In the early 1980s the pop world went head over heels for the Go-Go’s. But the groundbreaking all-female Los Angeles band that lit up the charts with “We Got the Beat,” “Head Over Heels,” “Vacation” and “Our Lips Are Sealed” broke up in 1985, after a tumultuous seven years, a period captured by director Alison Ellwood (music docs Laurel Canyon, History of the Eagles) in the Showtime documentary The Go-Go’s. Out now in digital formats, the film will be available as a two-disc DVD on Feb. 26.
The Go-Go’s never really went bye-bye. Belinda Carlisle, Charlotte Caffey, Gina Schock, Kathy Valentine and Jane Wiedlin recently released “Club Zero,” their first new single in 19 years, and booked a tour expected to run June 18 through July 11. They made history in 1981 with their debut, Beauty and the Beat, the first No. 1 album by an all-female band. It topped the Billboard chart for six weeks and sold more than 2 million copies.
Singer Belinda Carlisle, 62, who enjoys a successful solo career between ad hoc Go-Go’s reunions, spoke about the band’s history from her home in Bangkok.
Reservations about making the documentary
We vacillated and were hemming and hawing back and forth for about a year. We all loved Alison’s Eagles documentary, but we were scared about having everything up there on the screen as the definitive story. We liked the idea, but it was a hard decision to make.
Collaborating on ‘Club Zero’ in lockdown
It was challenging. There were three or four months of virtual songwriting, with everyone in a different place. We had never done that. Communicating by email is not easy. Songwriting is personal, and you have to be very sensitive about it. With email, even if you write something flat, it can come off as testy. We have complicated dynamics, so there was extra care to make sure that no one’s feelings were hurt. “Club Zero” felt like a perfect Go-Go’s song. It was timely. It has the Go-Go’s humor.
Breaking barriers in a man’s world
We never thought in terms of gender. We just got on with it. In the beginning we knew something had to happen because the band was getting popular, but it was tough getting those rejection letters telling us there hasn’t been a successful track record for an all-female band. They didn’t have the foresight to think we could be the first. We did prove them wrong.
Those hostile British audiences early on
It was a rough time. We were eating leftovers from the headlining band because we had no money for food. Even in difficult times, we would say, “Let’s give it six months.” But we couldn’t give it up.
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Never hitting pause
After the success of Beauty and the Beat, we felt pressure to come up with the goods for Vacation. We had years to create material for the first album. We had six months for the second. It was exhausting. If I could have changed anything, I would have insisted on having a year off for everyone. We would have been fresh and come up with really quality material. Vacation is not a stinker, but it’s not as good as Beauty and the Beat.
LYNN GOLDSMITH/CORBIS/VCG VIA GETTY IMAGES
The price of fame and success
When you’re that young, you can’t be prepared for how weird fame is. It’s fabulous, but there’s a dark side to it. It was daunting. The financial imbalances — that was a big bone of contention. Everybody was doing an equal amount of work and not being compensated equally. Then you have the whole lead-singer syndrome. People tend to focus on the lead singer. I had developed quite a problem with drugs. Money, jealousy, drugs — all the clichés that happen to most bands. Add to that the intense relationships women have with each other. We did the best we could, given the circumstances. It was a pressure cooker.
Ups and downs
The low point for me was probably the making of [1984 album] Talk Show. Everything bubbled up to the surface. It was obvious there were serious issues. It was not a fun time. The high point was the period before we were signed. My fondest memories are from the days driving my beat-up Cadillac to the Whisky and seeing kids wrapped around the block. There was such amazing energy in L.A. then.
Watching the Go-Go’s doc for the first time
I was completely amazed. Our story is so incredible, but it never hit home until I saw it on-screen. First of all, we were all so cute! I had no idea, because I always felt less than. We put together those amazing outfits, and we had no money. Our hair, our clothes — everyone looked like a million bucks. And I was amazed by the perseverance. And the music. The songs aren’t all fluffy and saccharine sweet. The story hadn’t really been told properly before. Alison Ellwood captured the essence of the Go-Go’s, and I was really proud. I have a deep respect for everyone in that band.
Where the Go-Go’s go from here
We thought the documentary would be a good opportunity to bookend a great career with a little tour to back it up, although the tour is hard to see from here. I’m hopeful, but I’m not going to hold my breath. It might get delayed.
The pandemic and beyond
Bangkok is a great place to be stuck in because Thailand has done an awesome job controlling the virus. I went back to art school, and I’ve been painting the whole time and working on Animal People Alliance, a project I cofounded in 2014 in India and northern Thailand. Creatively, I’m as busy as I want to be.
Whether the Go-Go’s will make it into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
I don’t lose sleep over it, but it would be nice to get some recognition. It’s weird not to be acknowledged. It’s definitely a boys club. It’s funny. They’ve sent me ballots for the last 15 years. I look at the names and say, are you kidding me? It should be about innovation. I always draw a little box, check it and write in the Go-Go’s. And they still send me ballots.