Los Angeles rock group The Go-Go’s were formed in 1978 by lead vocalist Belinda Carlisle, guitarists Jane Wiedlin, bassist Margot Olavarria and drummer Elissa Bello. They formed at a time when music was diversifying more than ever before, with the advent of punk and new-wave simmering amid an explosion of pop music. The group’s original incarnation had its feet generally planted in punk-rock as they played gigs around the smaller venues in Los Angeles and the surrounding area. With a growing popularity amongst other LA punk acts of the time such as The Plugz and Fear, the band began writing more and more original material. By 1979, the group became a quintet, with charlotte Caffey joining as lead guitarist and backing vocalist, and Gina Schock on percussion replaced Bello.
From 1979 to 1981 the group had become increasingly popular in the UK as they played alongside the likes of Madness and The Police. The main attraction at this time was the Go-Go’s hit single ‘We Got the Beat’ which was a commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic and proved popular as the centrepiece at their passionate and energetic shows.
‘We Got the Beat’, which celebrates its 40th US release anniversary today (January 16th), was penned by Caffey, who recalled being hesitant to show the song to the rest of the band amid fears that it wouldn’t be punky enough for their usual style. However, as it transpired, she had little to worry about as the single served to become the first step in the direction artistically that would take the group to worldwide fame.
Inspired by the likes of Blondie and the B-52s, the band were by no means the first feminine touch in the world of American punk, but they made their mark in history with a powerful and talented all-female lineup who made a tacit statement to the world to show that, when music is concerned, gender is no object. While music had not been void of female artists prior to the 1970s, the world of rock music, in particular, seemed to be vastly dominated by men and the arrival of the Go-Go’s appeared to embody this most important period of change.
As the Go-Go’s pursued and fine-tuned their new-wave sound, they recorded their landmark debut album Beauty and the Beat, released in the Summer of 1981. The album reached number one on the Billboard Chart in the US and was well-received globally with a marked chart durability thanks to the singles ‘We Got the Beat’ and ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’, a collaborative songwriting effort from Go-Go’s guitarist Jane Wiedlin and Terry Hall of ‘Fun Boy Three’.
The band would remain at the peak of their success for only a few years in the mid-’80s, but the gargantuan importance of the band as an influence on subsequent generations is undeniable and still present to this day. After the Go-Go’s time under the spotlight, the female involvement in rock music seemed to skyrocket with countless bands boasting female lineups over the late ’80s and ’90s who would often cite the Go-Go’s as their inspiration to pick up the guitar or grab the drumsticks as a child.
Stream ‘We Got the Beat’ below to recapture some of that unique Go-Go’s magic.