WHEN THE GO-GO’S RULED…AND WHY (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #107)

I just came across this clip from a Go-Go’s’ concert on Germany’s Rockpalast. It’s from smack dab in the middle of their three-year run on the charts. There is much better live footage of them across the years. They look exhausted here, ripe subjects for burnout and Exhibit A of “paying the price for too much too soon” even if it probably felt like a hundred years to them.

But….

I’ve never seen any other clip which demonstrates so clearly why they were the last great rock ‘n’ roll band, even if it turns out the members of the last great “rock” band are waiting to be born.

Except for the Who, no band ever had so many folks fighting for so little space…and the Who thrashed at each other as often as they meshed.

The Go-Go’s had at least three people playing what amounted to lead instruments and two of those were the rhythm section. They traded their licks at a speed that made everybody else who bothered trading licks (not all that many) sound like they were playing underwater. It really shouldn’t have worked and it wasn’t exactly to their advantage that they made it look–and sound–so easy.

And, brief as it is, this is the best look at Kathy Valentine’s hands I’ve ever seen. She’s playing a top ten hit (which she wrote) at Ramones’ speed, while carrying a melody line the Ramones would have killed for….all on a bass guitar.**

And she doesn’t dominate….Because even her hands aren’t faster or more fluid than Charlotte Caffey’s or Gina Schock’s or even Jane Wiedlin’s, all of whom knew a thing or two about carrying the melody and the beat themselves, even if they only had three seconds to do it before they threw it back to whoever threw it at them.

I’ve said it before, I say it again. They were the first and last “all female” band to have a #1 album in Billboard. When folks predicted there would surely be many more such bands, I said: “Not if they have to play like that.”

When there’s only one, there’s usually a reason….it’s worth remembering that now, when we are further removed from them than they were from Fats Domino and still waiting for someone to beat their time.

**To be fair, even the Go-Go’s didn’t write many melodies as compelling as “Vacation.”

9 thoughts on “WHEN THE GO-GO’S RULED…AND WHY (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #107)

  1. Agreed on all counts. While I love “Vacation” and theorize that anyone who dislikes it is a Communist, I’ve always felt that _Talk Show_ should have been the beginning of the Go-Gos’ second phase, rather than the end of the group. They’d reached a new level that irreversibly trounced the stuff of slight pandering to teen girls (“We Got the Beat,” “Beatnik Beach,” “The Way You Dance”).

    Talk Show’s songs, especially “Turn to You,” the super-powerful “I’m the Only One” and, of course, the LP’s big surprise (to a captivated me at the time), the stirring “Mercenary,” place the Go-Gos in that “If only they’d kept going!” category that we’ve been discussing re: the Shangs.

    Granted, they released a new studio album many years later, but it didn’t continue from their creative high point, which had been reached only after years of practicing their writing and playing skills without interruption. God Bless… was an inevitable return to square one. Not that it’s an awful album or anything, but it’s not Talk Show II, which was probably unfair for me to expect in the first place.

    • Ah well, Talk Show literally saved my life in 1984 (another delicate subject I hope to treat at length some day), so you’ll get no argument from me on any of the above.

      I think the problem with God Bless was just as you say. They just sounded like any good band (though “Daisy Chain” was a killer and I hear it as a kind of spiritual sequel to “Mercenary.” More so now, when it appears it will be the last thing on the last record they make. As I said somewhere on here before, they were perfect.)…

      Don’t know if it’s true but I read somewhere that Martin Rushent, who produced Talk Show, forced Gina Schock to audition for it (else he was going to replace her with a session drummer). That such an idea even existed as a rumor probably spelled the beginning of the end. VERY bad karma! Imagine the Who having Keith Moon prove he could play on a Martin Rushent record? Good lord! If I’d been managing the Go-Go’s, I would have put out a contract on him.

  2. What a moron (if that’s true). Gina drove that band like nobody else could have, and here he’s treating her like she’s Dynasty-era Peter Criss. I can’t imagine hearing ANY of the Go-Gos’ songs and thinking, “Maybe I’ll get a session drummer.” No, dude — maybe you’ll get a hearing aid, because you’re clearly deaf.

    Of course, if there’s any truth in the rumor, then the blame lies more on the other Go-Gos, who surely had the clout by then to tell any producer “No way” on Gina’s behalf. I mean, that kind of nonsense would have to be enabled by the actual participants, surely?

    About any future recordings, one never knows…

    Like the lady said, “Listen — I’m not finished.”

    • Now I’m really trying to remember. I think that was in the piece Rolling Stone did on them right after Talk Show came out…and I think I have that issue so I’m gonna have to go digging in the closet at some point and see if I can find the exact quote. (Wherever I read it, I do remember being shocked by it and thinking it wasn’t a good sign that the whole band hadn’t done just as you say…I was devastated when they broke up a few months later–MY BEATLES!–but not terribly surprised.)

      And I’ll keep holding out hope…But the split with Kathy Valentine seems awful deep. And with the Go-Go’s, if it ain’t all of them, I ain’t there.

  3. In case this provides even slight reassurance (in the context of Gina’s alleged requirement to audition), her words about Rushent in the Talk Show special, which was evidently broadcast on a cable channel called Cinemax in ’84, indicate that the rumor was just that.

    She calls him a “gem” and “wonderful,” and says that all of the Go-Gos worked really well with him. These seem like too many positive words to make a case that she’s being sarcastic.

    The film is a gas to watch, incidentally, mainly because they’re shown rehearsing a couple of songs (for a planned upcoming tour?), even if Belinda doesn’t seem able to hear herself that well. I’m not sure why “Head Over Heels” has been edited out of this particular upload, but there’s not another transfer of the special available that I’m aware of.

    (It certainly beats the downer of a Behind the Music episode. Every day was negative from ’82 onward? People’s friendships don’t fluctuate from day to day? Come on. But then, what did I expect from Behind the Music, right? A real Go-Gos documentary needs to be made, I think!)

    • Ve-l-l-ly interesting….I’ve got family coming in the next day or so, but I’ll definitely give this a watch when I have time. Might be next week…And heck, the Go-Go’s deserve a feature film (and a quality doc)!

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