anthem and highlights the carefree decade. As the video shows, this is the soundtrack for cruising in a convertible throughout Los Angeles. There isn’t much punk or rock influence, but even the hardest rockers (such as myself) can’t help but sing along to this pop hit.
As I said, this was my favorite Go-Go’s song when I was younger. It doesn’t have the same surfer rock vibes as the rest of the album and focuses more on the pop side. Still, this song is super catchy, and the song is written well overall. The lyrics are sad, despite this being such a happy-sounding song. Still, I love this track, and it makes me want to dance every time I hear it!
Other Notable Highlights
While The Go-Go’s are known for their chart-topping hits, they have had other ground-breaking moments in their career. This includes a musical, documentary, and their well-deserved induction in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
Head Over Heels Musical
Head Over Heels is a musical originally based on the book by Jeff Whitty and adapted to a musical by James Magruder and produced by actress Gwenyth Paltrow. The musical features the lyrics and music by The Go-Go’s as well as Carlisle’s popular hits “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” and “Mad About You.” Head Over Heels is based on the plot of The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia by Sir Philip Sidney. The musical premiered at Hudson Theatre in New York in the summer of 2018.
In 2020, a documentary about The Go-Go’s was released. Titled The Go-Go’s, the documentary was directed by Allison Ellwood, who directed other rock documentaries such as History of The Eagles. The documentary premiered at Sundance and was televised on Showtime in the US.
The documentary features interviews of the current and former band members, covering the formation and rise of The Go-Go’s, their success, breakup, and ended with their reunion. There is some criticism about the documentary since it skipped important information such as the lawsuits. But the documentary does feature “Club Zero,” the band’s newest song in almost 20 years.
Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame Induction
The Go-Go’s are best described as a pop-punk band, but their roots stem from punk. Other terms I hear include “new wave” and “pop.” Their sound was revolutionary since they were a bridge between rock, punk, and 80s pop. They were rebellious but fun, and it was groundbreaking that an all-female band was the first to fuse these different genres.
Growing up in Southern California also influenced their music. Vocalist Belinda Carlisle explained it best in this interview with NPR: “There wasn’t a whole lot for a kid in Southern California to be angry about.” Their music captured the youthfulness of California, which bled into modern pop-punk.
The late 70s into the 80s was an interesting time. On one end, the underground music scene was inclusive and accepted diversity. On the other end, white men still dominated the industry. Because of this, it should be no surprise that The Go-Go’s experienced sexism.
In an interview with Yahoo News, guitarist Jane Wiedlin explained that people were not politically correct (PC) when they rose to fame. DJs at radio shows would ask them who they slept with to get successful (the band responded with “no one”). Wiedlin also said she felt men in the industry were threatened by them since an all-female band topping the charts was very powerful for the time, and others in the industry called The Go-Go’s “the five-headed monster.”
What The Go-Go’s think made them stand out was their authenticity. They played the music they liked and wore the clothes they have been wearing for years–their management didn’t manufacture their music or their image.
The Go-Go’s did hope more all-female bands would follow in their footsteps. While many took off, not as many gained the success that The Go-Go’s did. In that same interview with Yahoo News, Wiedlin also states: “…sexism is still alive and well in America,” and I’m positive that’s why.
As stated, The Go-Go’s are credited as one of the main bands behind the pop-punk movement. Major bands and artists in the genre, such as Green Day, No Doubt, and Avril Lavigne, all mention The Go-Go’s as one of their main inspirations. Miss Peppermint, who starred in Head Over Heels as “Pythio,” said performing their songs was a “dream come true” since she grew up listening to the band.
Different artists have covered their songs; notably, Hilary and Haylie Duff covered “Our Lips Are Sealed” for their film A Cinderella Story, released in 2004.
As an all-female band, The Go-Go’s expressed “girl power” before the term existed. Even in a male-dominated industry, The Go-Go’s had their style–they were rough but poppy and had a strong sisterhood to match.
Many journalists credit The Go-Go’s as the first all-female band to write and play their music, which isn’t true. The Runaways pre-dated The Go-Go’s, with heavy metal band Girlschool forming around the same time as The Go-Go’s. However, I will argue that The Go-Go’s were the first all-female band to make it big.
Answer: In an interview with CBS News, The Go-Go’s explained that they chose the name from reading the definition in the dictionary. A “go-go” is something or someone that’s effervescent and fun.
Answer: Belinda Carlisle is still making music. She just released her name EP “Kismet” in 2023.
Answer: Wiedlin has a band with Italian-born musician Pietro Straccia called Elettrodomestico.