When the Go-Go’s released “Beauty and the Beat” in 1981, they couldn’t have predicted how successful, and influential, the album would become. On the strength of the hits “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “We Got the Beat,” the Go-Go’s became the first all-female band to top the Billboard charts, inspiring young women around the world to rock out themselves. The group went on to score the hit “Vacation,” its video becoming an MTV sensation back when music videos still mattered.
Nearly 30 years later, the Go-Go’s have still got the beat. Lead singer Belinda Carlisle—on her cell phone en route from Austin to Dallas—talks to us about posing for Playboy and how the band has stayed together all this time (with a few breakups in between). (Founding member Jane Wiedlin recently was forced to drop out of the tour because of her mother’s failing health).
Q: First off, I’m sorry to hear about Jane’s mother.
A: Thank you. It was a shock to all of us, but within 24 hours we found somebody great to take (Jane’s) place: Eve Monsees, a 23-year-old guitar prodigy from Austin. She learned all the songs in 24 hours. Though Jane is irreplaceable, we were really lucky to find someone so good.
Q: Did you and the rest of the Go-Go’s have any sense in the beginning that what you were doing was historic?
A: No, I think we just did it for fun and because we loved music and were part of the L.A. punk scene. When we had the opportunity to make an album, it was more cool to be part of the local scene. None of us had the foresight to know what was gonna happen. We never really thought about what we were doing. But we really opened up doors for girls in music.
Q: What influenced your sound the most?
A. Everybody has different tastes in music and they bring their own influences. Charlotte (Caffey, the band’s guitarist) grew up in Southern California, so she brought those sunny melodies, and (bassist) Kathy (Valentine) brings an element of rock `n’ roll. For influences, we looked to bands that were more melodic, punk bands like the Buzzcocks, and of course The Beatles and the Stones.
Q: What was the songwriting process like?
A: It was always a collaboration—everybody had ideas, and we’d start with a melody first, or lyrics first. There are no certain ways it happened—everybody in the band is a songwriter and collaborator.
Q: What can we expect from your show?
A: Most of the material is familiar—there’s no big surprises, maybe one or two. Most of the stuff is from the first two albums.
Q: Before the Go-Go’s, you were briefly a drummer for The Germs with the stage name Dottie Danger. When was the last time you played the drums?
A: Wow, I haven’t played the drums in 30 years. And no, I wasn’t good. I didn’t know how to play, but it didn’t matter back then—it was almost a prerequisite for a punk band.
Q: The Go-Go’s’ public image was fairly pure and innocent. But there was a lot of partying going on behind the scenes, wasn’t there?
A: Mmm-hmmm (pause). We were young, we were wealthy, we were famous and had no responsibilities and took advantage of all that. We had a really good time and did as much as most bands do, nothing extraordinary considering the circumstances. We had a good time and I’m glad we did. For the most part, we had no regrets and had a full life.
Q: Why did the band break up in 1985?
A: Publishing, drugs, overwork and ego. All the cliches that break up any band.
Q: And what inspired the reunions?
A: We did a show in 1990 for a benefit for an environmental initiative. We were asked to play, and did, and had fun and we’ve been playing pretty consistently since then. Everyone keeps calling it a reunion, but we play together pretty much every summer.
Q: Have you stayed close friends throughout it all?
A: We’re like one big dysfunctional family—we’re family more than anything else. We know each other more than we know ourselves.
Q: You’ve led a life that’s far more eventful than most people’s. What are you most proud of?
A: I dunno, the Go-Go’s first album and what we achieved with that, and the success we had on our own terms—we never sold out. We were always true to ourselves.
Q: As successful as it helped make you, did you ever get sick of “We Got the Beat?”
A: Ummmm ... some songs are harder to sing than others. It’s like my song “Heaven (Is a Place On Earth)”—some songs people expect to hear, and when you see people enjoy them and the pleasure it brings them, it makes it worth it no matter how tedious it may become.
Q: You’ll turn 50 this year. How have you changed?
A: I think I’m basically the same person, but I’m a mother and a wife and I like to think of myself as more responsible. I learned a lot the hard way, but underneath that all I’m basically the same woman.
Q: What led to you moving to France?
A: Too many Peter Mayle books. He wrote a lot of books about a couple who gave everything up and moved to the South of France. My husband and I had a fantasy of doing that, so we gave it a shot. We said we’ll give it six months—and we’ve been there almost 15 years.
Q: What inspired you to pose for Playboy at age 42?
A: Besides the money? I thought it would be a good message to send out for somebody my age. And it’s an iconic thing to do, and I don’t have a problem with nudity at all. And I liked the message that you don’t need to be 20 and blond to be viable as a woman.