The Honeycombs had one big (and unforgettable) American hit, with 1964’s “Have I the Right,” which also topped the charts in the UK, where the band had a handful more. Their hold on history lay in the fact of having a female drummer in an otherwise all-male band–something history has not made a habit of repeating.
Anne “Honey” Lantree picked up the drums on the spot when she asked a local band using a rehearsal space in a building where she was taking guitar lessons if she could give their open kit a try. She was a natural, so much so that they hired her on the spot (she’d never played) and soon enough she had a nickname and was the only female drummer of the rock and roll era to have a hit band named after her (by the record company, where somebody at least knew a selling point when they saw one).
She was a fine singer as well, but it was her drumming that went places no man could go. Karen Carpenter was one of many young women who took up the drums when she saw Honey Lantree on television. There are more than a few who say the day the suits forced Karen from behind the drums was the day the Hellhounds started down her trail. But that wasn’t before a lot of other young women had seen her on television. History moves in mysterious ways. The road to Fanny, the Runaways, The Go-Go’s and the Bangles, fraught with peril as it was, would have been harder by a factor of a hundred without Honey Lantree.
Not just because she was a novelty, or played on a hit record, but because she played on this hit record and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Stomp knew no gender.
She succumbed to cancer on Dec. 23, at home in Essex.
The sound she sent out into the world? Well, it ain’t dead yet.
Every once in a while when I’m noodling around, doing nothing in particular, I think of something from days gone by and then, being now properly programmed by modernity, I naturally think again. What I tend to think the second time is “I wonder if it’s on YouTube?”
One of the things I still can’t believe is not on YouTube, no matter how often I’ve thought “surely it must be there by now,” is the Go-Go’s’ MTV video for “Turn to You,” the last great single of their original incarnation, which ended in 1984. One reason I keep hoping it will be there is so I can do a “Not Quite Random Favorites” edition titled “My Favorite Video” because nothing else comes within a thousand miles. (That’s the one where they played a band at a sock-hop…and their own dates. Maybe they really did need a break.)
Anyway, last night I went looking for it yet again and found it still wasn’t there. There’s a mini-doc on the making of “Turn to You”–of course there is–but not the actual video.
Story of my life and all that.
But, this time, clicking around, I started thinking of other things that should be there, none of which I ever thought to look for before.
By which I mean videos from “the lost years”….those years between 1984’s Talk Show and 2001’s God Bless the Go-Go’s, when they popped in and out a couple of times and did what they always did, which was be perfect.
Sometimes, what other people did with and to them wasn’t perfect. Whoever put the extra disco-fied ‘effects’ on this wasn’t perfect. But I’m sure it wasn’t their idea. They were barely paying attention to themselves or each other when this came out in 1990. But having the video finally makes sense of it (in a way its inclusion on their first greatest hits package didn’t). What’s clear hearing–and seeing–it now, at least to me, is that Belinda Carlisle had turned from a singer who was right for her band to a singer who could carry any band. I missed that at the time so a mea culpa is in order.
They were paying a little more attention when they got together and recorded three new songs of their own for 1994’s full-blown retrospective Return to the Valley of the Go-Go’s. Almost inconceivably, I had never even wondered if they made any videos attending that little project, so I went searching deeper and found this, for the lead single from the project….which isn’t much of a video (not nearly as good as “Cool Jerk,” let alone what they had done in their heyday) but is a fabulous record. Even if the faint tang of my disappointment in finally realizing that “Boston girls are getting down in bikinis” (a touch of poetry) was really “Muslim girls” (meh) remains, it’s failure to break out still serves as one of the Seven Signs of the Apocalypse…
…And it wasn’t even the best of the three sides they cut for Return.
This, for which they released a single but didn’t make a real video, was better, and has the new-and-improved Carlisle’s finest vocal…
..and I’m not even sure it was the best…depends on the mood I guess. It’s worth reading the quotes at the beginning of each song, but they won’t break any ties.
All in all, that should have been enough to re-start their career.
But it wasn’t.
God Bless the Go-Go’s came out a full seven years later and, instead of really promising more, its final track sealed the whole deal. Years of summer reunion gigs, Kathy Valentine’s departure, and one of those “farewell tours” (at least I think there was only one) formalized it.
But the end was right there in that final track, now commemorated in my favorite “homemade” video.
For some perspective, here’s a nice piece from Goldmine, circa 2011, before Valentine left the band, where, among other things, they debunk any notion that being an all-female band was actually some kind of advantage, post-punk. Turns out that, through no fault of their own, Fanny and the Runaways (both signed by big labels and given major publicity pushes in the decade prior) hadn’t so much blazed a trail as crapped the table.
I’m reading between the lines, of course.
Just more fuel for the argument I made at the time and have made ever since: they didn’t blaze all those trails because it was, as so many argued, “time” for an all-female band. They blazed all those trails because they were the Go-Go’s. It’s only in critical theory that the theories count. In the real world, it’s always the people who matter.
(Belinda Carlisle, Charlotte Caffey, Gina Schock, Jane Wiedlin, Kathy Valentine: Photo by Lynn Goldsmith)
Since it’s sort of a major running theme of this blog, I like to think I’m up to speed on the contributions women made to the rock and roll era. But I confess I never knew Suzi Quatro was in a band (founded by her sister Patti) called the Pleasure Seekers.
In 1964 and ’65.
Playing hard rock.
When Suzi was 14 and 15.
It doesn’t really matter if these records are very good (the band is okay, the singer is going places, but only when the world catches up to her). What matters is that, contemporaneous with the Supremes and the Shangri-Las, they were made at all.
But it’s a pretty safe bet none of the others went on to sell fifty million records, last fifty years in the business, give interviews explaining how she got through a tough spot on an acting set by “imitating Joan Jett imitating me,” (ignore the title, it’s not a jab)….
and end up giving lessons on German TV demonstrating the links between natural hit-makers, Ludwig Van Beethoven and Abba.