The fine art of fun -- a big part of the Go-Go's success story
The music of the Go-Go's is nonstop fun. Perhaps this is why the Los Angeles-based all-female quintet has had such a meteoric rise recently. Among other successes they are the first all-female band to have an album in the top 10 (and in the No. 1 spot) -- ''Beauty and the Beat,'' with sales that certify it as ''platinum.''
The Go-Go's offer music that fans can't help but have a good time listening to -- during a period when many pop bands seem to be discouraging the expression of fun in their music.
On stage, the group also shares in that good time with an amiable interaction , in which no one performer is trying to upstage the rest. While watching them perform, one is aware of the support they give each other. And the women, mindful of supporters who helped bring them this far, seem genuinely to appreciate their fans. Their sellout performances are attended by a wide range of age groups.
As well as being the first all-female band to write and play their own music for a mass audience, the Go-Go's are one of the few female groups not trying to use sex as a marketing tool. As a statement against this practice, the ''Beauty and the Beat'' album cover is a parody of society's tendency to accentuate image more than talent. This band wants to be recognized for the quality and appeal of their music, and they have shunned attempts to depict them otherwise.
Behind their success story is a formula of sacrifice and hard work. At a time when the record industry signed few new acts, the Go-Go's organized as a group in 1978 without even knowing, as one later admitted, how to plug their guitars into amplifiers. As guitarist Jane Weidlin explains, ''From the beginning our motto has been: 'Do what you don't know how to do.' ''
Months of practice led to engagements in Los Angeles clubs and to some core fans willing to support their growing period, as the Go-Go's became better musicians. The girls admit that early concertgoers went mainly for the fun of watching them try to play their instruments. Yet, even with their lack of musicianship, the Go-Go's attracted many return audiences.
Nonetheless, it became evident that a few personnel changes were necessary if they were to improve. Finding a better drummer in 1979, and substituting for their bassist a woman who had only intended to serve as a fill-in for one show in 1980 -- but impressed the others enough to keep heron -- the Go-Go's became a respectable performing unit. Today they have Charlotte Caffey on lead guitar, Belinda Carlisle singing lead vocals, Jane Weidlin on rhythm guitar. The two new performers are Kathy Valentine on bass and drummer Gina Schock.
Later came the invitation to join The Specials, a British group, on their 1980 United Kingdom tour. The girls sacrificed everything they had -- their cars , apartments, and steady jobs -- to take advantage of this opportunity. While only moderately well received there, the Go-Go's did record a single called ''We Got the Beat'' on a small British label as a result of the tour. Ironically, the song became a dance-club hit as an import in the United States, and this gave them the East Coast exposure they needed.
Yet with their fans rapidly growing, the Go-Go's still did not have a contract to record an album. Most record companies considered the ''girl group'' a novelty in a world of male-dominated music, and were afraid to take the risk of signing this new act. But finally, the Go-Go's signed with IRS Records, an independent label, which, though small, has given them the support a major label might not have.
The girls agree that the wait was also worthwhile for the time it gave them both to expand their repertoire and to polish their performance. Their impressive debut album contains 11 original upbeat and catchy songs reminiscent of the popular Beach Boys style of '60s ''surf'' music. Though the group is also continually compared with the Phil Spector girl groups of that same period, Jane and Charlotte, who together write most of the Go-Go's songs, have nonetheless created a sound that is uniquely the Go-Go's.