Go-Go’s “Head Over Heels” (1984)
When the Go-Go’s broke out in the summer of eighty-one I was in college and ripe for the sort of world-weary conversations hep young people have when they are certain they–and they alone–truly know the score.
More than a few people (not all of whom had the ready-made excuse of being world-weary collegians) were insisting in those days that there were bound to be a whole lotta really BIG all-female bands coming down the pike now that there was finally one.
And I, having at least some idea of how unlikely they really were, used to echo some version of my sad refrain:
“Not if they have to be that good there won’t.”
Which usually made people smile indulgently and roll their eyes.
The Go-Go’s? Seriously?
So this week I’m running errands some sunny afternoon, listening idly to the radio and “Head Over Heels”–their last big hit before they broke up in eighty-four–comes on in the middle of an Official Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Lineup consisting of ace grooves from Bruce Springsteen (“Glory Days”), the Bee Gees (“Stayin’ Alive”), U2 (“With or Without You”) and Steely Dan (“Peg,” much better than I remembered–already loved all the rest).
Naturally it jumps up and runs away from everything else. Even the bass-line on “Stayin’ Alive” can’t quite keep up, which is something I bet I’m never gonna say about the Beatles or the Ramones.
Or the Bangles for that matter.
You know, the one really big all-female band that actually did come down the pike.
Which brings me to one of my old stand-by maxims.
If you want to be right about the future, be dire…be very dire.
Be dire, even about the things that make you smile.
Spinners “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You” (1973)
Spinners (for some reason, there was no “the” in their Atlantic period) were my winding down music this week. This, from their first album on the label, was the side that grabbed me in a new way, mostly because it’s sly and cool where Wilson Pickett’s epochal hit version (one of his very greatest records) was pleading and desperate. A fascinating aside, then, into the conversations Black America sometimes has with itself while White America listens in.
And I’m not sure there has ever been a better distillation of Black America’s existential dilemma–to assimilate or not to assimilate.
When Philippe Wynne sings about wanting his woman to stay “right here girl in these big, black arms of mine” it cuts about seven different ways because it’s entirely possible that it’s a con, entirely possible that it’s not and entirely possible that the singer himself has lost track.
What is that woman looking for anyway? Sung by even the greatest white singer we would pretty much know. Sung by a black man wearing as many masks as Philippe Wynne, there’s just no telling.
Not that I intend to abandon the search. It’s just that it got a lot more complicated. There are no safe places in rock and roll if you keep you’re ears open.