Classic Tracks: The Go-Go's "Our Lips Are Sealed"
Aug 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Barbara Schultz
Nothing says 1980s L.A. like The Go-Go’s on the radio. Those sweet, bright, infectious songs were the perfect soundtrack for a sunny day—still are, though 30 years have passed since one of rock ’n’ roll’s first all-female bands released their debut album, Beauty and the Beat.
MP3 of "Our Lips Are Sealed"
The Go-Go’s formed in the midst of L.A.’s late-’70s punk scene. None of the founding members—Belinda Carlisle, Jane Wiedlin and Margot Olaverra—were professional musicians. They were friends who bonded over shows by bands like The Germs and The Dickies.
In her recent memoir, Lips Unsealed, lead singer Carlisle recalls being outside a party in Venice, Calif., and the exact moment three fans became bandmates: “…the three of us found ourselves sitting on the curb with beers and cigarettes. We talked about the Sex Pistols’ show in San Francisco, which was still fresh in our minds, and I added stories from my trip to London, and eventually we were talking about starting our own band…It was like making a pact.”
The original Go-Go’s lineup included Carlisle, Wiedlin on guitar, Olaverra on bass and Elissa Bello playing drums. “Our first rehearsal was at Margot’s apartment off Robertson Boulevard,” writes Carlisle. “We were pretty scattered and lost. We didn’t even know how to start; we barely figured out how to set up our instruments. We banged around, tried to write songs and then went to Denny’s for dinner. We were situated in a booth, a mix of kicky hair styles and colors wrapped in cigarette smoke. All of us were in agreement that our first rehearsal had surpassed expectations.”
They had nowhere to go but up, and the punk scene was all about D.I.Y. The group kept at their instruments and began writing songs together. They invited bass player Charlotte Caffey to join their group, but they wanted her to play lead guitar, so she spent a week learning to play guitar. The band started gigging at clubs like The Masque and The Whisky A Go Go. English ska group Madness invited them to open on a tour of the UK, where they cut an EP for Stiff Records.
As success began to build for The Go-Go’s, differences between the bandmembers became problematic. Carlisle relates in her memoir that Bello was unreliable, and was replaced by Gina Schock. Olaverra became disgruntled as the band’s sound became less hard-core and more pop; unwilling to lose momentum in the direction that was working for them, The Go-Go’s replaced Olaverra with bassist Kathy Valentine.
It was the “classic” Go-Go’s lineup of Carlisle, Wiedlin, Schock, Caffey and Valentine that finally signed with IRS Records and partied their way to New York City and the making of their first album, Beauty and the Beat. “…our producers, Rob Freeman and Richard Gottehrer, had their hands full with us,” writes Carlisle. “We were either drinking and partying in the studio or hung-over from the night before.”
Freeman, who engineered and co-produced the album, is a perfect gentleman, however. He mentions nothing about the musicians being the worse for wear in describing the sessions. “We wanted to make the album as live-sounding as possible, which can be an elusive quality in studio recordings,” says Freeman, who had also worked with other seminal bands such as The Ramones and Blondie. “So we went into a rehearsal studio first to hear the band play together and get a sense of what they were capable of.”
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